Monday, December 30, 2013

Word of the Week - Bustle

First of all, I'd like too announce that next Monday will mark a pretty cool milestone around here--1,000 posts! Woot! I'll have to think up some fun way to celebrate. Ideas welcome. ;-)

Second, don't forget that if you haven't pre-ordered yet, A Hero's Promise (Culper Ring 2.5 ~ free short story) goes live on Wednesday at midnight! Pre-order and it'll download automatically then.

And now, a word of the week. =)

I was designing a book cover with a bustle on it, which inspired me to look up the word. Not surprisingly the verb bustle dates back pretty far--all the way to 1570. It meant "be active," and actually came from bustling, which is from the century before as an adjective. The adjective meant "noisy activity."

The noun form followed by 1630 with the expected meaning of "activity, stir, fuss, commotion."

So then, how about the padding in a skirt? Well, that arrived on the scene in the 1780s, though from where and how no one's quite sure. Speculation is that its rustling sound inspired the name bustle, but it's also possible that it came from the German buschel, which means "bunch or pad." Either way, it was a key part of women's fashion for well over a hundred years.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Happy Christmas by Johansen Viggo, 1891

I thought today I'd put together a little of everything for the week and leave it at that. ;-) I daresay many will be so busy with holiday prep that blog-reading will fall by the wayside. So today, a one-stop shop for some Christmasy history and fun.

So let's take a look at Christmas carols. I confess that I love Christmas music! I have a Pandora channel on my Roku (hooked up to TV to let me access online stuff like Netflix) and have had the classical Christmas channel playing in the evenings. Lovely. But have you ever wondered when the songs came around? Here are just a few with their dates.

"Angels We Have Heard on High"
Lyrics translated to English in 1862

"Deck the Hall"
Lyrics, 1862. Music is a 16th century Welsh melody. (The 's' got added to the title in 1877)

"God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen"
Dates from the mid 1700s (exact date unknown)

"Joy to the World"
Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719--intended not as a Christmas song, 
but as one to celebrate the second coming. 
The tune we know was written in 1839 by Lowell Mason. 
Earlier tune was taken from Handel's Messiah.

"Silent Night" (my favorite)
Lyrics were written in 1816 and music in 1818 by a friend of the writer;
it was performed that Christmas Eve in a small German town.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas"
Lyrics from 1780, but without a tune. The melody we know wasn't written until 1909.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
This one takes the prize as the oldest! Words and music date from the 16th century!

And I do indeed with you all a very Merry Christmas! If anyone has down time on Wednesday or Thursday, I have a post scheduled on Colonial Quills that talks a bit about the tradition of the Yule log.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thoughtful About . . . Competitive Spirits and Discouragement

 Yesterday I had the honor of being a guest-poster on the Steve Laube Agency blog, at the invitation of my agent. A few of us did a series together on different discouragements writers face--others tackled a lot of the "big" things like chronic pain and this fickle industry.

I talked about the discouragement that comes from within ourselves when we are too focused on how we rank next to others. I've always had a competitive spirit, and sometimes it leads me straight to a not-so-nice place.

If you haven't dropped by the Laube blog already, here's a snippet and the link:
As a kid, I was used to being the best. Best grades, finished my homework before leaving school, understood everything without needing the teacher to explain it more than once. (Well, fractions gave me grief for a week or two, but let’s just call that a blip on the screen.) Every year, my mom would issue the same warning: “Roseanna, next year the work will be harder. You might have more homework. It might not come so easily.” I took that as a challenge. ;-) And all through school, I proved my wise mama wrong.
Then I hit the real world.
                                                             Read the whole article

Oddly, I wasn't sure when this was scheduled to post and didn't know it had until I got an email from someone who had read it. And was not exactly encouraged by it, as she's dealing with some big things right now. Allow me to say that this is focused on one specific thing, not all the discouragement we face in life. Competitiveness certainly isn't the worst trial we go through--but if it's part of your nature as it is mine, it's one of the most constant, and can sneak up on us when we least expect it.

And I would just like to also say...two more days of school until Christmas break for us! ;-) We've got a good start on our holiday fun with lollipop sugar cookies and gingerbread, and girls. And, er, trees...and moons...and teddy bears...
Of course, the little ones have also been distracted by the newest addition to our family, Noah--who is currently spending most of his time up the driveway at my mother-in-law's (who does NOT have new carpet), but who will be spending a lot of time down here once he's housebroken too. =)
Noah the Boxer puppy
Noah with his three best friends--
Xoe, Rowyn, and Heartbeat Bear
Hope everyone is enjoying the season!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Remember When . . . Traditions Were Made?

Over these last few years, I've researched Christmas in Victorian times, in Colonial times, in the 20s. I've discovered how the Puritans banned it in New England, and how if you had a party in Maryland in the 1780s, the newspaper would publish when it was going to be, and strangers might just show up at your door. I've tracked some of the traditions through the ages, like hiding a pickle in your tree and wassailing. I've posted about the 12 Days of Christmas and how they actually begin on Christmas Day and end on the Epiphany (January 6).

All so much fun to learn about! Writing historicals has really opened my eyes to how our celebrations and traditions evolve through the ages, and how some pieces stay the same. Interestingly, we rarely know why we cling to some of the things that have stuck around for centuries, like mistletoe and yule logs.

And yet here I sit this morning going, What can I write about today? LOL. It feels like I've covered it all since I started blogging all those years ago. I'm sure I haven't. But I apparently haven't had enough coffee to make me think otherwise. So I thought I'd take a different course today.

One thing I love about all these celebrations I've learned is the thought that the traditions can bring the generations--the centuries, even--together. And sometimes I pause and wonder what our children will remember most. What are our Christmas traditions today, as a culture? Santa Claus? Christmas Eve candlelight services? Trimming the tree? Baking cookies?

Our tree and stockings
Christmas has been a busy season for a lot of years, and though we today might think we're busier than any generation before (and while we might be right), some of my favorite traditions are the ones that are pretty simple.

Singing Christmas songs.

Decorating the tree with my kids.

Brunch on Christmas morning with my family.

I love watching the delight on my kids' faces as we bake or wrap or trim...and I love learning that back in Colonial days, Christmas really wasn't for the kids like it is now. They received the same token gifts that parents would also give to servants--sweets, fruit, maybe a book or small toy. They weren't invited to the parties. They were kept quiet in their rooms during much of the celebrating. Gotta say, I like having them involved. =)

What are some of your favorite traditions in your family? What are some that you've heard about that baffled or delighted you? Anything new you're trying this year?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Word of the Week - Mistletoe

Christmas throughout Christendom, 1873

I thought it would be fun to examine some Christmas traditions this week and next. So while this isn't exactly etymology, it's still looking at origins. ;-)

The legend of mistletoe goes all the way back to Norse mythology. Baldr, grandson of Thor, had a troubling dream in which all living things were trying to kill him. His wife and mother saw how troubled he was by this and so went out to procure promises from all living things that they would not injure their beloved Baldr. They got these promises from everything from oak trees to cows...but not from the mistletoe. Some stories say they overlooked it, others that it seemed too young to give such promises. Whatever their reasoning, they failed to get its word--and then an arrow made of its stem pierced Baldr and killed him.

Mistletoe, therefore, became a reminder to remember and treasure what one loves, hence why couple kiss under it.

In Celtic traditions, mistletoe was considered a sacred plant, symbolic of fertility. The reasoning actually gets a bit explicit, but suffice it to say that this culture also held it as holy, and when Christianity spread, they integrated it into the Christmas tradition.

Kissing under mistletoe has been around for longer than we can accurately say, referenced in some European writings as early as the 17th century. The first English mention of it seems to be in the 1820s, though the mention implies it's a longstanding tradition.

Whatever its origins, it's always been a popular one, with young couples quite eager to lure a special someone under the berries and greens. And I daresay few care too much about why they're doing it, LOL.

Hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughtful About . . . Broken Places

I just read a book. Technically I was editing it, but mostly I was soaking it in. Always such a pleasant surprise when I can do that. When I can let a book engage not just my mind but my heart. And sometimes my soul.

My Mother's Chamomile is a WhiteFire title, coming in February, so obviously we expect a little bias from me. But. But.

I need to talk about this book, and it has nothing to do with my interest as its editor when I say this is a novel that everyone--everyone--should read. Because it deals with some things we all--all--deal with.

Grief. Mourning. Death.

The main characters in the book are small-town funeral directors. The folks no one wants to talk to because seeing them is a constant reminder of bad times. Of how short life can be. They're a family mostly avoided--until their neighbors need them. Then they're the givers of mercy. The hands of love. The calm and peace in an ocean of uncertainty.

But who will comfort them when they're the ones dealing with tragedy?

Let me tell you why I couldn't stop reading this book. And why it actually had me mopping tears off me cheeks--me, who gets teary-eyed from time to time but does not cry like that over books! For one thing, the writing style is just so incredibly authentic. For another, it has a surprising amount of action. For another...well, it struck a chord.

Because I've stood in those funeral homes. I've heard the quiet voices of the directors, seeking to soothe. Trying to bring comfort where it shouldn't rightly be. At fourteen, I attended so many viewings that I knew my way through all the rooms of both the old Victorian houses converted to  funeral parlors in my home town, I knew where they kept the hot chocolate and tea, I knew which rooms were bigger and which convertible when you shut or opened those accordion doors.

I knew death well that year. In addition to several folks from my church, I lost my uncle. I lost my grandfather.

And oh, how cynical it made me about the whole process of saying farewell.

On the one hand, that's the year my faith went deep. When I started reading my Bible just because, every morning, and not just in Sunday School. That's the year I went from always-being-a-Christian to grasping hold of the Lord with both hands and begging Him never to let go. My faith went deep...but my cynicism got a good root too.

I hated those viewings. I hated having to walk up to the casket and see the body that was no longer the one I loved. I hated seeing the makeup on skin that never wore it. I hated seeing the careful arrangement of hands that, in life, were never still. It all felt so fake to me. So false. That was when I decided that when my time came, I didn't want that. I wanted a party, New Orleans style. Play some jazz, talk about my life. Laugh over the memories, cry too. But don't pat my hand and say how natural I look. Please.

The cynicism took a turn when I was 20. My best friend got married right after high school. I was in her wedding, and she was in mine a year later. It was only another year after that when David and I came home from college one weekend, and my mother-in-law handed me the phone. "It's Christy," she said. I took the phone with a smile.

It didn't last long. Christy was calling to tell me that her husband had died in a car accident the night before. Widowed, at age twenty. She was calling to ask me to be with her. So I drove to her mom's house. I held her when she cried. And when she asked me to go with her and her family to make the funeral arrangements, I went.

All my many visits to those viewing parlors, but that's been my only trip belowstairs. I don't remember much. Just the quiet voice of the directors. Their patience. Their assurance that they'd take care of everything they could. Make it easier on the family in any way they could.

That's what they do. But that was the first time I really paused to wonder how, day after day, they did it.

It was a question that didn't linger long, I gotta say. College had its other losses for me--my boss committed suicide, as did one of my professors. Not many months later, my grandfather died of a brain tumor. I was letting one of my other professors know I'd be missing a class for the funeral, and he got this sad smile on his face. He was the one who had taken over my class the spring before after Mr. Allenbrook died. And that day, Mr. Tuck said, "It's been a bad year for you, hasn't it? Are you okay?"

Questions like that can break a body. Break a dam. Bring the tears that usually one only shed when the shower was covering the sound, when there was no one around to see. Grief, for me, had long been so very private. So very muted. It wasn't my way to rant and rail.

But you know, when I went into one of those same funeral homes again for yet another grandfather, I gave myself permission not to go up to the casket. I stuck to the flower-drenched tables, to the rows of chairs, to the family I hadn't seen in a decade. 

I haven't gone right up to the casket since. Not because of any fear or disgust. But because I didn't want to let that cynicism rear its head. I didn't want it to taint the grief of those who needed it.

If there's one thing I've learned over the last seventeen years, it's that everyone mourns differently. But everyone mourns. And if they don't, well then, that's even harder. I've learned that some get angry and some get bitter, some get quiet and some get loud. Some turn to God, some want answers. Some just need a hand to cling to.

But we all break. Because we're human, because we love, because losing someone we love is meant to hurt. We break. We're broken. We have those cracks and chips and holes inside us, the ones no one but the Lord can ever fill.

In My Mother's Chamomile, the Lord uses the hands of His servants to touch hearts all over that small Michigan town. And then He uses the town to touch the hearts of the comforters. It's a book that reminded me so clearly of all those times I'd lost. All those times I'd trekked into that familiar funeral home. All those times when I realized how fragile life is. How tragic it can be. How death makes no difference between rich and poor, young and old. It's always there. I've known for so long that it's always there. And maybe it sounds strange that I so loved a book that drove that home.

But here's the thing. We all have those broken places. We all have those times when sorrow takes us over. When death invades our world. We all deal with it in different ways. And we all wonder if we're doing it right.

This was a book that said, "Right is however you can. Right is whatever it takes. And love--love is what will get you through it. Love of those still with you, yes. But more, the love of God. And if you can't feel that love right now, that's okay. He understands. But you'll see it in us. You'll feel it in our embrace when there's no one else beside you to hold onto. You'll hear it in the quiet when we back out of the room so you can cry. You'll sense it in the flowers that we place with such care around you."

Grief is so very real. Mourning is so very hard. And sometimes--sometimes we just can't wrap our minds and hearts around the whys. They overwhelm us. They make those cracks go wider. And never in my life have I read a book that soothed those old, scabbed-over, broken places like My Mother's Chamomile did. That made me cry because of the beauty that can take root in that moment of greatest sorrow. The pure love that can soak through all the brittle spots.

Something changed in me as I read that book. Something that made me gather my babies close and smile over them. Something that made me pray harder for those I love who are struggling right now. Something that made me wonder how I can better be the hands and feet of the Lord. 

Something that made me wake up in the morning and think, Yes. This is life. And it's so, so very precious.

Something that made me determine not to squander that.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Quick Request

I forgot it was Wednesday, and that I should be talking history today, LOL. Sorry about that. But part of the reason my mind is elsewhere is that I spent much of my day yesterday worrying over my best friend's little boy. So I wanted to beg your indulgence and ask for some prayers.

Connor is a 3-year-old boy--which means bursting with energy and doing a spot-on impression of a bouncy ball most days. But in September, Connor had his first seizure. Kids apparently get one "free" seizure before the doctors turn to medication. Sometimes they have one, and that's it. The day before Thanksgiving, he had another. Stephanie's family was on vacation, so they rushed him to the nearest hospital and took him home that night with anti-seizure meds, which he's been on since. But then Monday night, it struck again, and lasted until they sedated him at the hospital.

Very scary.

He had another seizure in the hospital yesterday morning, though this one was short, praise the Lord. Poor little guy's undergoing a lot of tests right now. And the family's obviously stressed.

I've never actually met Connor face to face, but I see his smiling face in pictures regularly. I've gotten to wave at him over Skype quite a few times. I try to tuck in a car or airplane into the box I send Stephanie for Christmas for him. I hear about him every day, him as his sister, just like Stephanie hears about everything my kids do. So this is tough.

There are so many possible causes for this sort of thing, and I know nothing about it. I don't have to--the docs are on it, and God's got it in His hand. But I know Stephanie's family would appreciate prayers. For Connor, for the doctors, for his big sister, for his parents, for his extended family. It's so hard to watch our little ones deal with health issues.

So. Would you say a pray for Connor and his family? I'd appreciate it. And it's what I'll be doing instead of sifting through my mental research folder today. ;-) Hope everyone has a good Wednesdsay!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Word of the Week - Fix

I was looking through a website called "You Can't Say That!" last week, which is dedicated entirely to words like I feature here. One of the entries that surprised me--and sent me scurrying to my latest manuscript to see if I used this when I shouldn't have, was fix.

Fix has been around since the 14th century. But only in the meaning of "to set one's eyes or mind on something." It comes from the Latin fixus, meaning "fast, immovable, established, settled." By about 1400, it added the meaning of "fasten, attach." So early on, we could fix our eyes upon someone or fix a button to a coat. But not until 1737 could we fix something that was broken.

And according to the website above, that meaning was considered slang and not in use by any but the lowest classes until the late 1800s, and then only in America. Hence why I went flying to my galleys of Circle of Spies...where I was relieved to see that there was only one use of fix as "repair," and it was used by my hero, who isn't exactly from the highest echelon of society. ;-)

Oh, and we mustn't forget the meaning of "tamper with." That joined the fray in 1790. Not, I daresay, that people did not fix fights or juries before then...

I hope everyone had a great weekend! We enjoyed seeing my daughter's ballet studio perform The Nutcracker on Saturday night--and were supposed to enjoy it again yesterday, but it got snowed out. So we enjoyed our first winter storm instead. ;-)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thoughtful About . . . My God

In reading through the Old Testament again, I keep noticing something I noted first several years ago. So often, God reveals His power to the world, and not just to the Israelites. He demonstrates his majesty to people great and small from all the nations.

I love reading about those cases. I love reading how people who were raised with the pantheon of gods and idols go wide-eyed in the face of the all-powerful Yahweh. I love reading about how they fall to their knees before the prophets.

But so often their words are the same. "I know that your God is supreme," they'll say.

Your God.

They recognize His omnipotence...but rarely do they claim Him as theirs. When they do, it's striking. When Ruth proclaims, "Your God shall be my God," that's huge. When a man returns to his own land determined to worship the Lord, that's really worth getting excited about. Because for a believer in many gods to grant that one is the most powerful...meh. It almost rates as a "so what?" But to serve Him--to count themselves as one of His children--that requires a complete shift in their thinking. God does not want to be served along with others. He wants to reign alone in our hearts. So when He is our God, my God, that means none other can claim the same.
David Presents the Head of Goliath to King Saulby Rembrandt, circa 1627

These pronouns really struck me when reading about King Saul and David. Never once does Saul call the Lord his God or his Lord. He refers to Him instead as David's God, or as the God of their fathers. Yet in the same passages, we see David crying out to Yahweh with those personal pronouns.

There are many nuances to David's story that I probably don't understand. But when I noticed this, it made a light go on in my head. That, right there, is a perfect illustration of where Saul failed and David succeeded. Whatever other successes or failures each had, the real issues of their reigns came down to serving the Lord.

To Saul, He remained always distant. He was someone else's Lord. To be feared but not understood. To be heard from the mouth of a prophet, but who Saul never approached himself.

Then there's David. To David, God was an ever-present Father. He was savior and friend. David called on Him directly, every hour, throwing himself at the feet of the Almighty as a child will fall into the lap of a parent. Knowing that though chastisement will come when he does wrong, it will be tempered, always with love.

David knew God. David loved God. He was his.

There's a passage in Jewel of Persia where Kasia notices this. Where Xerxes, king of all Persia, of all the world, it seems, recognizes the full power of her God...but still calls him hers. In that moment, she sees it as a step along the road. He at least sees Him. But when will he call the Lord his?

In today's world, we tend not to look at things in the way they did back then. People don't go around talking about my God versus your God very often. People don't serve (knowingly, that is) the Baals. But oh-so-often they worship their own creations. Their idea of God, or of some creator being they force into their own image. They serve their own desires, their own wants, their own lusts. Maybe they pay lip service to that God they see in church. Maybe they toss around the words God and Jesus.

But is He theirs?

Is He ours? I pray so. I pray that we don't look upon Him as distant, as better known and better loved and loving someone else. I pray I never look at another believer and think God loves him better...he knows God better. Because then I'll start to think of Lord as belonging more to that other person than to me.

I may be weaker. I may be of lesser faith. I may be a lot of things that need shored up and strengthened. But may I always know this--He is mine, and I am His. Our relationship is like no one else's.

And that's exactly as it should be.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Remember When . . . Jack's Story Was Up?

Yay, woo, yippee!! A Hero's Promise is available for pre-order! I would be eternally grateful if you'd order it (it's FREE, by the way) and pass the word along to your friends! If you pre-order now, it'll be delivered to your device on January 1!

Amazon  | GooglePlay

 If you'd like a sneak peek, Google has the first chapter up for preview. 

And I also wanted to share, on this my history-centric day, the latest historical cover I got to design. I haven't had very many historicals in the design queue lately, so I had some fun with this one. The book is Soul Painter (click here to see on Amazon) by Cara Luecht, coming in March from WhiteFire Publishing. And it's AMAZING.

Here's the blurb:

Miriam paints the future...but can she change it?
Chicago 1890

People jostle their way below the windows of Miriam's warehouse home, never thinking to look up at the woman who stands alone in her quiet rooms, painting their faces. But Miriam's gift as an artist goes beyond a mere recording of what is: Miriam paints their future.

Only once was she wrong.

One woman doesn't match the future Miriam saw for her. The bright girl was supposed to grow into a respected businesswoman. Instead, Ione disappears nightly into the shadows of the alley next to the cathedral with the other prostitutes.

Then one night, while walking through the city fog, Miriam finds Ione broken and beaten in the alley. Miriam is forced to open her home to the stranger whose face she knows so well and open her life to change she never could have foretold.

Together with Miriam's solicitor and the deacon from the cathedral across the street, Miriam and Ione must combat the evil at work in a city already rife with corruption. Women are missing: some are found floating in the river, some are never seen again. Finally engaged with the world she has so long observed, finally stirred by love and friendship, Miriam realizes the responsibility of her gifting. No longer can she just paint what will be. She must now help Ione find the future she is meant to have...and find her own along with it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Word of the Week - Swell

Hello, all! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving week (for all you Americans out there. For all you internationals, I hope you had a lovely week too, even if it wasn't a holiday for ya). ;-) You may think I was just relaxing and taking the week off from the blog, but really I was hard at work on the galleys for Circle of Spies, the final installment to the Culper Ring Series.

Today said manuscript is ready to go back into the hands of FedEx though, and so here I am back to blogging. =) And today I bring to you...

Swell. We think of it as a tiny bit old-fashioned these days (as in, more of The Greatest Generation than mine. Whatever my generation is. I think I shall dub it Generation Sarcastic), but not old. Right? It's a swell party sounds decided '40s or '50s. But as a matter of fact, the meaning of "elegant or fashionable" dates back to 1810! And by 1897, it could mean generally "excellent." American slang made it an exclamation that could stand alone in the 1930s.
These ladies look to be having a swell time at a South African beach in 1944

The adjective comes from a noun applied to a person with a distinguished style--so a swell could make or break a gathering, I suppose. Said noun dates to 1786.

And all of these come from the more literal meaning of "puffed up," i.e. "arrogant."

So there we go. Hope everyone has a swell day. =)


And while I have your attention--the next FREE novella/short story (not sure which it technically is at 11,000 words, LOL) in the Culper Ring Series, A Hero's Promise, is up for pre-order! Click now and it'll be delivered to your device on January 1. (It will also be on iTunes and B&N, but those links aren't live yet.)