Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Our Kernels of Thanksgiving

Today I'd like to share a post I also have up at Colonial Quills. Please hop over there to read the full article...but mostly, please join me in the deepest gratitude this year. Not just for what we have. But for the trials He's brought us through...the promises He keeps. Let's give Him:

We all know the story of the first Thanksgiving, and it's one I've enjoyed reading to my kids again this year. All those old familiar tales of Squanto and the Pilgrims, of neighborliness and sharing.

But even more stirring was when I read about the Second Thanksgiving the Pilgrims celebrated.

Read the Full Article

Monday, November 24, 2014

Word of the Week - Bucket List

Okay, there's a debate about this in my house. I made the observation a few weeks ago, when someone on TV mentioned their "bucket list," that I was amazed at how quickly this term became a part of our daily vocabulary, when it was pretty much created by the movie.

My husband quickly said, "No it wasn't. I've been hearing that term all my life."

Naturally, I had to look it up. And what did I find in Nothing. What did I find in the dictionary? Nothing. So I started doing basic Google searches for the origins of the phrase.

The first article I found on it was written by a journalist who had a similar observation to mine, and his determination was that it indeed hadn't appeared in print until 2004 at the earliest (the movie is 2006).

I came back with a "Ha! See?" to my hubby, who said, "Yeah, not buying it. He's just wrong."

LOL. So I did some more digging. Here's all I can find.

First of all, it's pretty much accepted by all that it's in reference to the term kick the bucket, which has been a phrase meaning "to die" since the 1780s. Moreover, bucket list has been a computer term since the 1960s, meaning a way to sort things (i.e. "that data belongs on the y-bucket list, whereas this data belongs on the x-bucket list). There's some speculation as to whether a computer programmer was the first to snatch that phrase, decide it reminded them of kick the bucket, and make a leap in meaning. Who knows?

There are quite a few forums discussing this "is it really so recent??" question. Quite a few people who report having heard it growing up in the way in question. Which could very well be true. Historically speaking, words usually appear in spoken vernacular 20ish years before they appear in print. But we can only track things, obviously, by their appearances in print.

The OED (which my husband will say is the source for the English language) will have to be our final ruling on this. And they date the phrase at 2006, which is when it reached the number of appearances in print required to be deemed a sticking phrase in English.

So what do you think? Had you heard this phrase before the movie came out??

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . The Real Spirit of Christmas

A couple weeks ago, my kids said something that got me thinking. We were in the van, heading somewhere or another, talking about how Christmas is coming soon. Rowyn asked what day of the week it was on, and Xoe said, "Thursday. Hey, that means that in a couple years, it'll be on church day! Won't that be cool? I can't think of a better way to celebrate Christmas than going to church."

She didn't realize how she hit me. How those words would echo with me. On the one hand, I'm saying, "Yay, my daughter gets it! She gets the real reason for Christmas! She's thinking about Jesus!"

On the other hand, I'm knowing some severe guilt. Why? Because never in my life have I gone--nor wanted to go--to church on Christmas. Christmas Eve, yes. Of course. Always. But Christmas? No way. Christmas is for family time. Breakfast. Dinner. Presents. Christmas is for gathering with those I love and...and...and what?

When did the church part get pushed out of the day? Maybe it started as anticipating, bringing it in...maybe we can say "Well we don't even know what day Jesus was born on, so why does it matter when we go to church to celebrate it?" But if it doesn't matter...if it's meant to lead us to focus on him...why not give Him the day we give Him? Why do we push him to the night before, to an obligatory reading of Scripture, to a single candle lit and forgotten?

What if I'm wrong, have been wrong all my life? That's what my husband and I were talking about later that same week. What if--brace yourselves--what if Christmas isn't about family?

That's the message in the feel-good movies, right? It's a time of hope. Of giving. Of embracing that Christmas spirit. It's a time of believing in the impossible. Of miracles (which may or may not include Santa). It's a time for drawing close to those you love.'s not. Or shouldn't be. I'm not saying Christmas shouldn't include those things...but shouldn't it be a spiritual holiday? Shouldn't I be thinking more about the miracle of God becoming man than a snowman coming to life? Shouldn't the Christmas story be more than an obligatory reading? Shouldn't I be more focused on preparing my heart for God than in preparing the presents for under the tree?

I've heard it all, read it all, said it all before...and then changed nothing. We still go out shopping and spending and asking our kids to make Christmas lists. We make them write down every thing they want and don't have--and then get frustrated when they're more focused on presents than Him. When they get upset if they don't get what they ask for.

This year, something's going to change in my house. For starters, no lists! This one has really struck me this year. I am absolutely, 100% not going to have my kids focus on what they want. I don't want Christmas to be about what they want. I don't, frankly, want it to be about what presents they're giving (though that's better). I want the focus to be on what they've already gotten. What has already been done. A celebration of the most amazing gift mankind has ever received.

We got God, y'all. In the flesh. Putting aside his deity to take on the fragile bones and sinews of a helpless little baby. I'm sorry, but a talking dragon toy ain't got nothin' on that.

This year, the few gifts we get our kids will be given to them on Christmas Eve. Yes, we're still celebrating the joy of the holiday by trying to bring joy to those we love--within reason. We're decorating, because celebration is important. But that will be our lead-in, not our what-we've-led-up-to. Christmas Day, we're going to focus on Him. I've asked the kids to come up with things they'd like to do Christmas morning to celebrate Jesus.

They want to sing. 

They want to pray.

They want to read the Christmas story.

They want to have written their own Christmas stories and read them to us.

They want to make a gift for Jesus.

They want to make a cake (or pancake) for Him.

That will be our morning, then we'll go spend time with the rest of the family. First though, we're going to get grounded. We're going to lift our hearts and spirits to Him. We're going to make sure we're not making an idol of the holiday.

Because I really, really don't want the day that we set aside to celebrate Jesus becoming man to become a tool of the enemy. I really, really don't want that enemy cackling over how he's managed to cheapen it, even among the Church--especially among the Church. I don't want my God in heaven to be looking on us with mourning, wondering why our families are more important than His.

Like all the best lies, there's a kernel of truth in the way I've always done things. Family is important. The celebration is important. The cheer, the joy, the spirit is important. But not as important as the Spirit. Not as important as the why behind the celebration. Not as important as the Father who gave us this gift, the Brother with whom we're joint-heirs to the kingdom.

This year, we're not just talking about the Reason. This year, we're changing things. And for the first time in...well, maybe ever...I'm excited to think, not about what gifts or parties or songs there might be, not about what I'm going to do--this year, I'm excited to think of what God might do among my family this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Remember When . . . We Had a Photo Shoot?

This isn't exactly a cover design post, since the covers haven't been finalized yet. But this past weekend we had a photo shoot for an upcoming WhiteFire series, and it was so much fun that I thought I'd post a bit about it, and get y'all looking forward to when I do post about the cover design. ;-)
WhiteFire recently had the joy of signing a fresh young author to a 3-book deal. I first met Rachelle Rea on Go Teen Writers, quite a few years ago when the blog was first starting up. She's been a regular member there over the years, and soon stood out as a sweetheart. One with talent. She just graduated from college last spring, and already she's building a career as a freelance editor and is known for her tagline, "Inspiring Daring."

Her Steadfast Love series takes place in the 1560s, focusing on a Catholic heroine caught in the middle of the riots and slaughtering of Catholics by Protestants in Holland, known as the Iconoclastic Fury. A rescuer arrives to sweep her back to her home in England...but not the rescuer she would have hoped for. No, the man who shows up is the very one who murdered her parents. She saw him standing over their bodies. So how is she to entrust her safety to him--but what choice does she have?

The heroine, Gwyn, is tall and willowy, blond, beautiful. So naturally, when stock photo sites fail me and I realize we're going to have to do this one ourselves, I turn to my gorgeous, willowy, blond niece, Jayna. Happily, Jayna is active in theater and always eager to play dress up, so she readily agreed to pose for me. Yay!

The next step was costuming. The last couple times we had a photo shoot, we actually commissioned the dresses to be made by an amazing young seamstress--another girl I met through Go Teen Writers, LOL. But I knew I'd need three costumes (one for each book in the series), and that didn't seem like the answer this time. So I instead contacted all the costume rental places I could find who were remotely close to my hometown.

I was kinda blown away by how that all worked out. My daughter was in a parade at our mall last week and had to go in for costuming...and it happens that the same shop I'd contacted in a town 1.5 hours away was the one doing those costumes, too. So I took Jayna to be measured at the same time as Xoe, and they brought the gowns with them to the parade. How perfect was that?

Now, fashions in the 1560s were pretty diverse. The gowns we chose reflect three of the very-different styles that a lady of Gwyn's station would have worn, depending on the situation. In book 1, The Sound of Diamonds, she's on the run---starting at a convent, where she wouldn't have been decked out in court regalia. So for that one, we chose a beautiful blue velvet gown with a cape.
And we needed a "diamond" rosary necklace. Not that it deserves those quotes in the book, but I sure wasn't shelling out the gazillion dollars a real one cost. ;-) So for the purposes of a photo shoot, we settled for Ye Olde Fakes.

Our next dress for The Sound of Silver was more in court styles. A burgundy velvet with a pop-up collar, this one is regal and ended up photographing so very well!
And finally, a dress for The Sound of Emeralds. Naturally, this one had to be green. =)
Of course, dresses weren't enough. We needed a location. In the past, all our photo shoots have been in front of a blank screen, and then I put in a background photo to suit the setting. But in this case, I thought we'd try actually shooting with an appropriate backdrop. Of course, Cumberland, Maryland isn't exactly bursting with Renaissance architecture.

But we do have one location that popped to mind--a church. I emailed them to ask about using the exterior of their building as our location, and they quite happily agreed. So we did the shoot at Emmanuel Episcopal, and it was absolutely gorgeous.
So there you get a glimpse of our costuming, set, and photography (photos are all by my fabulous aunt, Pam Mulligan). What you probably can't tell from the abundant sunshine is that it was barely 40 degrees. Poor Jayna's nose was getting red by the end of the shoot, LOL.

We had a fun time--though doing costume changes in a minivan is very daring. Rachelle should be proud. ;-) And the results were simply stunning. Can't wait to share the cover process with you!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Word of the Week - Scene

I found myself looking up the etymology of crime scene the other day. I had a feeling it was a bit modern...and I was right. The original phrase was actually scene of the crime (makes sense) and was coined by Agatha Christie in 1923.

But there were some other interesting facts to learn about scene while I was there. Not surprisingly, the word comes straight from Latin (via Old French), with the expected meaning of "a subdivision of a play." What I didn't realize was that is shares a root with shine--the original Latin and Greek words carried a notion of the physical stage or booth that actors used too, and hence were similar to shade and shine.

The "part of a play" meaning existed in English from the the 1540s it could be used for the physical apparatus of a stage...and by the 1590s, it had taken on "the place in with a literary work occurs" and therefore also a general setting or place where anything occurs, not just literary work.

You could go "behind the scenes" of something by the 1660s. And by 1761, people could "make a scene" with their stormy outbursts.

Not that I would ever do such a thing... ;-)

Have a lovely week!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Greater Works Than These

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
John 14:12 
I had quite a few verses of Scripture that I kept in mind while writing A Soft Breath of Wind. One of them that was always hovering at the back of my mind was that one--John 14:12. A simple statement, made by Jesus to all who believe. To his disciples. To his followers. 

I've heard this verse for a lot of years. I know it. I believe it. We, the church, are capable of doing miracles. We are. Do you ever question that? But we are.

This past spring, I read a really, really amazing non-fiction book that WhiteFire Published, called No Plan B: Discovering God's Blueprint for Your Life. I've mentioned this book on here before, but it bears repeating--it's an amazing book. Because it helps shatter the lie that the church has come to believe over the past 2,000 years. That we can't do what Jesus did. That we're powerless on earth, just waiting for heaven.
No true. So not true. And the author points out why. Jesus didn't perform his miracles under his man-power, obviously. He didn't perform them under his God-power, either, or we wouldn't be able to do these works also. He did them under the power of the Holy Spirit. That same Holy Spirit that lives in us. Not that comes occasionally to visit us when the worship music hits us just so, but who lives in us. Always. He is the one who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the five thousand, and raised the dead.

Has the Spirit changed?


Has the church?

Unfortunately...yes. Most of us have. We can't believe in the miraculous in the world of CG and special effects. It just takes too much faith. We can't believe in healings--and raising from the dead?? FORGET IT--in the world of emergency rooms, prescription drugs, and routine surgeries.

Nelson Hannah challenges us in No Plan B to let go of that lie--and, for heaven's sake (literally), don't teach our children that lie!

We tend to look at the church of Acts as something...special (and it was). But something...out of reach (but it isn't). We tend to look at it as "Back in the day, when miracles happened." I've even seen (quite a few) publishers who say, in their requirements "Stories may not include miracles unless they are biblical fiction."

That galls me. It really does. Not because I have all these stories that want to use miracles as a device to quickly wrap up the action, but because I want to shout at these publishers and editors, "But He's the same God! The same Spirit! Why in the world are characters set in A.D. 30 allowed to do it, but those from today aren't???"
In A Soft Breath of Wind, there are miracles. Yes, it's biblical fiction. So they'd be "allowed" by any publisher. But the whole point of the miracles, in Soft Breath, is that it's the power of the Spirit, working through imperfect humans who doubt, just like we do. But who choose to believe instead, just like we can.

Because Jesus doesn't say that we might do greater works than these. He doesn't say that "He who believes in me today--but not those who believe in me in later generations, mind you--will do these same works and greater." He says, "He who believes."

In my book, not every character believes. But Zipporah does. She believes with the faith of a child, a faith that she clings too as she grows up, even in the face of doubt from those who should believe in her. She believes in the impossible, because nothing is with God. She believes that what Jesus spoke is truth.

In A Soft Breath of Wind, there are miracles. But the miracles aren't used as a quick wrap-up. The miracles aren't an easy way out. The miracles are the hard part, because they require the characters to let go of their human understanding, their human limitations, and trust in Him. They require them to step outside what they "know."

They require them to believe in him.

Every wonder why Jesus says we'll not only do what he does, but greater? Because we're operating by the same Spirit...but now we have him in heaven, too, making intercession for us. Sometimes when I pause and think about it, this just awes me. Jesus--wise and humble, perfect and bold--is fighting for me. And his Spirit is whispering into my mind. 

Writing A Soft Breath of Wind forced me to look pretty deeply at this. Forced me to realize that if I'm not doing these things--and greater--it's no fault of His. It's a fault of mine. It's my lukewarm faith, not the age I live in. It's me choosing to focus on the things of this world instead.

I'm not there yet--I'll be totally honest about that. But I'll state it here and now, a phrase pretty popular this time of year with talk of Santa and that famous Miracle on 34th Street

I believe. 

I believe He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I believe the same Spirit that raised the dead and healed the blind and wrapped time around His little fingers is here today, waiting to be called upon.

I believe Jesus spoke truth when he made that promise.

I bet you believe too. The questions is...what are we going to do about it?

*Sunshine photo: 
photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

News for the Day!

Release week means a departure from the norm. ;-) Bear with me.

First, A Soft Breath of Wind is love on Nook!

Next, I have a marketing post up on Seriously Write--part 1, with part 2 coming December 10th.

Finally, did you get my newsletter? 
If not, it went out last night--you can view it here, and sign up for future updates here!

Stay tuned for more links and updates throughout the week!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Soft Breath of Wind Blog Tour!

It's release week! And as usual, I'm celebrating with appearances on some fabulous blogs--interviews, guest posts, and reviews will all be coming up, including some giveaways! So be sure to stop by and say hi!

Monday, 11/10

Wednesday, 11/12

Friday, 11/14
Mesu Andrews - Interview (and there will be a review in her November newsletter!)

Saturday and Sunday, 11/15-16

Friday, 11/21

And I'm always happy to do more guest spots as they arise, so if you'd like to host me on your blog, just drop me a line!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Word of the Week - Demur & Demure

When words are this close in spelling, I always find myself wondering if they're related. And, yeah, occasionally get the spellings confused too. ;-) This morning I was rereading what I wrote over the weekend and saw a time where I was using the verb, demur, but put the E on the end. Which is what sent me to

The verb demur dates from the 1200s and originally meant "to linger, to tarry." Its roots came from the Latin demorari, through the Old French demorer, which meant the same thing. Okay...

Demure, on the other hand, is from the French meur, which means "fully grown, ripe" and hence "mature, grave." Where, then, did the de- come from? Well now, that's a good question, and etymologists aren't quite sure. Though they suspect (another case of Isle and Island) that the de- may have been borrowed from demuré, which is the past participle of that Old French demorer. Another case of "they sound the same, so let's spell them the same"?? Could be!

On a completely unrelated note, it's release week for me!! Tomorrow I'll post a blog with all my upcoming blog tour stops and a few highlights and requests. =)

photo credit: Alexander Rentsch via photopin cc

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Stolen Blessings

It was probably 20 years ago, though I don't remember the exact date. I was just a kid, at home in my safe little world. But we had friends who had gone into missions. The whole family, gone for months at a time, off spreading the good news. This time, it was to Bulgaria. I doubt I could have even found it on a map, but off they went. A few adults stepping out in faith and a group of YWAM kids on fire for God.

Our friend Mike recently shared this story of his first trip to Bulgaria with our church, and though it's so long past, it spoke to me on so many levels.

They showed up in a bus in this tiny Bulgarian town. They were there to preach to the gypsies. Now, I don't know what you know about the gypsies, but let's just say that they're not well received in Europe. They're the outcasts, the unloved ones. They're viewed with suspicion and prejudice and have been for centuries.

And this town they arrived's not like any town we know. There are no fast food restaurants, no food trucks waiting on the corners. And to hear Mike tell the tale, they didn't arrive with big plans. They arrived with big faith...and a few dozen hungry teenage mouths to feed.

He said he got off that bus not knowing exactly how he was going to find food for 40 teenagers--food was kinda scarce in that region. Times were tough. But he started down the road looking for restaurants that could take their crowd.

Then, down the street, a man came running. Waving his hand. Yelling, "Don't you dare! Don't you dare!"

Make stopped, turned, probably frowned. Probably wondered if, somehow, he was taking the food from this man's family by trying to buy it for his group.

The man huffed to a halt in front of him. "Don't you dare," he said again, "steal my blessing. I am to feed you. My wife has been cooking for days. Come. Come. All of you."

This man and his wife had never met these people before. They didn't know they were coming--even the group didn't know they'd end up in this town. But the Spirit knew. And the Spirit had made arrangements.

The group followed this man back to his small house and found tables set up outside. Pots and pots of steaming food waiting for them.

Bulgaria has, since then, been a second home to this family mine loves so well. I always love listening to their stories, but this one...this one is something special to me.

When Mike stood at the podium shouting out an echo of that long-faded "Don't you dare steal my blessing!" something went tight inside me. Because how often do we steal blessings from each other?

We're a society of prideful, arrogant, self-sufficient people. We rely on the money we can make, the health insurance plan we can afford, the car we drive, the clothes we buy. We rely on us. Not on God, not really. Not most of the time.

And on each other? Forget it. Even in the church, we have this idea that it's great and noble to give...but it's chafing to receive.

I have a friend who jokes about having "the gift of receiving." It's a joke...but it's also true. It's a gift, one many of us deny. But by denying someone else the opportunity to give to us, denying them the opportunity to be generous, WE ARE STEALING THEIR BLESSING.

Because when you give, unreservedly...

When you give, without thought to how much that will leave you with...

When you give, not even knowing if the people will show up...

When you give, sacrificing your own pleasures, your own time, your own sustenance...

God gives back. And He gives back from His storehouses, which, let me just tell you, honey, are a whole lot fuller than ours. He gives back with eternal life, not just in heaven but here on earth. He gives back with spiritual understanding. He gives back by making less become enough. He gives back by turning people who were once sinners into saints. Now. Here. He gives us His glory, His promise, His Spirit, His truth, His power.

But if we're not let to give--if we don't let others give to us--then what?

As the holiday season approaches, as Thanksgiving looms around the corner, I've been talking a lot to my kids about how the most noble gift, the most noble giving, isn't to the ones who will give us a present in return--it's to those who can't.

I'd say I also need to teach them how to receive, but to be honest, that's something kids already know. Right? It's another part of childlike faith, because every gift we give our kids is undeserved. They don't earn it. They don't give us something in return. They receive in love and give back love. Something we un-learn as we age, but which is oh so important.

Because I have nothing but my heart to give my Father. Nothing but my heart and my willingness to let Him use whatever else I have for His other children. That part's not so hard to understand. But I also need to have hands willing to receive from others when it's their turn to give--even when I look at them and think, "But I have more than they do, I can't take this from them." I can't just give, expecting blessing. I have to be willing to let others give too.

The next time someone wants to do something nice for you or give you something, I hope you pause before you refuse. I hope you stop to think, "If I say no, if I try to do this/get this on my own instead, am I stealing their blessing?"

I hope we all pause to consider what we might be really taking from them by refusing to accept a gift from their hands.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Word of the Week - Behave

This is one I've wondered about for years but never paused to look up. Behave. As a kid, I would often joke that I was "being have." And I would always wonder what, exactly, "have" was, LOL. Well, I recently said something similar to my kids and decided to look it up.

As it happens, it isn't some weird word spelled h-a-v-e but that rhymes with "knave." It's actually just plain ol' have. Like, has, have, had type of have. So where in the world did this behave word come from??

Apparently be + have was created as a sort of word that means "to have oneself in control." To bear yourself a certain way. It dates from the early 1400s and evolved from Old English behabban, with meant "to constrain." That sense of controlling something carried through.

So there we have it. If you're behaving, you aren't being something called have that has some ancient meaning of goodness. ;-) You're being in control of yourself.