Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Remember When . . . The World Between Books

It's kinda strange sometimes. I'm still celebrating the release of An Hour Unspent, book 3 in the Shadows Over England Series. But I'm in the editorial process for The Number of Love, book 1 of the next series and halfway finished writing the second one, tentatively titled The Wings of Devotion. These won't release until 2019 and 2020. So while the general reading public is in one place, I'm working 18 months ahead. I thought I'd give you just a bit of silly behind-the-scenes of how this sometimes works for an author. =)

When I pitched my new series, The Codebreakers, to Bethany House, I was writing An Hour Unspent and editing A Song Unheard. And I was SO GLAD we got the go-ahead when we did, because of how closely the stories are related.

See, at first, I had Margot being 11 or 12 in A Song Unheard. I wanted her to be still fully a child so that her precocious brilliance was even more striking. Did I still intend her to be a heroine in the next series?

Yes. But my initial thought was to make her the last heroine in the series. My thought, at the time, was to call the series The Men of Room 40 and then make it rather cheeky that the last "man" was, in fact, a girl. My plan was, in fact, to have her story set after the war, during an interesting turn of events in Russia.

My editor said, "Yeah, no. How about instead you make her the first heroine to bridge the two series and set it during the war? Of course, then you have to change the series title. It's not clever if it's the first one."

So, being a brainstormer, I got to work on that and soon devised a story for Margot that would be set in the war. But, well...I can't exactly have a heroine who's only 15 or 16 in an adult romance. I decided that if I put her adventure toward the end of the war--I went with 1917-18 so that I still had room for the other two books to be set in the end days of the war too--and had her be just barely 18, that could work. Doing the math, I came to the conclusion that she would then be 14 during A Song Unheard.

Luckily, we were still in edits on that one, so I could go in pretty easily and change her age and actions where necessary to make her more age-appropriate. 

That's not the first time I've had to make tweaks to a previous book to allow for what I want to happen in later ones, and I'm so glad the editorial process is long enough, and spaced appropriately, to allow this!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Word of the Week - From Scratch

My October baking has inspired looking into this one. Why, exactly, do we say something's made "from scratch" if it doesn't use a mix? Maybe y'all know this already, since it's pretty simple, but I was clueless, LOL.

In my head, I think it may have had something to do with the meaning of scratch that comes from the verb meaning "scrape together," as in scratching out an existence. Because, you know, you scrape together the ingredients. Literally... And I guess that's not totally far afield.

But in fact, it's a bit more simple than that. One of the noun meanings of scratch is "nothing." (Which I guess I'd never really paused to consider before.) So from scratch really means from nothing. Er, nothing pre-made anyway. Interestingly, that's been in use since 1918.

Do you like to make things from scratch, or are you more for the ease of boxes and mixes? (My answer depends on the project.)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . Honoring (Undeserving) Parents

The last few weeks, my dad (who happens to be my pastor) has been preaching through the Ten Commandments. He recently covered number five--the first commandment to contain a promise. Now, he had plenty of material to get through with the focus he chose, and he said up front he wasn't even going to touch on how to honor parents who don't meet a basic definition of good. Namely:

The ones who abandon their kids.
The ones who abuse and misuse.
The ones who neglect.
The ones who hurt.

I totally get why he focused where he did--but I also wanted to say, "No, say more! Talk about that too!" LOL. Because let's face it.

Far too many people today don't have good parents. They don't have parents who make it easy to honor them. So how are they to obey that commandment?

First, a disclaimer: my parents are awesome. They have always been there with love and encouragement. They taught me to honor God and value family. So in no way do I have firsthand experience with this topic. But I do have secondhand experience. I have friends and family who have to ask this question. It's also a question I've had to deal with when I wrote Giver of Wonders, in which my heroine's father all but forces his daughters into prostitution (not exactly uncommon in the ancient world, sadly). It made me view things in a new way, to be sure.

So. The fifth commandment.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

As Paul points out in Ephesians 6, this is the first commandment that promises something in return for obedience: that your days may be long upon the land. Have you ever paused to consider why honoring your parents carries the promise of a long life?

I think there are several sides to it. First of all, in the ancient world, parents had the right of life and death over their children. Even into New Testament days in the Roman Empire, a father could at any point in time kill his children with no consequences, because they were considered his property. So there's a simple logic to this--honor your parents, because they could kill you if you don't, LOL. Dishonoring them, even in the Law of Moses, could result in stoning. But at a certain point--the point where your life starts to stretch out too long upon the land--it's not your parents you're still probably worried about. It's your kids. And where will your kids have learned how to treat you? By watching how you treat your parents. They hear every sigh, every grumble, see every eye roll, and they pay attention. If we treat our parents with disrespect, that's the lesson our kids are going to internalize in how they should treat us.

But that's assuming they see us getting to treat our parents in any way--it's assuming they're there. What about when the parents are absent? Or cruel? Abusive? Selfish?

I think it's worth noting the word Moses uses here. Honor. As my dad pointed out in his sermon, the Hebrew word used here implies a weight. Responsibility. Burden. It's heavy business. Note that it does not say "obey." That's the word we often use, especially in "quick and easy" translations for our kids. "Obey your parents!" Pointed look. But that's a whole different word. Obedience might be part of honoring--sometimes, especially when the kids are younger. But as they age? Whole different thing there. As we grow into adults and have kids of our own, it's not a matter of obeying our parents' every command anymore. It's a matter of treating them with respect, of accepting the burden of care for them as they grow weaker.

How to do that with a parent with whom you have little to no relationship? As I struggled with this question in Cyprus's story, the only good answer I could find was that she needed to fight for her father's soul, even when he'd given up. She disobeys his direct word in order to minister to him and care for him. She prayed for him. She loved him in a way he'd never loved her--selflessly, with an agape love.

The question came up for me again in my most recent release An Hour Unspent. Barclay, a now-reformed thief, has spent his life creating a family of fellow orphans, and he's taught them all the lessons his mother taught him: we never steal from family, we never give stolen items as gifts, we always look out for each other. But when he eventually comes face to face with his mother again in the story, he's in for a surprise. Because the things she taught him, that he believes and espoused, had only been conveniences for her--ways to keep him in line and doing what she wanted him to do. The woman he sees now is a user, one who only sees what she can gain from any situation. How is he supposed to honor her, when she's not only undeserving but will harm the family he's adopted?

This is going to look different in every situation. Sometimes, I think it's very important to maintain distance, for the sake of the families of which we're the head. We have to protect our kids from people who will hurt them. But we also want them to see us trying. Maybe that means praying for that absent or abusive parent every day. Maybe it means offering financial support in a safe way--not to enable them to drink or smoke or shoot it away, but to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. Maybe it means encouraging them to get help.

Regardless, it's going to mean forgiving them for the wrongs they've done us and the hurt they've caused. That may be the hardest thing. The heaviest thing. But that's what honor is about--and it wasn't a command given only in regards to deserving parents. It was a command given in regards to all parents. 

It's easy to love those who love us, right? Our true test comes in how we treat our enemies--and sometimes, sadly, that's our own families. Until we do that--until we can do that--we'll be teaching our kids that bitterness is okay. That when someone deserves our disrespect, that's what we ought to give them. 

But that's how the world acts. We want to #BeBetter. We want to show them a better way--a way that exemplifies Christ. A way that loves the unlovable and forgives the unforgivable. Because that is the only way we grow. That's the only way we change the world--by showing the next generation how to treat those who hurt us. 

When we honor, we prove ourselves worthy of honor. And that's how we live long upon the land.

Giver of Wonders

A miracle once saved her life ~ will another give her a future?
Cyprus was little more than a child when a fall left her paralyzed…and when the boy known as the wonder-worker healed her. Ever since, she has wondered why the Lord spared her, what he has in store for her. But her pagan father thinks she was spared solely so she could be introduced to the wealthy wonder-worker, Nikolaos.
Nikolaos has never questioned that his call in life is to dedicate himself to the church and to God. Never, that is, until he and his cousin Petros meet the compelling Cyprus Visibullis. For years he struggles with the feelings she inspires…and with the sure knowledge that Petros loves her too.
Petros knows he will never be good enough for Cyprus’s father to consider him as a match for his favorite daughter not as long as Nikolaos is there. But when tragedy strikes the Visibullis family, he will do anything to save his beloved. Unfortunately, his beloved is determined to do anything to save her sisters ~ even at the cost of herself.
As the festival of lights bathes their Greek city in beauty, Cyprus, Petros, and Nikolaos celebrate the miracle of their Savior s birth together one last time. And in remembrance of their Lord’s greatest gift, one of them will make the ultimate sacrifice for the others…and a centuries-long tradition will be born.

An Hour Unspent

With Danger Creeping Ever Closer,
Do Their Dreams Still Matter?
Once London’s top thief, Barclay Pearce has turned his back on his life of crime and now uses his skills for a nation at war. But not until he rescues a clockmaker’s daughter from a mugging does he begin to wonder what his future might hold.
Evelina Manning has constantly fought for independence but she certainly never meant for it to inspire her fiancĂ© to end the engagement and enlist in the army. When the intriguing man who saved her returns to the Manning residence to study clockwork repair with her father, she can’t help being interested. But she soon learns that nothing with Barclay Pearce is as simple as it seems.
As 1915 England plunges ever deeper into war, the work of an ingenious clockmaker may give England an unbeatable military edge—and Germany realizes it as well. Evelina’s father soon finds his whole family in danger—and it may just take a reformed thief to steal the time they need to escape it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

COVER REVEAL!!! The Number of Love

It's that time again!

I confess: seeing my covers is one of the most exciting parts of the whole book-creation process. I mean, I love writing the story. And holding it in my hands for the first time can't be beat. But getting that first glimpse of a story's face? Yeah. That's pure awesomeness right there.

And though An Hour Unspent only released a month ago, I'm already fully immersed in my next series, The Codebreakers. If you've read A Song Unheard, then you're hopefully (LOL) already a fan of this next heroine. Margot De Wilde, little sister of Lukas, takes center stage, all grown up and helping England with her cryptography skills in the mysterious Room 40, intelligence hub of the British Admiralty. Haven't read Shadows Over England yet? No worries--characters they have in common will just appear like secondary characters, and it won't be assumed that you're already familiar with them. ;-) But if you the Ladies of the Manor series, you'll be excited to know that those characters appear too! Brook actually spurs Margot into a rather funny decision... Anyway!

So, bit of backstory on the cover. On my birthday (August 14) I got an email from my editor that wished me a happy birthday and said they'd actually just wrapped the cover photo shoot a few minutes ago, so he sent me a candid shot from it. Best. Gift. Ever. It was fun to see the set they used (which involved a window set up on blocks and held upright with a clamp) and the model they'd chosen. Aaaaggghhhhhh!!!!!!! That glimpse was enough to know I was going to love the final product.

Then a few weeks later, I saw the cover itself. Oh yes. Total LOVE. It was EXACTLY what I'd asked for. Margot, at an old window, foggy rain beyond it. Writing the number 18 on the glass with a finger. Wearing a long, belted cardigan, hair in waves. Bethany House always does an amazing job on my covers, but this is the first time that my exact suggestion was used, so it made me all the more excited.

So are you ready???? Here it is!














Isn't it gorgeous??? I love the model they chose--she definitely has that European look that Belgian Margot should have. The expression on her face is perfect. I adore the red of the cardigan--in the story originally it was blue, but I promptly changed it to match, LOL, as we all agreed this color was perfect for the cover. The art deco touches and font is spot-on, and that 18 she's writing on the window...

What's the significance of that? Well, you'll just have to read it in June and find out. ;-) Though, funny story. I showed the cover to one of my writing partners, and she loved it. Then read the manuscript that weekend and had to come back with a thrilled email of "THEY PUT 18 ON THE COVER!!!!" A detail that doesn't mean a whole lot until you read the story. And then it means everything. ;-)

Here's a bit more about the book:

Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network—field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren’t enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by an enemy that just won’t give up. He’s smitten quickly by the too-intelligent Margot, but how to convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart?

Amidst biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them, but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save them all from the very secrets that brought them together.

(other retailers not yet available)

What do you think of the cover? Do you like the mood? Do you find the image intriguing? Make you wonder about that message on the glass?  What's your favorite part?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Word of the Week - Shrapnel

Writing war books as I for some bizarre reason seem to do quite a bit (built in conflict?), I occasionally find myself looking up terms that have to do with weapons, fighting, etc. And sometimes--like this time--I'm quite surprised by what I find!

Apparently, I've been using shrapnel incorrectly. I'm pretty sure I've used it in a story before, and if I have, then it's been wrong. Because it wasn't until WW2 that shrapnel came to mean "shell fragments, any fragmented pieces that become airborne."
Lt. Henry Shrapnel

So what was it before? A specific type of ammunition, actually, invented in 1784 by British military man Lt. Henry Shrapnel. His creation was actually a sort of cannonball that was filled with shot, meant to explode in the air and rain the shot down on the enemy. Though he dubbed it "spherical ammunition," it was soon given his name instead.

So though the word was in use for a loooooong time, it didn't take on the sense of "fragments," often produced because of an explosion, until 150 years after its invention.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Friday from the Archives - Everyday Crazy

It's that time again. When October hits and I look back and think, "Wait! What happened to September?" While we all get readjusted to school schedules and the changing of seasons, here are my ponderings from a few years ago when life was again, Everyday Crazy. 

Original post published 10/9/14

I can't tell you how many times I've said or written the words, "Sorry, this month has been crazy." I think I probably utter/type it at least once a month. Because let's face it, life is crazy. It's always crazy. And though I always think, It'll get better once I'm done this... the fact remains that once I'm done one thing, it just means another is on the horizon.

Traditionally, October is my crazy month, where I have something going on every weekend. Fall Festival, family reunion, daughter's birthday, Halloween. This year, September way outdid October's plans. This year, we were gone for vacation, then for homecoming at our college, then there was ACFW. I'm so, so glad to be home for a while, even if I still have all those normal October things to do.

My point? Well, that every day is crazy. Every week. Every month. And I can either use that as an excuse to put things off and let life overwhelm me...or I can not.

That's a hard one for me. I admit it. All too often things get pushed to the backburner in my life (like cleaning...or sorting through that stack of mail that I hope doesn't have any bills I've missed...or...) while I focus on the pressing things.

So how do I do better? Honestly, I'm not an expert on this. I don't have the answers. But this past year, as we moved and settled, as I had to pitch a new series to new publishers, as I worked on my biblical at a snail's pace, as I edited and designed a book every month for WhiteFire, as I homeschooled both kids for the first time...well, some things shifted for me. Some things that made me realize that I can still have time to cook a decent meal, if I just make myself be creative. I can keep my house from becoming hopeless, if I just force myself to spend one evening a week on it (it's not great, mind you, but not hopeless). I can write, I can read, I can edit, if I'm willing to budget my time.

There are still days and weeks where I just can't do anymore. I can't squeeze in one more activity, I can't go one more place--not if I still want to finish my "have to"s. But at a certain point, I have to stop looking at it as crazy...and just start accepting it as everyday life. And cherish the fact that, though crazy-busy, my family is at least crazy-busy together. We're not pulled a million different directions every day. And I love that. I love that we spend so much time together.

It kinda makes me think that all the crazy is worth it. Because we can live in Crazytown together. And really, it's a pretty fun place to be.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . The Purpose of Shame

I'm by no means the first person to tackle this subject, and no doubt others have done it better than me. But last week when I wrote about "Actions, Reactions, and Being Better," I had an anonymous comment accusing me of "woman shaming/blaming." Another of those phrases that has been tossed around and turned into a fad, but which I think is often misunderstood.

But you know what? Part of the goal to #BeBetter is to know what shame is and why sometimes we need it.

First, let's cover where shame is bad and where you will NOT find me doing me.

Here's the definition of shame (the noun) according to Merriam-Webster, the writer's go-to dictionary:
1: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety

    b : the susceptibility to such emotion // have you no shame?

: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : ignominy // the shame of being arrested

3a : something that brings censure or reproach also : something to be regretted : pity //  it's a shame you can't go

  b : a cause of feeling shame

 And then the verb definitions:
1 : to bring shame to : disgrace // shamed the family name

2 : to put to shame by outdoing

3 : to cause to feel shame

4 : to force by causing to feel guilty // shamed into confessing

When people today accuse others of "woman shaming" (or variations of it that include derogatory nouns in place of "woman"), they're implying that one person is forcing undeserved shame upon another.

Yeah, not cool. We see examples of this, even in the church, when a victim is made to feel guilty or responsible for an assault or crime while the assailant sails by free. As someone in favor of Truth and Justice (with capitol Ts and Js), dat ain't cool, y'all. This often happens when the accused is in a position of power or authority and others under their authority who have not ever been their target can't fathom that such a good person would ever do something so heinous, therefore the accuser/victim must be lying.

I daresay most of the time, this is completely unfair, unjust, and results in terribly misplaced and undeserved shame. The victim, who has already suffered, now suffers more

To combat this sad trend, we've begun to see the mantra of "Always believe the woman" when it comes to rape/abuse/harassment charges. I understand where that's coming from. And in general, most of the time, it's probably a wise stance. If it's where we start. Begin with the notion of "there's something to this" and then investigate. But let's also keep in mind that in America, everyone is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and that includes those who actually are criminals, not just those falsely accused. We have to be willing to extend this assumption to all or we will not be recipients of it ourselves when we need it most. So "always believe the woman" can't be the final word, just the starting place. And those who dig into an accusation are not doing anything wrong. They're simply pursuing the truth.

Because statistically speaking, sometimes the "victim" has lied. Sometimes it's an agenda or hatred or bitterness or you-name-it against the accused that leads them to lob the accusations.

But honestly, that's not really what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is when we actually NEED shame. Look back at that very first definition:

a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt

Of guilt. Guilt, generally speaking, is when we feel bad for something we have done wrong. Guilt, true guilt, not any misplaced kind, is what happens when our consciences tell us we've slipped. We feel bad. And we're supposed to feel bad. Guilt is the private, inner feeling. Shame is more the public face of it. I might feel guilty if I forget to read my Bible one morning, but there isn't any public shame involved in. Conversely, if I've committed a crime I really don't feel bad about but then have to face legal consequences, there's public shame involved as I face the rest of the world. They don't always go hand in hand, but often they do.

So, since this whole thing started with me asking myself, "am I woman shaming/blaming?" let's look at that subject, which generally relates to sexual issues. Most of the times I've heard this phrase lately has to do with accusations of sexual harassment or rape, those cases in which "always believe the woman" has been enacted. I've been thinking about this all week, and here's where I've landed.

First, men need to bear their own responsibility, guilt, and shame for their actions. Period. For too long our society has applauded and idolized the "lady's man." Anyone see the James Bond marathons running constantly lately? One reason I've always hated the franchise is how ridiculous the women are often portrayed. If I hear "Oh, James!" one more time... But while the feminist-minded modern woman will say that this sort of thing is offensive, let's look at some of the best-selling stories aimed at women, shall we? 50 Shades, anyone? 

What message are we really broadcasting here? Out of one side of our mouth we're saying, "I'm your equal, respect me," and out of the other we're fantasizing about being dominated by super-hot, powerful men who know what we want even when we "don't."

So yes, men bear their own blame, shame, guilt, and responsibility (or should). But here is a truth we all need to understand.

No one else can be counted on to love you or respect you as much as YOU do.

So are you loving and respecting yourself? What does that even look like?

Well for starters, it looks like teaching our daughters not just that they have choices--about when, where, with whom, conception, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, family planning, career paths, whatever--it means teaching them that they have WORTH. I'm not talking about the L'oreal, you-deserve-to-look-beautiful type of worth. I'm talking real worth.

You, my daughter, are so valuable. You are precious and lovable and someone to be cherished. So do you know what I have spent your life doing and will continue to do? I'll protect you. Because that's what we do when something is valuable, when something has great worth. WE PROTECT IT.

So how do we, as women, protect ourselves? It's not just about knowing how to knee in the groin and disarm an attacker (though that doesn't hurt to know too). We protect ourselves first and foremost by valuing ourselves and letting it be KNOWN that we value ourselves. Kind of like those little signs you put up if you have a great alarm system, right? You warn would-be burglars right away, "Hey, this isn't an easy target."

Well, guess what? We need to send the same message to would-be sexual predators. This isn't fail-proof, just like an alarm system isn't. It might not keep the real violent offenders away. But it certainly tells the random drunken party-goer that you're not an easy mark.

Which brings me to point number two. When we protect something, we're careful where we take it. I don't know about you, but I'm not wearing my most valuable necklace in the Eiffel Tower where the pickpockets lurk. Just so, I'm not taking myself to the types of parties where these sorts of abuses are common.

Does wearing a low-cut shirt justify a guy for taking advantage? NO. Of course not. His sin rests on him. But we also can't control him. We can only control ourselves. So let's control ourselves.

Instead, we've created a society that says all shame is bad because there's no reason to ever feel guilty for sexual behavior unless it violates someone else's choice.

I don't believe that. We can't first strip a thing of all rules and then be amazed when it's abused. We instead need to recognize the true value. In ourselves, and in the bonds between us. We also need to recognize that there is a place for guilt. And, when we don't honor and respect ourselves, when we violate the sacred, shame isn't misplaced.

So, fine. Accuse me of shaming. Sometimes I am. Because sometimes we deserve to feel shame. Sometimes we NEED to feel shame, to remind us that there is a right and a wrong.

But here's the thing. Condemning a practice doesn't mean judging an individual. I can say prostitution is bad without throwing stones at the fourteen-year-old girl who has been forced into it. I can say it BECAUSE of her. Because of the harm done to the women, children, and even men who find themselves in it, very few by happy circumstances.

Same goes with the milder forms of sexual sin, which I do not hesitate to call sin. I can say it's wrong BECAUSE I've seen how it hurts people. How it damages relationships, how it hurts our hearts, how it destroys families. We've told ourselves for decades that it doesn't hurt anyone.

But it does. It hurts us. It creates a chasm between us and God. It whittles away at the idea of what true love really is. Because it becomes too entwined with the physical. And ultimately, that even comes between us and our significant other.

How do we change the world? We start by respecting ourselves. Valuing ourselves. Teaching our children to do the same. And when we fail in that, the true purpose of guilt and shame is to remind us that we CAN and SHOULD #BeBetter.