Monday, August 31, 2009


Help me rename my contemporary romance (set at the beach, woo hoo!) and win FOUR BOOKS!

Paper Roses by Amanda Cabot
Love Finds You in Humble, Texas by Anita Higman (signed copy)
Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida by Debby Mayne (signed copy)
Ruby's Slippers by Leeanna Ellis

I'll run this contest for a week (or as long as it takes to find a good one, lol). Vote for someone else's, volunteer your own . . . if I decide to use one, the creator will be the winner. If I don't use one, then the most popular will win.

Here's some info on the story (summary reflects current title and hasn't exactly been fine-tuned):

She says her love is forever. He says she's stuck in the past.

Louisa hates being a statistic, but one bad decision has forever changed her life. Branded as a biracial, teenaged mother, it’s easy to forget over the years all the potential she once had. And she doesn’t for a minute regret giving up on college to raise the twins . . . but sometimes she wishes she had the courage to tell their father they exist. And when they finally start asking about him the summer before third grade, she knows it's time.

Rem has a comfortable life in D.C., a great job in the tech department of the CIA, and a beautiful fiancĂ©. But when Louisa sends him a note asking him to come to North Carolina, he knows he has to go. He’s long regretted what happened between them nine years ago. But when he arrives in the Outer Banks and meets his kids, he can't deny that God had a plan all along.

It doesn’t take long for him to turn Louisa’s world upside-down. She knows she’ll never fit into his, but he wants to give her back some of her dreams. All well and good—except that the thing she wants most is the one thing he won’t give: his love.

As one storm after another rolls through her formerly-peaceful coastal life, Louisa begins to wonder what the Lord’s plan is for her. The man she’s loved so long won’t let her close, her best friend is still determined to make her his wife, and her kids are feeling torn between their world in OBX and Rem’s in D.C. She wants to believe this long night of her heart will soon be over . . . but does anything better wait for her in the morning?

Modern . . . Beaches & TITLE CONTEST

Okay, I confess. I'm a beach-nut. (Not a beech-nut, mind you . . . ;-) My family has vacationed at the beach nearly every year of my life, and it's done something to me. Gotten the ocean into my soul.

Every year since I was 10, we've gone to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (Anybody not know where they are? It's the home of Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers flew the airplane, and where most of Nicholas Sparks's books are set. A barrier island chain off the coast.) It's relatively quiet, gorgeous, and has that certain something that speaks to me.

Right after I graduated from college, I had this idea for a book set in the Outer Banks. (Probably inspired by the two weeks we'd just sent there in celebration of graduating.) It kept me up all night--seriously. I think I slept three hours that night. I rose in the morning when David did at 5 (he was, at the time, traveling to Baltimore for work every day) and got out my laptop.

That day, I wrote 50 pages. As I did the day after that. And the day after that. 150 pages in 3 days! Then the next 150 pages in, well, three months. LOL. When I first envisioned the story, I wanted it to be simple. Love triangle, long-lost love, that sort of thing. But as I wrote, it got complicated. (This always happens to me . . .) The characters I'd intended to be antagonistic were nice. Lovable, even. Which means my heroine and hero couldn't be antagonized by them. They had to work through a far more difficult issue and deal with them while liking them.

This is coming up here because my critique partners are currently reading this story and have called it my best--which means I may want to pitch it at conference. I'd originally titled it Unrequested, Unrequited. Too much, right? So I changed it to Blue Skies in the Morning. Not exactly brilliant, either. So. I'm searching for a new title before I pitch it.

So let's have my first blog contest! Recommend a title sometime this week. Vote for someone else's. The most popular/my favorite will be the winner, and the person to recommend it will win . . . books. See the following post for details!

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Friend . . . Sharlene MacLaren

One of the very first writing-friends I made was a sweet-as-pie lady named Sharlene MacLaren. I volunteered to influence for her first two books, and I loved them so much that I wanted to run a special promotion. I put together a game revolving around the setting for Loving Liza Jane, and through that I spent quite a few emails getting to know Shar. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my review made it into the book, and by the time I reviewed the last book in her Little Hickman Creek series, my endorsements had made it onto the cover.

Around the same time, I joined Shoutlife, which was then pretty knew. Shar and I chatted quite a lot over there, exchanged stories about our families, and promised to exchange hugs at the '07 ACFW conference. Since then, we just assume that I'm on the list for influencers for all of her new books, and we still keep in touch through the social networks and the occasional emails. And every time I see her name on the ACFW loop or one of the sites we're both members of, I get a grin on my face. Shar is one of those people who leaves you with a happy sigh in your heart after talking to her. She is so friendly, so caring, so loving . . . she genuinely wants to know what's going on in your life, and you walk away from a conversation with her feeling like you matter. Is there any better kind of person?

I asked Shar to share a bit about her story. I already knew some just by piecing together our conversations, but she filled it out a bit.

After a teaching career, Shar faced retirement and a question: now what? What did the Lord want her to do with her life? She started having dreams in which she'd written a book, but she dismissed them. After all, what did she know about that? But the dreams persisted, and finally Shar surrended her heart and sat down to write. The ideas came pouring out, and her journey began.

She started along the bumpy road with a Publish America novel. When that didn't really sell, she learned the craft and found a home as one of Whitaker House's premiere novelists. With two contemporaries and five historicals (currently) under her belt, Shar in thrilled with her position at Whitaker and looking forward to many more books with them. Next? The rights to that Publish America novel finally reverted to her, and she rewrote it, renamed it, and it'll be coming out from Whitaker soon. I personally can't wait!

I've done a Story Time Tuesday on Shar, so regular readers probably know how much I love Shar's writing style. She writes from the heart, with characters deep and beautiful, stories with just enough suspense to heighten the romance, and always some soul-searing truth that strikes you right in the heart. I have read and loved each of her books thus far, and I know when I pick up a new one that it will be even better than the last.

If you want a good read--and a good friend--check out Shar MacLaren. Her books will touch you, and if you look her up and drop her a line, I guarantee she will reply and win you over with her charm, love, and sweet spirit. She is one lady I can't wait to hug again!

(I'm putting her book info below. Click on the pictures for my reviews!)



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughtful About . . . New Things

This has been a landmark week. For a family whose method of budgeting is usually "Don't spend any money!" we've gone on a spending spree. A necessary one, granted. But still.

A goodly little while ago, our fridge started leaking. Leaking rusty water, that is. My solution? Put an old towel there to catch it, lol. Then a week ago I noticed that food was spoiling about four times faster than it should. So we finally bit the bullet and went fridge shopping. Found a fabulous deal in the scratch and dent section at Lowe's (not that you can even see the ding), and my beautiful, black, side-by-side with dispenser fridge showed up on Tuesday.

This after a very successful shopping trip with my MIL on Monday. Only clothes (belated birthday shopping) but still exciting. Then yesterday we ordered a laptop to replace the one that died back in the fall. So many new things! Needless to say, I'm thrilled.

My daughter, on the other hand, stood there in the kitchen when we got the new fridge in and the old one out, and pouted. "I'm gonna miss our old fridge," she said. "It was so beautiful."

Now, the old fridge was far from beautiful. It had rust stains all over it, the finish was coming off the freezer, it didn't seal right . . . the thing was undoubtedly older than I am. I asked her if she thought the new fridge was pretty too, and she said, "Yes, but I want the old one."

Part of me thought, "Wow. This girl is so resistant to change--something I guess we all can be sometimes, even when the change is obviously good." And then I had another thought. Aren't we glad we have a God who loves us even when we're old and ugly and not working right? When we're rusty and spoiled and left to sit out in the elements? I think we all go through times in life when that describes us. And not only does the Lord still call us beautiful, He also loves us so much that He'll painstakingly restore us--not just replace us with shinier model;-)

It's been a few days, and my girl-o definitely likes the new fridge. But she'll still look outside to where the old one is awaiting the return of the Lowe's guys and say, "I miss the old fridge. It's so beautiful." And even while I think, "Not me!" I still smile at the sweet spirit of my little tyke and praise the Lord for that kind of love.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remember When . . . D.C. Wasn't the Capital?

It's a little-realized fact that Washington D.C. has not always been our nation's capital. For a while right after the Revolution, Annapolis, Maryland held that distinction--something I didn't know until I went down to visit my college for the first time and saw all the plaques.

I'm considering a new historical novel, though, and thought that would be a great setting. I did some basic research and now know that Annapolis was the capital from 1783 to 1784. Long time, I know--but oh, the things that happened! It's where George Washington resigned his commission in the Continental Army. It's where the delegates of the Congress of the Confederation ratified the Treaty of Paris. And the State House was so admired by the founding fathers that Thomas Jefferson often referred to it as "The only decent piece of architecture in Annapolis" (okay, so that's not such an awesome endorsement of the city, lol) and George Washington had the nation's capital building modeled after it. Pretty cool, huh?

Annapolis was such a hub of society at the time that it was called "The Athens of America." It boasted a glittering social season, gracious hospitality, intellectual stimulation (ahem, says the graduate of its oldest institute of higher learning . . .) and cultural activities in spades. The oldest theater in the New World was built in Annapolis, and more 18th-century architecture survives there than anywhere else in the country.

Is it any wonder this history-loving romantic enjoys that little city so much? You can feel the past walking along with you as you take a stroll along its many circles, and see it in every building you pass (not the mention all the reenactors;-) If I buckle down to writing this story, I'm going to have a lot of fun with the research! Day trip, anyone?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Modern . . . Author Voice

This is slightly off-topic (for what I said Mondays were for), but what I'm working on right now. As I prepare for the ACFW conference that starts in three short weeks, I need to have all my pitch stuff ready. Including authors I can compare my stuff to.

Now, when it comes to historicals, I'm set on that front. Got my list, no problem. Except that I probably won't be pitching any historicals. I'll have them with me, just in case, but I doubt that'll be my focus. Unfortunately, I don't know who to compare myself to when it comes to contemporaries.

My contemporary voice has turned rather light and witty . . . chatty. And I'm having a hard time finding authors who write like that in third person. Got a few that do first person, but I wouldn't want to say "I write like so and so" when all her stuff is in first and none of mine is.

So yesterday I went through the CBA Bestseller List and the Christy awards, checked all titles that looked promising, read first pages of a ton of books . . . and came up with a few options. Don't know how stellar a list it is, but at least it's something. Because last time, they really did ask me "Who would you compare your writing to?" so I better continue to have an answer!

I'm totally up for revisions, though, if anyone has an author spring to mind who writes contemporary stories in third person, with multiple points-of-view, in a fun, lighthearted voice. Not that hard issues aren't tackled, mind you, but tackled with humor and a healthy dose of sarcasm.

All brilliant suggestions are welcome! (Stupid ones are acceptable too, though no promises that I'll use them;-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Friend . . . Terri Kraus

When I was writing my Chicago-based historical, Mafia Princess, I needed a little help. Okay, a LOT of help, lol. My experience with Chicago was confined to one awful night at O'Hare (nothing like standing in a line for three hours when you're six months pregnant!), and that obviously wasn't something I could draw on. So I put out a call on my writing loops, asking for native Chicagoans to answer a few questions.

With my first round, I got several people willing to share some basic information. Among them was Terri Kraus. I knew her name from my historical group, which has a small-ish membership--and because I had just sent her book, The Restoration, to one of my reviewers. What I learned over the next couple months is that Terri also has a passion for her heritage and a heart happy to share it and help others.

As I wrapped up my novel, I had a few more questions that needed answered, so I sent out another email. In addition to some more simple "do you know?"s, I jokingly (sort of) offered to "let" (ha ha) a native read my manuscript to check for setting issues. I honestly didn't expect any takers. So you can imagine my surprise when multi-pubbed author Terri raised her hand after asking a few questions of her own (like "Why did you choose Chicago for your setting?" and "What research have you done?").

Terri blessed me hugely by sharing her Italian heritage as well as her knowledge of Chicago, offering insight into my characters, and providing those priceless words of wisdom like "Chicagoans would never say that." LOL. Obviously, it got me curious about who "my Italian Chicagoan helper," as I referred to her to friends outside the loop, really was.

Terri has a slew of books to her credit, some of them co-authored with her husband Jim, some written solo. Her solo series is published by David C. Cook and combines her love of design with her love of old things. One of my most trusted reviewers had requested The Renovation the moment I listed it and begged for its sequel, The Renewal when it was available. Her excitement about the first book is palpable in her review. (She's sent me the review for the second one, but my ancient Word can't open it . . .) The final book in the Project Restoration series, The Transformation, will be hitting shelves the end of the month (August '09).

When I asked Terri to share about her writing, she confessed that she still adores the first books she ever coauthored with her hubby--and why not? Pirate books--hello!! She loved digging into the research for a historical, and is currently working on a book about Italian women during WWII. Can't wait for that one!

Terri tags her work as "Passionately Inspirational Fiction," and I gotta think that's appropriate. Maybe it's the 100% Italian blood coursing through her veins, but I know firsthand that Terri is a woman who pursues her interests with passion and inspires other with her generosity and spirit. And that, to me, is a woman you want to know. Terri's an author I'm going to watch and I wonderful person I pray I get to meet someday soon!

Check out her website at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughtful About . . . Angels

When I was very little (as in, from 2 to 4 1/2 years old) my family lived in a split-foyer house. There are things I remember about this house--my room. The kitchen with the breakfast bar separating it from the dining room.

The stairs.

Why, you ask, do I remember the stairs? Interesting and weird story. I have a few memories relating to this. The first few are of approaching the stairs, pausing to make sure no one else was looking, and then jumping. Three years old, mind you. Jumping down the stairs. Now that I have a 3-yr-old of my own, this is even more terrifying.

But I did it because for some reason, I knew I wouldn't fall on those stairs. I knew--knew--that I could leap down that first flight to the landing and would just float along, landing oh-so-softly on my feet.

And I knew that if I tried it on the second flight down to the basement, I'd fall and hurt myself.

There were a few other things I knew. First, I couldn't tell anyone about it or do it when they were watching. Second, I could only do it until my next birthday.

Had you asked me at the time how this was possible, I would have said, "Angels carry me down." Another thing I just knew. And interestingly, my family didn't attend church back then. I had no "religious upbringing" to-date. So how I knew this . . . Eyes of a child, I suppose.

But I was a stubborn child. (Who, me? Never! LOL.) On that birthday, in spite of knowing I couldn't and shouldn't, I checked to make sure no one was watching and then took a flying leap . . . and a giant tumble. My mom came running, and couldn't understand why in the world I'd tried to jump down the stairs.

Years later I finally told my mom about this, and she got this strange look on her face. "You flew down the stairs?" she asked. Then she shook her head. "I did the same thing when I was a kid. It was angels."

Maybe my family's just weird. Or maybe this a priori faith in the world beyond our vision is something inherent in children, something they understand the rules of . . . but something they grow out of.

Makes me wonder what my daughter sees when she looks out over a revival meeting and asks, "Why's there an alligator on that man's head?" Or when she looks to the corner of the room and smiles. I'm willing to grant imagination on a lot of things, but I also remember so clearly that certain knowledge that there were angels there, waiting to give me a ride . . . for a time. So long as I obeyed the rules.

In all my life I don't remember ever seeing an angel--certainly not since I became a believer and grew up into adulthood. But I find it even more interesting that my one personal experience with them pre-dates my education in faith. Just goes to show you, I guess--there's a lot we can teach kids about God.

And a lot they can teach us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remember When . . . Women First Voted

One of the things I find most interesting about the shape (so to speak) of the Twenties is women's issues. Now, I am not a feminist--far from it. I baffled many a young woman in my college classes when I replied to their in-class rants on "Why should the men be in charge?" with "Why not? Someone needs to have the final say. They were more qualified." (Keeping in mind this was a conversation on Ancient Greece, lol.)

But when women gained the right to vote in 1920, it ushered in a new era for females around the nation. As the father of my heroine observes in Mafia Princess, the new legislation made women champion equality across the board--and that led to some interesting changes.

You know the 20s fashions we all find so charming? All those straight lines and curve-less silhouettes came straight from men's clothing. One fashion book I looked at for research referred to the 20s as the Tomboy Decade. Hair went short, corsets went out (though a more comfortable version quickly came back in), shape went straight, and now and then you'd even (gasp!) see a woman in trousers--though that was still very rare.

The Flappers we often equate with the decade (though they weren't as numerous as you might think) took things a step farther and flaunted the feminity they kept with a boldness unheard of before. Sure, most ladies powdered their noses--but never in public as they did. And applying lipstick in a restaurant where everyone could see? Shocking! They rolled their stockings down so you could see the tops below the hems of their dresses, and even wore frocks cut low enough up top to show their bandeaux!

And those things--they took undergarments to a level that Victorian mothers had to wonder about. After centuries of women accentuating their curves and padding them where lacking, these elastic contraptions' sole purpose was to flatten a woman's (ahem) assets. Otherwise those straight-lined dresses wouldn't hang as they should, and the tomboy-ish thing would have gone out the window.

Women put much of the roar into the Roaring Twenties by defying what had before been social norms, demanding freedom, and chucking the styles that men expected. And still . . . even those flappers would have been shocked by what we consider normal today. (We think their dresses were short, but "short" meant two inches below the knee.)

Makes for interesting characterization, let me tell you! There was a pretty big gap between the thinking of the mothers still in a Victorian mindset and the thinking of the daughters coming of age in the 20s. Stories just waiting to be written. =)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Story Time . . . THE BLUE ENCHANTRESS by M.L. Tyndall

Is there anything better than action, adventure, and romance on the high seas? (Well, maybe a full night's sleep, but that's an entry for another time . . .) Those are the key ingredients in MaryLu Tyndall's latest release, The Blue Enchantress, a book I'm having a hard time putting down.

This won't be a full review because I'm still in the middle of it, but ahhhhhh. I know when I pick up one of MaryLu's books that I'm in for some tall ships, some pirates, some spiritual elements that send goosebumps shuddering up my spine, and a love story that will set my heart a-pumping. The Blue Enchantress is the second in the Charles Town Belles trilogy, but it easily stands alone--and stands so well that I'm already looking forward to the next one.

It centers around Hope, a young woman who has always relied on her charm and beauty to get her way. But when bad decisions land her on an auction block in St. Kitts, about to be sold as a slave, she swears she's going to change. Especially when Nathanial Mason, a man she's only scoffed at before but who may just be the most gentlemanly man she's ever met, sells half his belongings to save her. Hope dreams of starting afresh and becoming a true lady--but with the dark shadows haunting her every step, will she ever have the chance?

Thus far, this book has it all. Hurricans, shipwrecks, pirates . . . everybody release a satisfied sigh with me. I was reading it the other night, and my husband started pouting that I wasn't paying any attention to him. (Guilty.) I replied, "Hold on, they just got stranded on a deserted island. Let me finish this chapter." And though I did put it down, it was with a huff. "I left the poor guy with a sword at his chin," I said.

And for the record, last night when I had a rare hour alone (the hubby took the kids to the park) I chose to spend most of it reading this book. That right there speaks to its greatness, because usually I'd be parked in front of my computer the whole time.

Now I'm going to cut this short, because last night I left a sweet character with a pirate. Arg! Have to go read more and see what he wants with her (other than that). So I'll just leave you with this--miracles and minions, pirates and slave auctions, love and jealousy and some checked-but-searing passion . . . what's not to like? Check out MaryLu Tyndall's The Blue Enchantress for a book that will sweep you away.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Modern . . . Ice Cream

Ice cream has been on my brain this weekend. I enjoyed a delightful cookies -n- cream milkshake on my birthday Friday (before dinner, no less!) and then some mint chocolate chip last night. So it seems fitting to delve into that creamy world of nonstop delight for my Modern Monday. =)

When I was reading and critiquing the YA novels of best-bed Stephanie Morrill, I nearly drooled every time she had her teen characters meeting up at Sheridan's Frozen Custard. Now, in my neck of the woods, we have no Sheridan's (though we have the Queen City Creamery, which is divine . . .), so my knowledge of the small chain is limited to Stephanie's stories and then some research. Because, you see, when I set a book in her neck of the woods, I had no choice but to have my characters go to Sheridan's too!

In my defense, when the hero and heroine of my contemporary romance decide to go for ice cream, I was totally willing to send them to Dairy Queen. (Didn't want to copy my best-bud just for the sake of it, you know), but the local who advised me on this stuff assured me that they would drive to Sheridan's before DQ--so to Sheridan's they went!

Now, feel free to drool over their menu if you want some inspiration on this hot summer day. I know I spent ridiculous amounts of time going ga-ga over the choices. Can we just say "Yum!"?? Grasshopper, Caramel Pretzel, Dirt & Worms . . . ah, bliss in a cup.

Of course, one of the quirks of my heroine is that she is a genuine waffle-cone when it comes to choosing ice cream. She always knows exactly what she wants on the way and then changes her mind in line--and regrets it. Our hero gets to demonstrate his deep-abiding love for her by always ordering what she really wants and then casually trading her when she makes eyes at his treat. Is he a gem or what? ;-)

So on this (or any of the other upcoming) sweltering August day, treat yourself to some joy-in-a-cone (or cup;-) and beat the heat with some ice cream. Roseanna's perscription for a great summer evening. =)

(And do I get a gift card or something for promoting a shop I've never even been to?? I think I should! You know, for when I'm down that way . . . lol.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Blog . . .

. . . to bring you my birthday. No, got nothing special. Just feeling too lazy to decide which of my awesome friends to write about this week. ;-)

Not sure what, if any, plans I have. My party was last weekend (joint party with my dad, whose birthday is the 2nd) and the rest of the extended family is camping, so babysitters are out of range--kinda rules out a romantic dinner. Might have a family dinner out (or brought in) but haven't decided yet.

And you know what? I'm not gonna worry about it. I'll just relax today (as much as possible, given the wee ones), do what strikes me as fun (you know, read, write something useless), and enjoy the fact that my nearly-4-year-old daughter bounced out of bed this morning and promptly said, "Happy Birthday, Mama!" Then tacked on, "I'll just follow you around like a duckling." (Isn't she cute???)

I even got my house clean yesterday so I'd be able to enjoy it today. Sweet, eh? Now, off to enjoy my first cup of birthday coffee and a banana muffin fresh from the oven. Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughtful . . . About Romance

It's a topic I've written about before. Romance in novels--what we expect from them, what we expect from life because of them. There are some people who have been adversely affected by them, drawn astray or given unrealistic expectations. There are others who had found inspiration and the draw of the Lord.

I firmly believe that the call of a Christian romance writer is to try for that second option--we want to pain a picture of love and romance as God intends it to be. Maybe not perfect from the get-go, mind you, but with characters who are all messed up and find the one the Lord intends for them anyway.

We've been discussing this on one of the groups I belong to, and one thing that came up was how quickly things tend to happen in romances. Ignoring the disturbingly-fast tendency to jump into bed with each other in secular novels, even in CBA a story usually only covers a few weeks. Is that really enough time to fall in love? To know?

Yes and no. In my opinion, it's plenty of time to feel that burst of love and know this is one God has in mind for you--it's just not enough time to be ready for marriage (generally speaking). And in thinking about this, it occurs to me that in the majority of my manuscripts, I avoid this problem by having main characters who already know each other very well by the opening of the book.

In Fire Eyes, they grew up together. In Mafia Princess they grew up together. In Peculiar they grew up together. In Note to Self, the one I just finished on Tuesday (woo hoo!), they'd known each other for about five years. Sure, once in while I'll write something where they don't--but it's an issue for them. One that requires certainty from the Lord and some serious prayer before they make any decisions.

This is a broad topic, and I might touch on other parts of it in later weeks. But for now, I'd love to hear other opinions on the pitfalls and virtues of the romance novel (Christian ones in particular) and how they should be handled--in writing and in life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Remember When . . . There Were No Vintage Cars

One thing that's super interesting about the 20s is that what we consider "modern life" had taken hold in some areas (like big cities) and was virtually unknown in others (read: rural areas--like where I live, lol). Electricity? You'd find it everywhere in town, but go five miles out, and nada. Phones? They were gaining traction fast, but very few private residences had them, even in urban areas.

One thing I really enjoyed researching, though, were the cars (partially, perhaps, because my husband did the bulk of the research, lol). So this blog is totally for my car-loving hubby (and all those other people out there who think Car and Driver is literature at its finest [for the record, I thoroughly enjoy the snippets my hubby reads me from C&D]).

When it came time to put my 20s characters behind the wheel of a car, I yelled across the room, "Hey, honey. What cars would these people drive in 1922?" My hubby dear spent the next hour looking them up for me. We decided that my hero would drive a Nash. A what, you ask? At this point in history, a Nash was your solid, middle-class car. Affordable, but offered considerable value for your buck. They rarely broke down and had a certain elegance. Totally the car my ever-reasonable hero would drive.

But keep in mind this is a book about the Mafia, so naturally I needed something a little more ostentatious too. For that, we went with a Pierce-Arrow. Made famous by another Chicago gangster (who died in 1920), the Pierce-Arrow was distinctive, huge, and sooooooo expensive. What I found interesting in reading about them is that you could choose to make them less distinctive. They were known for the unique placement of their headlights, but you could also order the more standard placement. I have my heroine's father, a fictional mob boss, do this. He wants the status symbol of the Pierce but doesn't want to be confused with Colosimo (the aforementioned gangster).

One thing I'm looking forward to in the sequel to Mafia Princess which I haven't yet written is picking out what car my new hero will drive. He does some rum running (bad, Tony, bad!) so it'll have to be something with some get-up-and-go. Should be a fun choice to make. =)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Story Time . . . MY HEART REMEMBERS by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Since last Story Time Tuesday I wrote about a book that dealt with turn-of-the-century orphan issues, I thought today I’d talk about the other one I’ve recently read with the same topic–though the similarities end there.
My Heart Remembers by Kim Vogel Sawyer is a must-read. No surprise that it’s a finalist in ACFW’s Book of the Year contest!

Maelle promised her father that she’d watch after the wee ones in the rush to escape their burning apartment building. All night long, she cared for her little brother, Mattie, and the baby, Molly. But when her parents never emerge, the care for them in taken out of her hands–and not long after, they’re on an orphan train, headed west. As her younger siblings are torn from her arms, Maelle swears she’ll find them again–and sends with each a token to ensure they’ll recognize each other when they meet again.

Through the years, the three siblings lead very different lives. Maelle, known as Mike, becomes a photographer. Her passion? Capturing the plight of the orphaned children who are overworked and under-loved across America. Mattie learns all about ranching–and the hard price a boy might pay if he finds himself under an unfair “guardian.” Molly is raised as a wealthy socialite . . . who is tossed onto the mercies of others when her brother forces her from her home, penniless and alone, after their parents’ death. Will anything bring them together again?

There are so many things I love about this book. First, though it’s not technically a romance, there’s a strong enough thread of that to keep my romantic’s heart a-pumping happily. As always, Kim delivers characterization that will make you sigh, laugh, and cry (or nearly, in my case;-). The plot has hints of suspense, tons of passion, and clearly demonstrates the redemptive and restorative powers of an Almighty God.

This book is like a tapestry–richly woven, beautifully hued, saturated with feeling and depth. I enjoyed following each thread, learning more about each sibling, and their joy was mine in the end.

For an awesome story of homecoming, faith, and the kind of deep-set love that doesn’t fade, even through the decades, open up My Heart Remembers. It’s a book you’ll never forget.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Modern . . . Advice

Ever have one of those moments when you come up with something really original, figure you better check up on a few facts, and then learn that your originality isn't so original after all?

Yeah. Who hasn't been there, right? My mom has occasionally said something like, "They ought to invent such-and-such a thing . . ." and my dad points to a shelf and says, "Like that?"

We writers run into this fairly often. But I had an interesting example when I started my latest work-in-progress. I found an actual, real life analogue. One famous enough that I had to wonder if I already knew it, though I didn't think I did.

See, I thought it would be fun to write about a mother/daughter team who writes an advice column. I figured that first I ought to, you know, actually read an advice column, lol. So I logged onto "Dear Abby." Read the bio. And what did I learn?

Abigail Van Buren was for many years a mother/daughter advice team.


Not that I let this stop me, of course. I just let my characters observe that it worked for the "Dear Abby" folk. =) I read through a mountain of these lauded columns to get a feel for the advice industry, tweaked my premise slightly to better reflect how it works and what I wanted them to do with, and got down to business.

One of the biggies in my WIP is that my main character's kinda young to be giving advice. Writing something with an issue like that forces me to really look around. To think about whose advice I take, whose I don't. Does it have to do with age? Experience?

Not necessarily. I think some people are just born knowing how to advise. Seriously. I have friends whose advice I take above others, even when those others should know what they're talking about. And as I wrote out a scene dealing with this yesterday, something struck me about the "why" of that.

Good advice, I think, isn't a matter of telling someone what you would do. They're not you. It's a matter of taking you out of the equation and actually looking at their circumstances, their life. I mean, let's face it. When someone quickly replies to my question with, "Well, I would do this," I often think, Good for you. I wouldn't. I don't generally want an "I would." I want a "You should."

But it's interesting--most of us simply can't empathize that fully. Which is good for my characters, because it sets her apart;-)

This is on my mind today because I'm this close to finishing this manuscript. Always an exciting time. I should hammer it home this week (yay!), and then I'll be concentrating on polishing up everything I want to take to the ACFW conference in September. Time's a tickin'!

(And speaking of advice, I just got some this weekend. After cutting my finger on a really wicked blender blade, my mother said, "Why don't you clean it out by pouring soap and hot water in and then turning it on? Then you never have to touch the blade." To which I replied, "And why didn't you teach me this a decade ago??" Advice I will definitely take from now on!)

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Friend . . . Nikki Arana

A few years ago, I replied to something on the ACFW loop about how I like a story with grit in it. You know, one that really digs deep into the heart and isn’t afraid to show the ugly along with the pretty. A woman named Nikki Arana replied to me privately, saying I may enjoy her upcoming release As I Have Loved You. She sent a digital press release, and I promptly emailed her publicist to get a copy. Not long after, I had devoured the book and was in awe of the author.

Nikki holds the distinction of being one of the few writers to make me cry. Not just almost cry, but actually cry. (I’m not a tearful person—ask anyone who knows me. Usually “almost” is all you get from me, and even that is a feat.) I wrote a review of the book and sent it to her and the publicist.

Nikki replied with a compliment to make my reviewer’s heart preen. She said I was the only reviewer thus far to truly get the story, to touch on all the major points. Now, at the time I had just expanded the Christian Review of Books to include author interviews, and I decided in a heartbeat that Nikki was a woman I wanted to talk to. We set up a time to chat on the phone later that week, and I did an interview whose transcript can be read here. Also wrote an article.

But what you won’t find in the interview is that Nikki Arana touched me as a writer just as her book touched me as a reader. I’d been working with authors for quite a while at the CRoB, but she was the first to ask me what I was working on. The first to speak encouragement to me as a novelist. And every time I want to try something new at the Review, she’s always willing and eager to serve as a guinea pig. (You’re such a good sport, Nikki!)

I’ve checked in with Nikki periodically to see what she’s been working on, and yet again this woman has awed me. While researching a novel about a Muslim who converted to Christianity, she got involved in ministering to those of Islamic faith. In an email that poured out her heart, her mission, and her goals, she made real to me a movement I’d never even paused to consider. The novel hasn't yet found a contract that stuck, but I had the honor of reading the prologue and first chapter of this unpublished book, and I can tell you it’s powerful. I’ve come to realize that any words that flow from Nikki’s fingers are going to be touched by the Spirit.

Nikki’s now funneled her research into a nonfiction book, Through the Eyes of Christ. This book focuses on how Christians can talk to Muslims to open their eyes to the truths of our Savior. I haven’t yet had the privilege of reading it, but I will. I live in a small community where I’m not so sure I’ll be able to put the lessons to use, but I want to know. I want to understand.

And I trust Nikki. When she believes in something, I know it’s something the Lord has shown her. Given that I’ve never even met her, I think that speaks pretty strongly to the power of her vision and the force of her words.

If you’re looking for an awesome novel (or four) that has spiritual depth and heart-rending characters, definitely check out this award-winning author. And if you want to see someone with true vision, read about her work with Muslims on her website at and check out her new book, Through the Eyes of Christ.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thoughtful . . . On the Moon

My daughter has this thing. Instead of, you know, looking to see where I am, she'll call out, "Mommy! Where are you?"

Now, usually I'm about two feet away, just behind her. So I'm obligated to give a silly answer, right? I mean, I can't just say, "Right here." That's way too obvious for someone with my caliber of wit (ha. ha ha ha.). So I've taken to saying, "On the moon."

Depending on her mood, she might ignore me, she might laugh, she might insist, "No, you're not!" she might then pretend that the woman in the living room is someone else and talk about her mommy, who is currently on the moon . . . or she might pretend like she's on the moon with me.

That's the most fun--to see the imagination come to life in my toddler. I'm constantly amazed by her recall and the things she'll put together. And I get a little flutter in my heart when she tells me she's going to write books someday too. Yeah, she's only three--chances are pretty darn good her goals will change a few times, lol. But still.

Yesterday she sat down at my computer, asked me to give her a blank page, and just sat there typing. Most of it looked like this:

asdfahghasduoijangaehrlausdfoivasrueioransdghosdb8ibf fsiorutawlktj

With the occasional "xoe" thrown in. =) But it was so cool for me, because my little girl's sitting there trying to do what I do, saying as she does it that she's writing it for me.

It's those little things that make it all worthwhile. That get my imagination going. Because you just never know what you might discover when you're on the moon with your little girl.


FYI, I just redesigned my website. If you're curious, or want more of my breathtaking wit (ahem), hop over to And feel free to leave a note in the guestbook so that I feel special;-)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Remember When . . . Capone Ran Chicago

In spite of my title, we're going to go a few years earlier. The Mafia (and Chicago) changed a lot once Capone took over. Before that . . . well, it was still mean and nasty. But it had a surprising honor. So today I'm gonna give you a taste of Mafia history.

In Sicily, the government was corrupt. As in, so corrupt that people had to form organizations to protect themselves. That's how the Mafia started, and that was often the only thing standing between the people and a "law" that would have taken everything from them. When people started emigrating from Sicily to the U.S., their distrust of government came with them (go figure), and so did their ideas to combat it.

Experts insist that the American Mafia is not the Sicilian Mafia. By that, they mean that there was never a central authority in Sicily that ran things in America. But. Those were in the Mafia in Sicily more often than not formed or joined a branch of it on this side of the pond too.

In turn-of-the-century America, everyone just assumed that if you were Italian, you must belong to a gang. Street gangs roamed the cities, usually preying on their own kind. The most prominent of these were the Black Hand and the Camorra. They were . . . er, not very organized. That's were the Mafia differed. They earned that title of Organized Crime, boy, let me just tell you.

They lived by the rule of Omerta, which basically said that you could kill each other, but woe to anyone who turned another Sicilian in to the authorities. You just didn't do it. And in those days, another thing you just never did was hit a guy's family. Family was precious. You could kill the gangster, but his wife and kids had better remain untouched.

That tide started to change in the mid to late 20s . . . which is why I set my Little Italy Trilogy in the earlier half of the decade.

Come back next Wednesday for some more interesting Mafia tidbits!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Story Time . . . MAGGIE ROSE by Sharlene MacLaren

First, let me say that I love Shar MacLaren. Her books are sweet and deep and awesome . . . just like her. =) I've emailed her a lot over the years, got to hug her at the '07 ACFW conference, and (best of all, lol) have had my endorsements appear on or in nearly all of her books. Go, Shar!

Her latest is Maggie Rose, the second in the Daughters of Jacob Kane series. This one takes us to turn-of-the-century New York City, where middle daughter Maggie has gone to volunteer in an orphanage, Sheltering Arms. She knew it would be a lot of work, but she also knows it's where God called her. What she didn't expect was Luke Madison, an embittered newspaper reported assigned to write a story about the refuge. He's the handsomest man she's ever seen . . . but will anything break through that hardened heart?

Luke's story is that he lost his aunt, his fiancee, and his fiancee's mother in a terrible steamboat accident a few months earlier. Ever since then, he's been burying himself in work, trying to investigate the accident and find those culpable. His boss finally has enough with him neglecting everything else and demands he take a leave of absense, under the guise of writing the article about Sheltering Arms. What Luke finds at the orphanage--aside from the very pretty Miss from Michigan, as he calls her--is a reason. A reason to fight, a reason to work, a reason to be.

They end up going west on one of the Orphan Trains, finding a dose of adventure . . . and of course, falling in love.

This is the second book I've read in the last month dealing with the Orphan Trains--amazing, since I think they're the only two out, LOL. So I was somewhat familiar with the dilemmas of the day and found Shar's take on it freash and hopeful, as I always do. One thing I really appreciate about her books is that while they have some suspense, it doesn't overshadow the romance or the story. She never drags it out to make it not resolve until the last page.

Maggie Rose is another must-read from my good friend Shar. Pick it up for a taste of history, a dose of love, and a helping of adventure.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Modern . . . Odd Foods

Anyone ever watch Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel? My husband loves it. I enjoy it for the gross-out factor and the interesting places he goes, but David . . . he actually thinks most of this stuff looks good. We're talking intestines stuffed with . . . stuff. Every kind of creepy-crawly you can imagine . . . things fermented in the ground for three years. Yeah. Yucky.

It occurred to me when watching one night that most of these foods are well capable of scaring normal folks off. Which led to a "mwa ha ha" moment in the book I was working on at the time. My heroine was trying to scare off my hero (to avoid another heartbreak at his hands), so at one point in the story she resorts to a truly bizarre menu that would make Andrew Zimmern proud.

This scene has the distinction of making one of my critique partners question my sanity (waving, Carole), another alternately laugh and ew on every line (that would be Stephanie) and the third put questions like "Are you sure you're okay??" in the margin (Mary;-). Their reactions just made my mwa ha ha all the louder.

To research, I started on the Bizarre Foods website, went to the forum, and followed the links to the different recipes posted. And let me just tell you, there are some mega weird and disgusting foods posted. Truly disturbing in some cases.

My character settled on an appetizer of dung beetle dip (where we got the line, "Just think of them as peanuts. Really big, crunchy peanuts. With legs.") followed by a first course of calf-head (cooked with the heart and lungs of course), and the main course--fruit bat soup. Which is bad enough in name . . . just wait until you have to shampoo those little critters before you cook them. (Can't skin 'em until they've stewed for a while.)

Grossed out yet? Yeah, me too, lol. In spite of what people might think when they read that or see the show up on my television, I am the Queen of Boring when it comes to food. I eat my salads with nothing but shredded cheddar and Ranch dressing, my burgers with nothing but ketchup, and mac & cheese still ranks as one of my all-time favorite meals. But hey . . . if we can't explore new foods in the pages of a book (when our tastebuds are safe from the experience, lol), where can we?

Bon appetite!