Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Fire

With the fires raging in Colorado, this is a topic on a lot of minds this week. As someone who used to have a major phobia of fire, wildfires are a terrifying thing to me, and my prayers go out to all those affected, both residents and the brave men and women fighting the fires.

But that's not exactly where I'm going today. ;-) It so happens that in my daily reading, today I got to I Corinthians 3.

12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

I've always been so struck by this. It's not talking about salvation--we're saved, Paul makes that clear in verse 15. But, as members of God's family, we're given His foundation and then have to build our lives upon it. We're given our choice of things to build with. Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw. And then the Lord's holy fire will test it.

Fire is the theme in one of my two works-in-progress, so I've been giving it a lot of thought. It's one of the four ancient elements, a force that can give life or destroy it. Out in Colorado, it's wreaking havoc . . . and bringing a lot of people to their knees before God.

Fire refines. It burns away the garbage, burns away the chaff, and leaves purity in its wake. Usually this is in a contained situation, like in refining silver or gold. I would never-ever try to apply it to a wildfire! Don't mistake me there. But even in the wake of that tragedy, there are those seeds, long dormant, brought to life and let to grow only because they were exposed to the high heat of the flame. Trees that gain life through destruction.

When I was a kid, terrified by fire, my neighbor's fire barrel turned over once, and half his yard burned before he got it under control. This brought my fears back to the surface real quick--but then I noticed that, in spite of the drought, that grass that had burned came back vibrant and green, while the rest of the lawn was an ugly brown.

Somehow or another, the fire brought life.

My prayer is that I can build my life's work with purity. With metaphorical gold and silver, with gems and precious stones. I pray that when the fire comes down upon me, it leaves me and mine gleaming rather than consumed. I pray no loss is suffered.

Lord, direct our hands as we're building, help us build for You. Help us make the right decisions that will withstand that holy fire. And give us the peace to know that even when something seems to be burned up and left destroyed, it's only so that You can send us something new, something better to take its place. Go before us, Father, and make clear the path.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Word of the Week - Neighborhood

It was a long time ago at this point that my daughter asked me why it was called a neighborhood. At the time, I said something like "Uh . . . well . . . um . . . I don't know. Why do you think?" We came up with a nice, totally fabricated story about the houses all being pulled together, like under a hood. But I made a mental note to look it up.

Then forgot. LOL. Until now. ;-)

First, let it be noted that this isn't from hood but from -hood. That hyphen makes all the difference. Hood has been "covering" since the days of Old English, when it was spelled/pronounced "hod." And -hood has meant "state of being" since Old English too, when it was spelled/pronounced "had." So too different OE words that eventually ended up with the same spelling.

So. This made a major light bulb go off. -Hood, as in, motherhood, spinsterhood, etc. This is where "neighborhood" came from, originally meaning "neighborly conduct, friendliness." In the 1620s, it came to be applied to a community of people living close together.

Interestingly, it didn't gain the metaphorical sense (i.e. "Am I close to the answer?" "Eh, you're somewhere in the right neighborhood") until 1857.

So next time my kids ask me this question, I'll have an answer! ;-)

Happy Monday!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . The Spirit

The other day I was reading Romans 8 . . . and coming to the conclusion that it's one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I know I've read it many times before, but it just hit me how much is in this one. And how amazing it is that we get to apply it to our lives.

I was especially hit by Romans 8:11.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

WOW. I don't think I ever really paused to consider that the Spirit--the same Spirit I have in me--is that life-giving, dead-raising force. He raised Jesus from the dead. He breathes life. And He's in me. Not just coming upon me on occasion, like they recorded in the Old Testament, but dwelling within us.

What excuse do we ever have for feeling dead inside?? We've all been there, right? Those days, weeks, months when we can't feel our faith--and since faith isn't an emotion, we don't need to feel it. But there's something to this thought too--when the Spirit is within us, we cannot be dead. And if we feel we are...? Then something is deceiving us. It could be disease, chemical imbalance...or it could be the enemy of the Spirit whispering lies.

But we need to attune our ears to His truth instead--one of the other things about the Spirit that always made me sit back and go Wow. His job is to provide us with the Truth. With guidance. With comfort. So when He is there within us, so is Truth. And we can be nothing but alive and vital. 

Another thing hit me with that--what is alive and vital is growing, always. Am I?

Sometimes it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes it seems I've stagnated. But just like with water, what is stagnant is death. And He is life.

So what do we do when we find ourselves struggling with this? Not feeling like these verses tell us we should? Not able to wrap our minds and hearts around what we know is true but seems so . . . distant?

The answer comes in verse 15. 

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

Another WOW. The Spirit never wants to make us feel any of those negatives. He wants us to remember that we've got a family now, a literally-awesome one. And with Him in us, that gives us certain privileges. Like calling out to the most Holy One and calling him Daddy.

Thank you, Lord, for calling us out of fear, out of death. Thank you for calling us into your family. And thank you for filling us with the very Spirit of Life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Remember When . . . You Addressed the Servants?

Two weeks ago I shared some of the rules on how servants were to behave in the Edwardian days around their masters. So I figured this week, I'd share the other side--how masters and mistresses are to act with their domestics.

Children of the family are the only members of the household given free rein both above and below stairs--adult members of the family ought to provide notice to the servants before inspecting the kitchens or other servant areas.

For the most part, the family deals primarily with the upper servants--the butler, the housekeeper, the cook or chef, the lady's maid and valet. A trusting and professional relationship is to be cultivated and maintained. The butler is always to be addressed as "Surname" (the Mr. is optional), the housekeeper is always "Mrs. Surname" whether married or not. The lady's maid is usually "Miss Surname," though if a mistress is especially fond of her, she may occasionally use her given name. The valet is always "Mr. Surname" as well. (Sometimes the title is dropped for these upper servants, and they will be called only by their last name, but never by their first.) If a house employs a cook, they are "Mrs. Surname" but if a chef de cuisine, then one would call him "chef" or "Monsieur Surname." 

All other servants are addressed by their given name when one is giving them orders but are otherwise not to be addressed at all. The family ought to limit their dealings to the upper servants whenever possible.

Footmen are a sign of a family's prestige, something only the very wealthy can afford--and if they have more than one, then oh la la! They must be somebody! But they are lower servants and do not expect to be addressed other than to receive orders.

Other than cleaning, the primary task of the housemaid is to be invisible. For the most part, they will clean a room when no member of the family is expected to be in it. But when they must clean the foyer or entryway or Great Hall, masters are to do them the courtesy of ignoring them--this spares them the embarrassment of having to explain their presence. 

If a family employs a tutor for the children, he is to be addressed as "Mr. Surname," likewise a governess would be "Miss Surname." These individuals may be invited to join the family on occasion at meals, but they do not expect it.

Apparently (and I found this shocking!) it was a tradition for lower servants to be given new names upon joining a household. In part because the lower staff was in an almost constant state of flux as they sought better positions elsewhere, and masters couldn't keep up with them all, LOL.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Word of the Week - In/flammable

One of my all-time favorite Simpsons moments is when the quack doctor, Dr. Nick Rivera, insists when a flaming ring lands on a tank of laughing gas (I think it is...), "Don't worry. It's inflammable." and is  promptly exploded. To which he replies, "Inflammable means flammable? What a country."

I tend to agree. ;-) This is one of those weirdo things that I know but never really got. (And anyone who read last week's post on 'reckless' knew I was going to do this one this week, didn't you? LOL.) What gets me is that both are perfectly cromulent (to steal another Simpsonsism...)--a.k.a valid for those of you who have never watched the show. ;-) Either is acceptable. Both have entries in the dictionary.

Inflammable is definitely the earlier of the two words, from the Latin inflammare, which means "to set on fire" but often in a figurative sense--to inflame one's passion, to inflame a crowd with anger. But it's been around in English since the 15the century, in both that sense, in the sense of a medical inflammation, and taking on the literal sense on fire around 1600.

Flammable is said to be taken directly from the Latin flammare, which is ONLY the literal "set on fire." Literally flame + able. And some experts think it has come into use solely to eliminate confusion in commercial situations that involve things that go boom. ;-)

So in this day and age, if you see a container marked with that oh-so-lovely image, it's more likely to have "flammable" written on it than "inflammable." (Just for you, Dr. Nick!) But when it comes to igniting the inflammable emotions of a mob, that 'in' is always going to be there. ;-)

Hope everybody has a great week!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Rejection

 Now hope does not disappoint,because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 
~Romans 5:5

Rejection. In the writing industry it's something we all face, and so it's something that I've written about before. In fact, in February of 2010 I had another post titled "Thoughtful About . . . Rejection," all about how the Love Finds You series turned down one of my contemporaries. It was still very fresh when I wrote that . . . so obviously I didn't know that it would lead to them accepting my historical. Obviously I didn't know that that was exactly what needed to happen, so that I got the grounding in the genre I love best. Obviously I didn't know the disappointment wouldn't last long . . . 

And that's just the thing. We never know, do we? That's why in Romans 5 Paul can speak so definitively of hope. We never know what's coming down the road. No one does. But what sets those of faith apart is that we trust in the Engineer who built that road. We know that our tears  make us try harder--that trying harder makes us stronger. And that when we're stronger, we can hope. (To paraphrase verse 3 of that chapter...)

The other day one of my good friends got some bad news. A rejection we really hadn't expected, one that floored me so had to have been devastating for her. Now, as rejections go, it was a good one--the editor loved her, loved her writing, the book was just too similar to another title. And another editor had already asked her agent to send it over NOW. That's good...but does it help in the moment?

A little. But, as someone who's been there, I know well it doesn't take the pain away, not even by half.

As I talked to my friend, I wished I had magic words to make it all better. I wish I could take a peek into the future so I could tell her how it all worked out. Wouldn't that be nice? I mean, it would have been great to know, when I pitched an idea to one editor that got promptly shot down last spring, that I shouldn't have shelved the idea, that another editor would love it so much that she'd break her own rules to get it picked up by her company. (That would be Ring of Secrets, by the way...)

All I could offer her was the usual. "You're awesome. And this stinks, but you know, we just don't know how it'll end up. I know we thought this would be it, but since it's not, it just means something else is. Maybe she'll acquire another one. I mean, no one has ever bought the first thing I pitched them."

That at least got a chuckle--it's so very true! Each of my big releases was prefaced by the editor rejecting something else but asking to see more. And as an editor, I can attest to that phenomenon too. WhiteFire just acquired a contemporary title that was the second one I'd seen from someone. It's a matter of matching.

And it's a matter of picking yourself up when you fall down and saying, "Okay, well, what else can we do here?"

Never-ever is rejection going to be nice. But we do have a Friend who can peek into the future. And though He doesn't often just tell us outright how it's going to work out, He whispers His peace into us, if we pause long enough to hear it. And though sometimes we feel too weary to tread that road any longer, He's there then too. With His arms stretched out, saying, "Then let me carry you, baby. We'll get there together."

Don't give up. Keep striding, knowing that that bump produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. Knowing that that hope never disappoints--because it's grounded in something that never shifts, never changes. Something that isn't subjective, that isn't a matter of opinion. 

It's grounded in God's love.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Remember When . . . Punishment and Praise Were Public?

In my research for my Edwardian work-in-progress, I came across an interesting bit of information from the Manor House site. Apparently in some houses, the master doled out punishment and praise after morning prayers, when the entire household was gathered. As in, if you did something to gain his attention, be it good or bad, he would make note of it in front of everyone.

Can you imagine? I know it wasn't done this way in every great house, but I found it so striking that I had to include it in my WIP. See, my heroine's father is a recluse who considers the running of his estate his sole purpose in life--at least until he's reunited with his daughter. ;-) When I imagine Whitby (who's modeled after Robert Downey Junior--siiiiggghhhhh), I see a master who is very involved with his household, who views each and every one as of interest to the estate, and so of interest to him.

He's a kind man, so is far more likely to dole out praise than punishment. I imagine most mornings after the household-wide reading from the prayer book, he dismissed the staff to their tasks without a word. But when someone has done something exceptionally fine, he would see that they're acknowledged for it.

And if someone did something bad enough to gain his notice and warrant punishment--well, he's just harsh enough to make an example of them. After all, his house will run smoothly, and it's best that everyone remember that.

Though I've written this book a gazillion times now (okay, four or five rewrites now, LOL), this is the first version in which my heroine Brook has a father. I had to introduce his character this time in order to take care of some inheritance issues, and I'm so glad I did. I love his dry wit and cynicism, and I especially love the soft heart under the bristly exterior. It's proving a lot of fun to determine who this guy is and how he would react to the plotline already in place. Having his whole life revolve around Whitby Park gives him an edge I'm enjoying discovering.

Of course, I get to explore the servant side of things too, and it's also a lot of fun to think of how they would react to these public displays. Certainly they would fear--and resent--the punishment before their peers. But you know, it's likely that even the praise could engender some resentment among them.

Oh yeah. This is gonna be a blast. =)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Word of the Week - Reckless

My 4-year-old boy just decided to take the wheel of their little mini John Deere Gator the other day, so you can imagine my inspiration for this week's word. ;-)

Reckless is one of those that always confused me as a kid. I mean, why was it reckLESS when you were indicating that people were apt to wreck? 

Of course, I knew there was that missing "w"...but still. For years it made me shake my head, and I rated it up there with "inflammable = flammable." (Yeah, just try puzzling that one out without the help of the etymology! LOL.)

As it turns out, it is indeed mere coincidence that reck and wreck are homonyms and carry meanings that can be so opposite. Reck is from a very old Germanic word that means "care, heed." So since the days of Old English, reckless (or its original receleas) has meant "without care or heed."

Wreck, on the other hand, is from the Old Norse wrek, which for centuries had ONLY ship-wreck meaning--flotsam, that which washed up after a ship went to pieces. It wasn't until the 1700s that "wreck" was applied to any remains of a thing ruined. As a verb, it has carried the meaning of "ruin or destroy" since the 1500s.

So there we have it. Two totally different roots that happen to end up with identical sounds in modern English. Solely to confuse school children across the English-speaking world, I'm sure. ;-)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

WhiteFire is on Facebook!

Yes, I'm a bit behind the times, but I've finally gotten the Facebook page set up for WhiteFire. Hop on over to check out all the awesome writers in our lineup!

Thoughtful About . . . When You're Called

The advent of summer vacation means that, even though I'd love to be out with my parasol promenading through nature a la the Claude Monet painting here, I'm glued even more to my computer. Trying, trying to get caught up on writing, editing, and design. Trying to get organized. Trying to do what needs to be done and still help the kids have fun.

But you know, there's always conflict. And when there's conflict with my kids, I inevitably come away feeling terrible. In short, every time I say "No, I can't," and my wee ones pout at me, I feel guilty.

It's tough. Being a stay-at-home-mom is tough on its own (am I right? Eh, eh? Can I get a "hallelujah"?? LOL). Being a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom sometimes stresses me to the point of banging my head against my desk and pleading with the world for five minutes of SILENCE. Which, of course, then makes me feel guilty for not having enough patience...

But here's the thing. Moms very rarely have the luxury to just be their kids' playmates. If I weren't glued to my computer, I'd be gardening or making homemade pasta (my friend just posted pictures of doing this, and I had one of those "Oh, if only I had time!!!" moments) or making bread or picking up messes or scrubbing spots from my carpet or doing laundry more than once a week (ahem) or... you get the idea. I'd be keeping up with other projects. There's a reason kids used to run rather free, when it was safe for them to do so--because mothers always have responsibilities.

It happens that my writing-related responsibilities take the priority over organization or homemade-this-and-that-making. And while it's harder to get the kids involved in it (as opposed to baking, say, which they help me with), I really try. They're often right beside me, painting or coloring or writing their own stories (okay, not Rowyn yet--but he'll pretend).

But still, I need some quiet work time. Our current set-up gives me one day a week without the kids. One day--and I often feel guilty over it. I try telling myself that I have no reason to, that it's not unreasonable, that I need it. Yeah, that never works.

Then I hear that little whisper. I was called to be a mother, yes. And I love my children in ways I never imagined I could love. But I was also called to serve the Lord through the written word. To write books. To help found a publishing company. And those callings require the sacrifice of my time. Daily I have to pray for insight in how to balance it, and if I'm at my computer at all, my kids will say I spend too much time there, LOL. But there it is. If I believe this is my calling, I need to do what needs done to achieve it.

Now, I'm not saying we don't all run the risk of neglecting one thing in order to pursue another. Sometimes we go too far. But we also all need to be aware that when we are doing what the Lord wants us to do, that's going to open us to attack. And so we'll feel jealousy. We'll feel discouragement.

We'll feel guilt.

I need to remain forever aware of my kids' needs and put them, without question, first. But I also need to give them to God and remember that a happy child isn't one who has her mother's undivided attention, she's one who has learned by example to seek after the Lord. My seeking, my obedience, is here. At my desk. With my Bible on my right (and another on my left, and two more on the shelf above me...), my computer under my fingers, and my kids dashing in and out.

Do you ever struggle with balancing the multiple things God has called you to do? Ever feel guilty over it? How do you deal with that?


On an unrelated note, we finally started a Facebook page for WhiteFire Publishing! ( If I haven't invited you yet or you haven't found it, please go "like" us! =) And check out that beautiful line-up...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remember When . . . The Servants Were Invisible?

I'm back to work on my Victorian-turned-Edwardian historical romance--I thought I'd be working on my second Culper Book this week instead, but alas. When an editor asks to see more, I must be flexible. ;-)

In order to achieve the right balance in this one, I have to have a solid understanding of servants of the day (one of my POV characters is a head maid, soon to be promoted to lady's maid). So much of my day yesterday was spent in research. Naturally, I thought you'd enjoy a look at some of it. ;-)

First, I'd like to recommend you to the Jane Austen World blog, if you don't frequent it already. She has some truly beautiful and insightful posts put together, using Downton Abbey as her example.

But I'm going to post here some Servant Rules, provided by PBS's Manor House site.

  • Never let your voice be heard by the ladies and gentlemen of the house, except when necessary, and then as little as possible.

  • Always "give room" if you meet one of your employers or betters on the stairs.

  • Always stand still and keep your hands quiet when speaking to a lady or being spoken to and look at the person speaking to you.

  • Never begin to talk to ladies and gentlemen unless it be to deliver a message or ask a necessary question.

  • Servants should never offer any opinion to their employers, nor even to say good night or good morning except in reply to salutation.

  • Never talk to another servant, or a person of your own rank, or to a child in the presence of your mistress, unless for necessity then do it as shortly as possible, and in a low voice.

  • Never call from one room to another.

  • Always answer when you have received an order or reproof.

  • Outer doors are to be kept constantly fastened, and their bells to be answered by the Butler only, except when he is otherwise indispensably engaged, when the assistant by his authority will take his place.

  • Every servant is expected to be punctually in his/her place at meal times.

  • No servant is to take any knives or forks or other article, nor on any account to remove any provisions, nor ale or beer out of the Hall.

  • No Gambling of any description, or Oaths, or abusive language are on any account to be allowed.

  • The female staff are forbidden from smoking.

  • No servant is to receive any Visitor, Friend or Relative into the house; or to introduce any person into the Servants' hall without the consent of the Butler or Housekeeper.

  • Followers are strictly forbidden, and any maid found fraternising with a member of the opposite sex will be dismissed without a hearing.

  • No tradesmen, nor any other persons having business in the house are to be admitted except between the hours of 9am and 3pm and in all cases the Butler or Chef must be satisfied that the persons he admits have business there.

  • The Hall door is to be finally closed at half-past ten o'clock every night, after which time no person will be admitted into the houses except those on special leave.

  • The servants' hall is to be cleared and closed, except when visitors with their Servants are staying in the house, at half-past ten o'clock.

  • No credit upon any consideration to be given to any person residing in the house or otherwise for Stamps, Postal Orders etc.

  • Any breakages or damage to the house will be deducted from wages.

Now, let it be noted that there are plenty of responsibilities for the "betters" in master/servant relations too! Maybe we'll take a more detailed look later on, but the one that struck me most was they were strictly instructed in ignoring the servants if they came upon them (in one of those instances when the servants "gave way"), lest they embarrass them by calling attention to them when they were trying to be invisible.

So now that I have my guide, time to get writing!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Word of the Week - Company

This weekend we had a great time with our out-of-town visitors, my friend (and fellow WhiteFire author and editor, and critique partner) Dina Sleiman and her husband. So in the spirit of enjoyable company, I thought I'd look at the word. ;-)

Sine the mid-12th century, company has meant "a large group of people." A meaning still in use, but it sounds a little old-fashioned to talk about "being in a company of people." It's from the Old French compagnie, which means "society, friendship; body of soldier." Note that the French carries a military meaning, but that didn't get applied to the English word until 1580.

Company meaning "companionship," (i.e. "I'd like some company while I do this") is from the late 13th century. It adopted the sense of a business association since the 1550s but apparently been used for trade guilds since the 1300s.

So as you can see, it's an old, well-established word in pretty much all its current meanings. Even the abbreviation "co." is old, dating from the 1670s.

And so I thank you for your virtual company and hope you all enjoy your week! It's our first full week of summer break here. School wrapped up on Wednesday, but Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday we had ballet--that's now over too, so we're free! Woot!