Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Looking

The Prayer by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

 Two weeks ago I brought up callings. And in the responses I got, I realized that I probably should have used different terminology, because while what I've been thinking about does encompass that lofty idea of "my Calling," it's not just about that. It's about wherever we are right now.

I've been thinking a lot about the kind of society we've become. Everything is so instant these days, isn't it? From mashed potatoes to messaging. We expect answers fast, we expect results fast. And so when things take time--as in, pray for years and years kind of time--we often give up. A disconnect has formed between our input and our output--we see things all the time on the news that makes us go, "Wow, something should be done!" ... But we don't really know what to do about it. 

As I've pondered this and looked to history (as we all know I always do, LOL) for answers, I really think the key is to change our perspective. It needs to start with our prayers--and I'll be honest, this is a tough one for me. I say prayers on the fly as needs are presented, but so rarely do I find a quiet time to seek the Lord before I hear the needs, independently of specific requests. Which I need to fix. Because let's face it, who wants to be in a relationship where you only talk when you need something? Sigh. Not me.

So I'm making an effort. And as I do, I'm adding a new prayer. It's pretty simple. It just says, "Show me how to serve today, Lord."

Now, this hasn't resulted in any crystalline echoes of "Go here and do this life-altering thing." To be expected. Because if I want to help a change come, in my life or my church or my community, I have to start with the little things, the inside things. I have to listen to those whispers that show me first how to be a good wife, a good mom, a good me.

And then...then I have to look. Look for the path He wants me trodding. Look for ways to help. Look for ways to serve. I can't expect to just go on with my everyday life until some perfect opportunity to show the love of the Lord appears before me. Oh, those will come every now and then. But if I go out seeking? If I go through each day looking for ways to help others? If I think about that before I think about me? If we all do? 

Hmm. Doesn't it just make you wonder what might happen?

I'm going to be thinking a lot about this over the next few months, and I'm going to be talking to people far better at it than I, people who have made a real, quiet difference in the lives of others. I'm going to be sharing these stories in a monthly column in Book Fun Magazine, and I'm going to be praying. Praying that we all push the "pause" button. Praying that we blink away the haze of instant-this and immediate-that. Praying that we finally look. Not just at what needs done. But at what we can do.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Remember When . . . The Culper Ring Hit the Small Screen?

Okay, this was not what I intended to blog about today, but a friend shared the link, and now I'm too excited to write about anything else. =)

In a recent press release, AMC (as in, awesome channel that has Mad Men and The Walking Dead and those other hit shows...) has ordered the pilot of a new series called Turn...based on the exploits of the Culper Ring as told in Alexander Rose's Washington Spies.

Now, if you've been reading my blog for a while, then you know that Washington's Spies is the book I used as my primary research for Ring of Secrets. So the fact that a TV show will be based on the same...well, that's pretty cool!

It looks like production of Turn will start in 2013, which means Ring of Secrets will be out well before the show. My gut-reaction to that is that this is good--it'll be clear that my book isn't a spin-off of the show, but if Turn takes off (as AMC's series have done lately), then anyone looking up similar books will find mine. Sweet! 

Curious as to my take on this book that has inspired a series? Well, I posted a review last year, which I'm happy to share again.


Originally posted on 5/17/11

Would you believe I haven't read any fiction in the last week-plus? Primarily because I've spent my free time doing research for a story idea. So I figure, eh, might as well talk to you about that! =)

I'll confess it from the start--I don't read much non-fiction. Why? Because I read so much of it during college that I just got burned out on it. But apparently it's now been long enough since then (where did that time go, anyway?) that I can read it again without feeling at all put out about it. Handy, since in looking up info about the subject of my newest idea, I came across a very interesting-sounding book that I knew would be helpful: Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose.

My library didn't have this one, but thanks to the wonders of ILL, they had it for me in three days, and I cracked it open with genuine enthusiasm. I haven't read any non-fiction on the Revolutionary War since college (and then it was more political treatises of the era, not history of the war), so I found this to be a wonderful refresher on the history in general. Better still, it focused entirely on the use of espionage in the war, by both sides. And really, what could be more fun than that? ;-)

Rose doesn't follow a strict chronology in this--he follows stories, usually about the particular people, and uses those to take him from point to point. Which means you know exactly where to flip back to if you need to remind yourself about where someone was born, or who his father was, but locating a date for a particular action of his requires the help of the index.

The writing of this book was never dry and at times downright witty. I actually chuckled at several places. And at several others I found it necessary to interrupt my reading to share a particularly interesting factoid with my hubby. Mr. Rose found many ways to integrate little-known facts from the day that only had the smallest thing to do with the main subject; and he integrated them in such a way that you knew without doubt he had submersed himself fully in this era as he wrote the book. Something I, as I writer, certainly appreciate.

I did find a few typos in the dates given, like saying something happened in 1778 that happened in 1780. Typos which I understand, but which confused me endlessly, LOL.

Overall, if you're a history buff who loves reading about lesser-known portions of well-loved times, this is a fabulous book. It presents a fair, honest picture of what life was like from 1776-1784, not embellished by glamorous ideas or romance.

But no worries--I plan to embellish with plenty of romance when I write a novel set in the time. ;-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Word of the Week - Snack

I hope everyone (at least those of you in the U.S.) had a lovely Thanksgiving! Ours was great and led into a wonderful weekend. The best part of which was that I didn't have to cook since Wednesday, what with all the invitations to share leftovers. ;-)

L'enfant avec les raisins, Antonio Rotta, 1884
So in honor of the feast of leftover food, this week's word is snack. It sounds a bit modern, right? But in fact it traces its roots back to the 1300s, when snack was solely a verb which described a dog biting or snapping. It took it 400 years, but by 1757, it had become the noun we know, meaning "a bite or morsel to eat." Fifty years later the verb followed suit and meant "to have a small amount to eat," in 1807 (in case you haven't had your coffee yet and don't wanna do the math). Snack bar came about in 1930.

And there we have it!

For those of you who are really observant, you might notice that I updated my blog over the weekend. It now matches my website, and also has new tabs and pages, the old ones for the Annapolis blog tour finally going bye-bye. Do please check out the page for Ordinary Heroes, a series I'll be starting in 2013. I need stories! =)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Remember When . . . The Prayer Was of Thanks?

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1912

It's my day on Colonial Quills, and in this busy week of pie-baking and turkey-thawing and dressing-making, I thought I would give everyone, both here and there, a quick, beautiful prayer from our forefathers to help us all reflect on the holiday.

This prayer comes from a volume of Puritan prayers entitled The Valley of Vision, compiled by Arthur Bennett, which I quote several times in Ring of Secrets. He doesn't say who wrote each one, but I am always struck by the sincere, heart-wrenching faith of those who penned these words. I pray this one speaks to you today.

Praise and Thanksgiving

O my God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admired, adores, loves thee,
for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before thee
in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee
ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created,
for adorning it, sanctifying it,
though it is fixed in barren soil;
for the body thou hast given me,
for preserving its strength and vigour,
for providing senses to enjoy delights,
for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding,
for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
for a full table and overflowing cup,
for appetite, taste, sweetness,
for social joys of relatives and friends,
for ability to serve others,
for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language
to express,
for what thou art to thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time
and eternity.


May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving tomorrow!

(And look, look, I redesigned my website! Whatcha think?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Word of the Week - Water

Water as a--ahem--living force ;-)
Getting down the basics, aren't I? ;-) 

I had actually looked up water to determine when "water closet" came to be used for a bathroom, but there were some other interesting entries too.

And it starts with the beginning. Did you know that there used to be two words for water? One began with ap- and the other with wed-. The first was for water as a living thing, meaning "animate." A force of life. (And fire most likely had the same thing, though they haven't traced it so clearly.) The second was for the inanimate, regular ol' version.

Then we get into the fun phrases. =) "To keep one's head above water" in the figurative sense surprised me by being from 1742. I would have thought it slightly newer than that. Also surprising is the one I looked the word up for--"water closet" is from 1755.

In 1818 they were introduced to "water-ice," a a snow cone, I should think, right? "Water cooler" joined the club in 1846, and "water polo" in 1884.

And as we're entering Thanksgiving week, allow me to wish everyone a wonderful holiday. I know I'm super-thankful for each and every one of you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Our Callings

Christus bei Maria und Martha by Allessandro Allori, 1605

What's your calling?

A few simple words, but a whole world of meaning, isn't it? To what has the Lord called you? It doesn't have to be something grand. He could have called you to accounting. To farming. He could have called you to raising kids. Maybe He called you clean your church once a week. It doesn't have to some awesome-sounding ministry, but I feel strongly that we all have something the Lord has called us to.

Mine's easy--I've known I was called to write pretty much all my life. So . . . then what? What do I do with that knowledge? Well, I write. In my case, I write books and I blog. But what kind of books? What kind of blogs?

My husband and I were talking about callings last night, and in the course of our discussion it occurred to me that having a calling you recognize doesn't mean you do it as you should. I could be writing books that are simple and easy. I could be churning out stories that fit what I was told years ago were marketable. I could be writing stories that make no attempt to glorify the Lord. I could be writing only what I want instead of what I should be.

In a few months, I'm going to doing a blog series that ties in with Ring of Secrets on ordinary heroes. See, that was what set the Culper Ring apart--they were just everyday people serving where they had been called. In their store, on their farm, in the military. But they were serving there with a heart open to what the Lord might ask of them. And so these folks ended up taking risks that could have gotten them lynched--not by dropping everything and running off to some big task, but by serving where they'd been placed.

So how do we translate that to today? How do we, now, serve where we've been placed in a way that can make a difference? Not a rhetorical question here--it's one I'm going to be thinking a lot about over the next few months.

And I want to start with gathering some answers to that first question. What's your calling? In its most simple form, what has the Lord asked you to do? Please share!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Remember When . . . The King Was Forgotten?

A painting of Abraham's departure
by József Molnár
I've always been intrigued by Egyptology, so including Egypt in my new biblical idea I'm toying with is a lot of fun. Of course, trying to pinpoint an exact year to set this thing in is more complicated than it sounds. I want my characters to interact with Abram and Sarai, but scholars can't agree on when, exactly they lived. There's quite a range of possible years given, as much as a thousand years apart depending on which school you belong to.

Picking one randomly didn't seem fun, so I instead decided to pick my date based on the history of the pharaohs. And when I was reminded of the missing pharaoh, I decided that would be oh-so-much-fun to explore!

Mentuhotep III, father of the missing pharaoh
See, in the Middle Kingdom, there's this seven year stretch when records of the pharaoh have been obliterated, giving rise to the idea that he was assassinated, overthrown, and his predecessor had his records removed to make himself more legitimate. Archaeologists did eventually find mention of a Mentuhotep IV that seems to fit in that seven-year period...especially when they realized that his vizier (second in command) had a name only one vowel off from the next pharaoh. Obviously, the theory is that the vizier overthrew his pharaoh, seized the crown, and so began the twelfth dynasty.

I love this! Not just because of the intrigue, but because that lack of record gives me freedom to create this pharaoh however I please. =) The other theory (about the change of dynasty) is that Mentuhotep just died without heirs, but I don't know why he would have been erased from the records in that I decided he has daughters. That'll work. And a sister. A sister named Aziza...

And working from this theory also gives me a great character in the vizier, Amenemhet. (I'm calling him Nem. I can only go so far with this unpronouncable-to-English-speaker names, LOL.) What kind of guy would be a king's dedicated right hand, only to kill him and take his crown after seven years? The same kind I need for my story, mwa ha ha ha. And of course, I always explain the motivation through my totally-fictional characters.

Relief of Amenemhet from his mortuary temple
This is going to be fun! Disappearing kings, usurping viziers, undiscovered history...oh yeah. Just my speed.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Word of the Week - What

Whistler's Harmony of Pink and Gray - 1881
Yes, I chose it because of the year and its prettiness,
not because of any other relevance. ;-)

I know, right? You're thinking "Her word of the week is what? Seriously? This chick is losing it..." ;-) But hopefully you'll read on to see what in the world inspired me to write about what, LOL.

Last week as I was editing an upcoming WhiteFire title, I read a line where one of the characters says "What's up?" The year is 1921, the phrase sounds modern to me, so I thought I had better look it up (even though I trust this author implicitly, things slip by us all, right?) So I tapped what into the etymology dictionary and found quite a few idioms that were older than I'd thought!

The word as a question, as a "What did you say?" dates all the way back to 1300. That doesn't really surprise me. But I was quite surprised to see that "what's-his-name" dates from 1690! I would have thought that a more modern phrase, personally. (The variant "what's-his-face," though, is from the 1960s, LOL.)

The phrase "what for," as in "give him the what-for" is from 1873, which apparently, interestingly, came about as a smart reply to people asking the question "What for?" 

And finally, the one I was looking up. "What's up?" made its debut right around 1881. Which did surprise me a bit, I confess. It didn't give me any idea where it came from (like that handy explanation of the what-for...) but it's always so much fun to discover a use is older than I anticipated!

I hope everyone has a lovely week!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Taking Responsibility

Ironing Women by Ivana Kobilca
It's so easy to point fingers, isn't it? From something as small as "Look what you made me do!" to the bigger "Don't blame me--I voted for the other guy."

This is a problem I've recognized in myself for years--not so much in politics, LOL, but in little things. It's not my fault for neglecting things, it's the fault of whoever distracted me. It's not my fault we didn't have that conversation, I tried but you put me off. It's not my fault this venture isn't growing; I'm doing my part, now you need to pick up the slack.

It's so, so easy to fall into this trap. And something I've been thinking about again after reading a really aggravating kids book. I picked it up at the library expecting it to be whimsical and fun, since it had a cute little picture of dragons on the cover. But it wasn't--it was an environmentalist sermon that basically told kids, "Do you know any dragons who are destroying our world by not recycling? Sic 'em!"

Yeah, um--not what I'm trying to teach my little ones, thank you very much. I want to teach them to be responsible, but not to play the blame game. Not to point fingers. I have a hard enough time convincing them not to blame each other for every little thing, I don't need picture books telling them it's okay to do that so long as you slap a cute picture on it first.

And of course, elections bring it up too. It seems like so often the two sides of the aisle do nothing but blame the other for what they see as the woes we're facing. They get angry, they get upset, and they can't (or perhaps don't try?) to understand that opposite point of view. The result? A nation divided.

It makes me so sad. I hate when I see this tendency in myself, I try so very hard to teach my kids not to fall into that same destructive way of thinking, because let's face it--all that ever does is destroy relationships and keep your focus, always, on yourself. As long as it's someone else's fault, then I don't have to fix anything.

But that approach doesn't work. It doesn't work in our nation, in our states, in our communities, in our churches, in our families, or in our marriages. It does--not--work. We cannot ever think "If only I could change him/her/them..." No. We can only change ourselves. And until everyone sees that they need to change themselves, until we all take responsibility for our own actions and lack of actions, then this disease is going to keep on spreading.

We have to stop thinking "If only they would..." and start praying "Lord, help me to..." We have to stand up. We have to then fall to our knees. And we have to start changing from the inside (ourselves) out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Remember When . . . It Was Biblical?

I've got a little cushion of time before I need to start work in earnest on my third Culper Ring book--and need to take another week or so before diving into edits on Whispers from the Shadows--so I thought I'd enjoy using my writing time to revisit the biblical world. =)

Though neither Jewel of Persia nor A Stray Drop of Blood are exactly new anymore, I still get a lot of reader feedback about them, and I've heard quite a few times that my readers are waiting for another biblical fiction from me. Well, I've got some ideas!

Of the four or five jotted down in my Ideas folder, I decided to dedicate some time to the one most fully developed in my little ol' brain. Want a sneak peek? Eh? What was that? Well, okay then. A quick look at what I'm playing with. ;-)

The idea started, as my bib-fic ideas often do, with a sermon my dad preached. Actually, in this case, with two. He did a sermon on Melchizedek which I found oh-so-interesting, but it didn't make any ideas really pop in terms of story. But then a couple weeks later he preached on one of Jesus's parables. And that got the juices rolling. What if, I thought, the story were true? What if it were set in Old Testament days? What if (a light goes off) it were in the times of Melchizedek? Oo! Oo! Oo!

And LOL--I've never written anything that takes place quite that early in the Old Testament, and let me just tell you, I'm already learning, only 10 pages in, that it's a whole different world than Persia or Jerusalem of Jesus's day. Oh, the research I have to do! But I'm having fun. And my hubby is rubbing his hands together at the thought of another biblical for WhiteFire someday. ;-)

I'm still debating titles and would love some feedback! My heroine, Aziza, is Egyptian, from the house of Pharaoh. My hero is the son of Melchizedek, who most OT scholars believe to be Shem, son of Noah (which is so interesting in and of itself!). And thus far (again, only 10 pages in here), I can tell you that a song is very important to the story--it seems Aziza hears a mysterious melody half the time, calling her away from Egypt. Symbolic, of course, of the Lord calling her. So. My title ideas thus far.

Leading the votes...

The Song of Midnight
Midnight Song

I really like these, but WhiteFire will have Veiled at Midnight by Christine Lindsay in the next year or so, so I want to have some other options in case they end up sounding too similar. So...

The Princess of Salem (bleh)
The Pharaoh's Sister
Daughter of Egypt
Egypt's Daughter
Song of the Night
Song of the Sands
Song of the Stars

Any other brilliance? Well, to inspire you, I'll share the cover I created to inspire me. ;-) Whenever I finish this baby, she shall look like so. Well, the title will obviously read whatever I decide. But you know. The design will be this, LOL. Isn't it fun? I had a blast going all Ancient Egypt on it. ;-)

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Word of Prayer

A Prayer for Those at Sea by Frederick Daniel Hardy, 1879
With Election Day being tomorrow and so many already having voted early, I felt the need to spend today's post in a word of prayer rather than a word's etymology. I try to steer clear of politics in my online presence, and so I don't intend to talk about candidates or my opinions--but please do join me in praying for our country and her direction.

Dear Lord, we fall to our knees before You, in awe of Your beauty and reverence. In amazement at Your love for us. When I think of Your glory, of Your wonder, of all the intricate paths You set before us, tears come to my eyes. You are true. You are holy. You are worthy of every whisper of love our lips can utter. And we worship You knowing that You are the Lord of our beginnings and the God of our ends.

Father, I know you have placed us all where we need to be, for a purpose. You have put our feet on the earth at this exact point in history because this is where we belong. And so we are intimately tied to all that happens in this world around us, even if we are apart from it as our focus is on You. You have called us to live in peace, as much as we are able, and to always, always choose righteousness. If we suffer for Your sake, it is glory. But how much better to live selflessly and so influence other for You so that our enemies become Your children!

So here we sit in this nation You have made ours, this nation founded with such lofty principles, all based on the idea of freedom. Here we sit, people on both sides of the aisle claiming that to elect the other guy would mean fewer freedoms. But Lord, we know that true freedom rests not in the decrees of man, but in the freeing liberty of salvation. We know that there is no man who can become president and set the world to rights--that such change must come from within the hearts of the people.

But we also know, Lord, that only one can win. And we pray now, on our faces prostrate before Your throne, that the man will win who will follow Your path. We pray that your angels be stationed around each polling place, that with their swords outstretched they will keep the enemy away. We pray that the ears of our neighbors be stopped against any whispers from the evil one, that their hearts be guarded against that influence. Because we know, Father God, that whatever You want, he wants the opposite, and he will manipulate mankind to achieve it. Guard us against his wiles, O Lord my God. Guard us and protect us.

Father, we pray Your will be done. In every person's day, in every person's decision, in every vote, in every result, in every office. Let Your will be done. Let Truth prevail and overcome any fraud or deceit. Let Wisdom dictate our decisions. Let Love cover campaigns so often focused on the negative. Let Your will be done. And let it be, please dear Lord, for our redemption and not for our destruction. Help us, through our decision, to redeem the times as You instruct us in Ephesians. Help us to be the light in this darkness. And to shine that light through our voices and votes.

We commit our nation, our states, our communities into Your hands. We commit our hearts, our lives, and our spirits unto You. Take us back, God of All, hear our cries. And silence our enemies to that we may hear Your voice directing us. In the name of Your precious son Jesus we pray. Amen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Covered by Love

Whisperings of Love by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1889
And above all things have fervent love for one another,
for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

~I Peter 4:8

I just read these words in my daily reading time and they struck quite a chord.  Perhaps because I'd been pondering that exact thing just yesterday in regards to my kids.

Don't you just love those things in life that have no clear "this way" or "that way"? That have, in fact, so many varying opinions on which way you should do a thing that you usually just shake your head and go with your gut? Raising kids is definitely one of those things. And in this society where all adult problems are blamed on whether mommy did this when you were little or dad did that...yeah, it can be stressful.

And I confess it. I yell more than I should. I get frustrated. My kids usually have to repeat something four times before I actually get up from my computer to help them with it (hence why they now just stand at my elbow going, "Mommy, I need a drink. Mommy. Mommy. Hey, Mommy, will you get me a drink please?" The magic word always gets my attention, LOL). There are things I wish I did differently, things I no doubt get wrong.

But you know what? At the end of the day, my kids are happy. They're secure. They understand the values I'm trying to instill, and they know they can stretch their wings and grow in our house. At the end of the day, they know they're loved. And that, I think, is the most important thing I can give them--because love covers a multitude of sins.

Which is true of any other relationship too, isn't it? Which may be more profound--because it's easy to love our kids. It's easy to love our spouses, our siblings, our parents (sometimes, LOL--easy for me to, because I have awesome ones). But what about the acquaintances? The strangers? The people we don't like? Our outright enemies?

Loving them isn't always so easy. Not just when we really don't like them, but even when we just barely know someone. It's hard to be moved by a story you've never heard. Hard to pray for people you've never met. But sometimes that's exactly what the Lord calls us to do. In this section of I Peter, he says we must be serious and watchful in our prayer. We must love one another, being generous and hospitable with out homes, but most of all with our gifts. We must, always, minister.

A reminder I need. Though I know there are so many out there suffering, I might forget that. I might ignore it. I might whisper a prayer now and then but otherwise go on with my life. The Lord, though, calls me to something more here. He calls me to pray, He calls me to give, He calls me to stretch myself out and share what gifts He has given me with others.

He calls me to love.

And if I do that, the rest will follow. If I do that, then the things I fail at will be covered.

I will never be the perfect daughter, sister, wife, or mother, the best teacher or writer or friend. I will never react as I should all the time. I will never always have the perfect response to life's trials. But I will love. And that will be my covering.


Good luck to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo! I just wrote 65K in October, finishing up my manuscript as I was, so will not be joining y'all this year. ;-)