Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Cleaning Out

Last fall, we moved. But we moved in a rush, to a smaller house that was given to us by my hubby's grandfather. We had a lot of work to do on the old one, so were in no rush to sell. We took what we needed right away...and then the bad weather closed in. It was not a good winter to move, and every weekend when it might have been possible, it was either snowing, raining, icing, our help was out of town, or there were more pressing repairs to be made to, say, automobiles.

So 9 months later, we're finally getting to work--and on a tight schedule.
A few boxes of books. Just a few.
Many more to come...

As the one who will not be patching walls and rewiring, hanging new doors or plumbing, I'm on clean-out detail. And oh. My. Gracious.

When we moved back to Cumberland from Annapolis, Xoe was only 3 months old--she's now 8.5. I was only a year and a half out of college. Now we're planning our 10 year reunion. When we moved, I'd shoved a lot of clothes into a portion of a closet that's hard to reach and unseen, and totally forgot about them. I just went through them last week and had to laugh. The wedding dress, okay. But seriously? That dress from high school? And that one from middle school? I still had that?? Why in the world did I still have that???

I discovered the amazing mess of items that the kids managed to lose under the bunk bed and behind the dresser in their room. I re-learned how few books you can really fit in a box. I found an insurance policy from our first apartment back in 2001. I scrubbed out a pretty-darn-gross fridge with nothing but elbow grease, cold water, and Windex. And I marveled at how much junk we'd accumulated--things that seemed so important at some point, but which I now threw out with no compunction.

And I wonder...what else in my life--in my emotional, spiritual, unseen life--is like that? How much do I cling to when I need to let it go? How much is begging for a good spring cleaning, a purging, a blank slate, but is still gunked up because I don't have the time or energy or strength to let it go?

Then there are the things we're looking for. For months, Xoe has been wondering where her little Ty hippo was. We verified it wasn't among the toys brought over. So every time we went to the other house, Xoe looked for Humba. We checked all the likely places. The toy box. Under the bed. Under the couch. Downstairs.


She was starting to get upset about it. When I went on my own to do some cleaning on Tuesday, the first words from her mouth afterward were, "Did you find my hippo?"

My hutch, now filled with
all my china. =)

Yesterday, we checked more places. Xoe sighed. We gave up and worked on other things--like moving my cabinet that would hold all my china, which had already been boxed and brought to the new house and now sat in the kitchen, taking up a quarter of my floor space. David and I (both sick) hefted the thing--and we hear Xoe call out, "There she is!"

She'd fallen, inexplicably, behind the cabinet. The last place we ever would have looked for her, there she was.

I was struck by the life lesson there too. That so many times we search and search for something. We work so hard for what we want, in the ways that seem logical. And we fail. Or at least falter. We never seem to attain that thing we're reaching for.

So eventually we move on to other tasks. The ones that aren't exactly what we want, but which are more important. And it's there, in doing what we need to do, that we find that Thing. The one we'd been looking for. God knew all along what we needed to do to get us there, and once we gave up on following our own way--our so-called logic--we get where we need to go.

I've got a lot of packing and sorting, tossing out and selling ahead of me yet. No doubt I'll have a lot more moments of "Why in the world did we keep this??" But maybe I'll have some more realizations too. Some more opportunities to learn.
Humba the Hippo - home at last

And maybe we'll find some more treasures along the way.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Remember When . . . We Invented?

It's my day on Colonial Quills, and today I'm talking about the inventions and innovations of Thomas Jefferson. Hop on over to see some of the things he created for Monticello!

Inventions and Improvements of Thomas Jefferson

One thing I really love about the early American era is that so many gentlemen with time on their hands went about interesting pursuits--like invention. I've previously talked about some of the inventions of Benjamin Franklin. Today I wanted to take a look at Thomas Jefferson's. Read the Full Article

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Our Place

Children on a Path Outside a Thatched Cottageby Helen Allingham, late 19th century

With the first round of edits wrapped up on A Soft Breath of Wind, I moved on this week to my first round of edits on The Lost Heiress. (Lots of editing going on around here!) There are some changes I know I'm going to make, some inconsistencies I'm finding. An old (for me) story taking on new life.

But one of the major themes in this book has been there since I was 12, when I first started writing it--the one that involves Brook, this noblewoman raised in a country not her own, finding her rightful place. Finding her home. Finding her family.

When I was writing this in seventh and eighth grades, it was easy for her. She lifted her chin, screwed her stubbornness and faith into place, and took England by storm. Her family all adored her, London adored her, life adored her. The only people who didn't were the bad guys, because they were evil and therefore couldn't love.

When I was writing this in seventh and eighth grades, I was trying to find my place. Trying to adjust to friends who were suddenly interested in boys instead of Barbies, in being popular instead of being genuine. I was trying to figure out how to be who I knew I was in a world that demanded I be who they wanted to make me.

I was an outspoken 13-year-old. The kind that refused to be led by other kids my age because, frankly, I found them obnoxious. I was the one who thought about consequences. About right and wrong. I was the one who told the other girls at the sleepover that if they were serious about trying a seance, I was going to call my mom and go home. The one who said if they were seriously going to try to sneak out, I would lock the windows and stand guard. The kind who greeted gossip with, "Are your lives so boring that you have nothing better to talk about than me? Seriously? Sorry to hear it."

Yes, I was an outspoken 13-year-old. But I also wanted those I liked to like me back. I didn't want arguments for no reason. I wanted to please people, when I deemed them worth pleasing.

I remember one time in the cafeteria, talking about spaghetti, of all things. I proclaimed my mom's homemade sauce the best (which it is. Just sayin'.). A friend asked, "Does it have chunks of tomatoes?" in a voice that I interpreted as meaning "because if it's the best, it will."

Now, my mom's sauce is ground totally smooth. But I hedged and said something along the lines of, "I don't know, maybe a few."

My friend then said, "I hate chunks of tomatoes."

And there I had a conundrum that brought me to an epiphany. My desire to make this friend agree with me made me lie--and now the truth, which would have been pleasing, couldn't be spoken. That was the day when I realized that my yes must be yes and my no be no. That was the day when I realized that having someone's good opinion didn't mean squat if it wasn't right opinion.

That was the day when I realized that my place in life couldn't always be easy--but that it was only worth having if it was really mine.

I've never been one of those people to be found in a gaggle. I have some awesome friends, but the best ones are few. I have an amazing family, but I'm not the one always throwing parties, or going to them. I'm not the popular one. Sometimes I wish I were, sometimes I wish people showed up to things when I host them, that I knew how to draw a crowd. Sometimes I wish my place was what Brook's used to be in my story--beloved by all, effortlessly.

But it's not who I am. And it's not my place. It's never been my place, not when I was a kid penning her first novel in class, and not now, when I'm rewriting it.

Brook's place has changed now too. Because though 13-year-old-me wanted to believe someone could have it all, 31-year-old-me knows better. Because while there may have been, in some point in history, one young woman who was beautiful and rich and popular and of strong faith and different from everyone else...that's not the story most of us know.

And it's not the story I needed to write this time around. This time around, I needed a story of someone who had to fight for her home. Someone who had to decide whether she was going to be molded or if she would do the molding. Someone who had to choose what path she would tread and then face the consequences.

Someone who is less who I wished I were back then...and more who I grew to be.

Someone whose place wasn't just waiting for her--someone who had to find it. And when she does, she finds there are those in it who oppose her. And those who would do anything for her.

Because that is life. We can never have it all.

But we can have what matters most.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Remember When . . . It Was a Mystery?

Last week, WhiteFire's latest historical released. And oh, is it a fun one.

Some of our books are haunting. Some of our books are plumb-to-the-depths deep. Some of our books are as serious as they come. Sweet Mountain's an adventure. And one you don't want to miss.

Now, I've never been a believer in Big Foot. I admit it. And all those shows about Squatchy popping up on TV lately usually make me giggle. And start planning for the A-squatch-alypse, just to be cheeky. (Anybody watch Top Gear, the American version? Anybody see the end-of-the-world vehicle episode, where one of the guys said they thought it would be Apocalypse by Sasquatch? LOL)

BUT--that said. This book, all about the hunt for the legendary creature, made me cheer for Big Foot hunters. It was fun, it was engaging, and it made me ask what if...? Can you ask for more in good fiction?

Here's why, as an editor, I loved Suzie J's approach to the Big Foot question. First of all, it's a historical. And in the age where gorillas had just been discovered not long before in Africa, of course naturalists thought there was a North American variety lurking in the un-explored forests of the Pacific Northwest! Why wouldn't there be?? The world was shrinking by the 1890s, yes, but it was still filled with people out to discover the unknown (as opposed to today, when it's filled with people who think they know all there is to know, and if they don't know it, it must not be real. Ahem.).

Added to that, you have a cast of amazing characters. A heroine who just wants to follow her dreams and be a reporter, even though neither family nor the hero supports her. A hero who just wants to prove that he can make a world-changing discovery, without hurting anyone in the process...unlike last time. And a supporting cast that goes the full spectrum from bad guy to one with an unlikely heart of gold.

Sweet Mountain Music has laughter, tears, some sizzling romance, and an adventure that will have you hoping that maybe, somehow, some way these characters will find what you know very well has never been found. That maybe, somehow, some way they'll redefine history.

And you know...maybe they do. ;-)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Word of the Week - Goose

The honking of a family of geese wandering down to a nearby pond at 5:30 this morning was inspiring, what can I say? ;-)

Goose, meaning the water fowl, is not surprisingly old--really old, as old as English. Interestingly, the word's roots were not only for a goose, but for a swan, and is believed to be imitative on their honking.

From the 1540s onward, it's carried a meaning of "simpleton" when applied to a person. Gooseflesh or goose skin (goosebumps) are from 1795 (for the skin variety) and 1810. From what I can gather, it comes from how a plucked fowl looks before you cook it. The more modern bumps variety didn't come around until 1919.

As a verb, to be goosed meant, in 1818, to be jeered, particularly on stage. The, er, "poked in the rear" form of the verb, LOL, is from the 1880s, which is older than I expected!

Goose egg, meaning "zero," is baseball slang from the 1860s, and to cook one's goose is from 1845.

"Silly goose" is a favorite expression in our family--good to know where it comes from. ;-)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . The Hard Way

I don't often post purely writing-related articles on my blog, and I'll try to make this one not just that, too, since I know only a few of you are writers. But as I'm revising and editing A Soft Breath of Wind, I keep thinking about some of the decisions I made in the story, and why I did it the way I did.

As a general rule, we writers are told to arrive late to the story, when the main action is upon them. As a general rule, I do just that. And since the main body of my story takes place when Zipporah is 18, that's where I kept trying to start it. Over and again I attempted to begin this book there. I even had a few chapters written, one focused upon Zipporah on the villa outside Rome, then one with Benjamin and Samuel, my two male leads, in Jerusalem.

But when I came back to it, I knew it was wrong. And though it followed that "late arrival" rule, it was wrong because it was the easy way. It skipped over the turmoil that set them on their current course and picked up when the pain had eased.

That wasn't going to cut it.

So though it required going back four years in time, I started earlier. I started on the day Zipporah received the gift that scarred her for life and set her future on its course. I then moved to a death in the family that set all my main characters reeling.

I did it because it hurt. And because without that hurt, my characters wouldn't have become who I needed them to be. Sometimes it works to just have them already be that, and keep the why in the backstory. But not here. Here, I needed to show the shaping so that we could understand and love these injured, strong characters.

I'm so glad I started those four years earlier. Because then, when I knew the characters better, I could write the here-and-now so much more effectively. I realized that Samuel, who at first greeted a stunning revelation with calm and cool, would not be so unaffected. I realized that Zipporah, who greets adversity with a smile, was burying a world of hurt.

In life, we don't often deliberately choose the hard way. Not if we see that it's the hard way, LOL. We don't want the underscore of pain if we can help it. Certainly I would spare my children those hard-won lessons if I could. It's different with characters, but real people...we don't want to learn that way.

But like with characters, how often do we miss the real blessings God wants to show us by choosing the path we think is easiest? How often do we miss His rich depths because it's easier to skim the surface?

Maybe I'm still not going to seek out the hard way in life. But it'll find me, that I know. And I pray that the lessons I've learned in fiction I can carry through to reality. Because it's only through the hard stuff that the beauty really shows itself. It's only through the pain that we find the strength to really find joy.

It's only along the hard path that we find where we were always meant to be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Remember When . . . It Was Modern (Almost)?

A week ago and a half ago, I typed the final words in The Lost Heiress. I still have some major edits to do, but the first draft is done. Again. ;-) Always a great feeling.

And this is the first time in a long...long...long time that I've finished a book that has some things that are decidedly modern. I got excited when, in Circle of Spies, I could include things like telegraphs and trains.
Poster for the Tube, 1905

In The Lost Heiress, advances have kept on hurdling their way into the world. In 1911, the wealthy had things like electric lights. Automobiles. Telephones.

Telephones!! LOL

This changes so, so much for a historical writer. One of the challenges has always been pacing myself to their rate of life, where it took days or weeks or sometimes months for communication to go from one person to another. Even with telegrams, you have to get to town and a telegraph office to send one. But suddenly I have characters who can call the police from their phone. Who can hop in the car to chase someone through the streets rather than saddling a horse. Who can steam their way across the Channel. Life is moving more swiftly again!

But there are checks, too. Things I have to remember as I'm indulging in this modern history. I have to remember that roads weren't yet made for cars. They were still mostly dirt, which means mud when it's rained. Which makes them impassable for automobiles--horses were still very much necessary much of the time.

I have to remember that though there were phones, there were also operators necessary for making the connections, who were rather notorious for listening in, as could anyone else on the same line--far from private!

I have to remember that though the wealthy had these advancements, the general public did not, not yet. Rural areas were largely still without electricity. Phones still hadn't reached the masses even into the 20s. Cars were far too expensive for anyone but the rich.

But then, I can mention a few other fun things, like the Tube in London. I had a character riding this underground train and was pretty excited to get to include it, especially since it was new to her and quite amazing.

And that, really, is where the real joy comes in. These advances were all new. They were exciting and uncertain and sometimes more than a bit dangerous. They were racing toward modernity at a pace that was often quite literally break-neck. They were discovering and failing and trying different approaches, by sea and land and even in the air.

Given that my characters are the type to embrace these new things and ride them rather recklessly into tomorrow (okay, one of my characters is...the other is a bit more cautious, LOL), it made for a fun story. =)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Word of the Week - Shoulder

Shoulder joint
Okay, so no, I wasn't just looking up shoulder. ;-) But in looking up the origins of the phrase cold shoulder for my recently-finished Edwardian, I found several of the uses interesting, so I thought I'd share.

Shoulder itself has been in English approximately forever. But did you know the word (which comes from German) is likely related to shield? I sure didn't.

Then there's the use that means "side of the road"--that's from 1933. I suppose that makes sense, because until roads were widened for cars, I'd never heard of any shoulder to them...still, it's a bit later than I would have thought.

And then there's cold shoulder. This is what sent me to to begin with, and I'm glad I paused to look it up! The phrase dates from 1816, first from Sir Walter Scott. It actually didn't indicate a human shoulder, but rather a shoulder of mutton--which was considered a poor man's dish. Make it cold, and it was an unpleasant dish that you would only serve someone you were put out with or decidedly not welcoming to your home. So to give someone "the cold shoulder" meant to give them something distasteful and insulting, to show you have no regard for them.

Not what I expected from that one, gotta say!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . The End (Again)

I reached a major milestone on Sunday--I finished my book, for the, er... (one...two...three) fourth time. And I'm talking the fourth total, complete, toss out every scene previously written and start from scratch rewrite.

It's a pretty awesome feeling to finish a book any time. But when it's a book you first wrote "The End" on at age 13? Yeah--I'm still a little shocked that I'm doing it again, LOL, and so incredibly thrilled that I'm doing it again because that book, the one whose premise I came up with at age 12, is contracted by Bethany House. I can't think of a much better example of how God leads us on some crazy paths that last a lifetime! (I had a guest post up on the rather amazing journey of this book on Go Teen Writers last week. If you haven't seen it yet, Read It Here.)

Making the feeling even better is that I really love the new setting I gave the story, and the new elements and plots that got worked in--or worked back in. In every previous version, Brook (my heroine) was an orphan. The legalities of that were tricky though, for things like inheritance laws, so I decided in this version that her father still needed to be alive.
Whitby Abbey ruins - close to the new setting of the book
and where a big scene happens
Photo by Chris Kirk

And oh my goodness. That changed everything--in ways I love! She now reunites with him in the first couple chapters, and their journey added such depth to the story--it just makes me grin to think about it.

In the first two versions, I put a great deal of emphasis on Brook's maid. That's something I took out in version 3 and its various revisions for a number of reasons. But I re-introduced the below-stairs point of view in this one, and I was so happy to get to do so. I love that dichotomy too, of the two different perspectives who both get to realize that family is family, no matter the circumstances.

I'm now to the point where I get to let the MS rest for a little while before I dive into edits and trim it down to size (not as much trimming required as usual! LOL). For me, that means editing A Soft Breath of Wind and a slew of WhiteFire books in the meantime. I'm putting the finishing touches right now on WhiteFire's historical that comes out next week, Sweet Mountain Music, and having a blast. The characters in SMM are on the hunt for a certain legendary ape creature said to haunt the Cascades, and it's a story that will make you laugh and sigh and cheer them on.

In not so happy news, one of the reasons I forgot to blog yesterday is that Rowyn woke up with a sore, swollen knee and spent the first hour of the morning (my blog writing time) on my lap. With no injury to link to this, we took him to the doctor, who suspects it might be juvenile arthritis. We would certainly appreciate prayers about this!

Hope everyone's enjoying May thus far, and that all you moms have a special weekend planned. =)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Word of the Week - Perfectionist

Short but sweet one today. =)

I grew up with a perfectionist for a father, so it's a word I've known for, oh, ever. I too can be a perfectionist in a lot of things (housekeeping not among them, ha ha). Never had I thought to look up its etymology, though, until I came across it in a manuscript set in biblical days. I'd already learned that most of those "isms" we know so well came out of the psychological revolution.

Perfectionist has a different but similar story. The original meaning of the word, dating from the 1650s, is actually "one who believes that moral perfection is attainable in this life through faith." A button topic for millennia, LOL. If you believed that, you were a perfectionist. If you didn't, then you weren't.

It wasn't until 1934 that the modern meaning came around--"one who is satisfied with only the highest standards." Pretty different! No longer is a word that has to do with theological debates, but now it's about measurable standards.

Who knew?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Busy Weeks

Happy May Day!

I remember this week last year. It wasn't meant to be a busy one. But it turned into it. I'd been sick the week before--like, flu. We'd traveled to Annapolis for the weekend and had a lovely time with friends. I was well enough to do that, but still dragging.

Then on the Tuesday, the 30th of April last year, my wine rack came crashing down. I spent most of the day cleaning up broken glass and crystal and mopping up wine. It fell partially into the two trunks the kids kept their toys in. Which necessitated a complete clean-up of those, which turned into reorganization. I'd been meaning to spend the day writing. Instead, I spent it cleaning, which so thoroughly wiped me out by evening that Xoe thought to treat me to a spa day, courtesy of Fancy Nancy. She made me a foot bath, and a face mask from banana and honey.

Apparently I have an allergy to banana when it's applied to my face, LOL. I broke out in hives and felt like I had a serious sunburn all evening. Had to run out for some hydracortizone cream. And I woke up on May 1 thinking, "Well, it can't be as bad as yesterday. The wine rack can't break again."

No, it couldn't. But bones could.

Today marks a year since Xoe ran through the yard, tripped over her too-big shoes, and broke her elbow. Xoe, who usually cries for about two minutes when she gets hurt, wailed for half an hour and showed no signs of stopping, though she wouldn't let me really touch her arm to see what might be wrong. At last, I got her onto my lap, and I could put my hands on her elbows. That would be when we decided a trip to the doctor was in order.

It turned to a trip to the ER, which lasted all evening as they tried to find a pediatric orthopedist to send her to.
Xoe, the day after the break

So many people prayed with us for healing, and receive it she did--the bone healed so perfectly that the doctor said that, looking at the X-rays, he wouldn't have known there had been a break. The soft tissue, however...

She's still in occupational therapy, and she still has a ways to go before she regains full extension. But progress is being made.

And this year, this week is a busy one--planned that way, LOL. Since last Friday when I had the joy of speaking at the Fourth Friday Tea at my local historical society, it's been nonstop. We've had field trips and therapy and well check-ups and book club talks, and today is class day for our homeschool group. And as I'm buzzing from place to place, I keep thinking back to last year.

I keep praying, Thank you, Lord, for planned busyness instead of ER trips and prescription pain relievers, hospital gowns and trips to Baltimore doctors.

This year, I'm within a few scenes of finishing up a book instead of sending a note to my editor saying I'll be out of touch for a few days. This year, we're planning summer camp instead of worrying about surgery. This year, I need an extra cup of coffee because I've been getting up early to write, not because I got no sleep because my little one was hurting.

It's so easy to get overwhelmed in these weeks that are go-go-go. But you know...I'll take it in a heartbeat over those weeks that force normal activities to a halt. And I'll praise the Lord that this May Day, I can just drive along and notice all the flowers in bloom. This year, I can look back and see how brave and strong my little princess was, knowing that today she doesn't have to be. This year, I can just be plain ol' busy.