Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . the Old Year, and the New

I know, I know. Every blogger in the whole blogosphere is reflecting now on the exit of 2015 and the entrance of her baby sister. But under the firm belief that reflection is good for the soul, I must join in. ;-)

As I look back over 2015, I see a year full to bursting with moments, milestones, and new missions that won't just pass into history with the dawn of a new year.

This year, the very first novel I wrote saw publication, after 20 years of revisions and rewrites, and after 9 other published novels. I can't quite explain how that feels, to have poured so much love into a project over so long, starting when I was twelve, and finally hold the finished project in my hands. It's exhilarating. And it's humbling. And it's terrifying. Because now my very first baby is out in the world, and there are people who love it and people who hate it, people who judge those characters who have been so close to me for so long...yeah. But for all the negatives that come with putting out one's work, they've got nothing on the positives. Thank you, Bethany House, for making this dream come true and pushing me to make this last version the best one by far!

This year, my designing took off in ways I honestly hadn't expected. By my quick calculations, I designed over 60 book covers in 2015. For someone who thought she'd just take on freelance projects for some fun and extra cash, it's been big fun and quite a blessing. I so love all the new writers and publishers I've gotten to meet through this, the new relationships formed, new discoveries made. God has really blessed me through this designing gig, and I'm so grateful to Him for the opportunities He provided.
Xoe in the Nutcracker -
I would post one of Rowyn,
but he refuses to be captured
on camera!

This year, my kids have grown up on me! Okay, not fully. But Xoe is 10. Double-digits. And starting to look like a young lady. And sometimes I just want to, as my mother always threatened, put a brick on their heads so they stop growing! It's so cool to watch these fun little people learn and laugh and become who they are. They're in 5th and 2nd grades now, and being their teacher continues to be something that wears me out but fills me up. I love being a homeschooling mom!

My post-Christmas project

This year, I took up knitting. Technically, this fall. And I am totally hooked! I made a lot of Christmas gifts this year--and as gifts, I received yarn, circular needles, blocking mats, and giddiness as I got to dive in and create some new projects--like the boot toppers for my mom, above.

This year, my husband started chasing his dream. He's long been interested in TV and film, and this year he took the first steps toward learning how to produce it. He went on two mission trips to Bulgaria in 2015, in March and October. During the second one, he visited a refugee camp with camera in hand and a heart to hear the stories of the refugees, and he came back with interviews that have become his first film. Along the Path is finished and ready for viewing; I'll post a link next week. I'm so crazy-proud of this guy, who has always said that his calling is to help others reach their calling. It led him to start the Appalachian Relief Mission, took him an ocean away twice so far, and fills him with purpose. One of my greatest honors this year, and one of my biggest goals for 2016, is to support him in his dreams as he has always supported me in mine.

This year, my focus hasn't changed much on the outside...but it's changed a lot on the inside. Somehow, in the last few years, I've stopped caring about the things that surround me. I just want to be the woman God has made me. I just want to serve Him. I just want to help others know Him better.

And this year ended with a joy I'm not at liberty to share just yet. ;-) But it's a promise of stories to come and a 2016 filled with words, and it made this holiday season pretty darn bright for me!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, from my house to yours!

I hope everyone has a beautiful Christmas, filled with love, laughter, and most of all Jesus. See you back here next week!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Finding Christmas

Obviously, Christmas has been on my mind. And on my television. And in my news feed. It's everywhere I look, and that's awesome and fun. But this being me, I can't just let it pass without thought. So I figured I'd share my reflections this year on the holiday...and how we recognize it.

First up, I'd like to shake my head at all the kids' shows where they have to "save" Christmas. Where someone is threatening to ruin it or steal it or destroy it somehow or another. It was cute in the Grinch, because he then realizes that Christmas is something more. But I would like to posit this to all movie and TV show makers: you cannot steal Christmas. You cannot destroy it. You cannot ruin it. Christmas is not about anything we do. Christmas is about a miracle from God to man. And just like no villain can take it away, no hero can restore it. Because it's not about us.

Which leads me to observations not aimed at the television. ;-) We also cannot have Christmas. I know that we're thinking with generous hearts when we say we want that unfortunate family to still be able to have Christmas, so we help them out. But that's been niggling at me too. Don't get me wrong--I think it's awesome to help out a family down on their luck. I think it's wonderful to give gifts to kids, especially, who may never have gotten much before.

But "having" Christmas isn't about what's under the tree. We know this, intellectually. But it's still the way we think, isn't it?

We think of Christmas as something to experience. Something that involves all these traditions, all this pomp, all these things--sparkly things and lit-up things, expensive things and cheap things. Christmas is an event, played out each year with the help of retailers and marketing executives.

What would happen, I wonder, if one year we had no gifts? Would Christmas not come? Would we not have it? The Whos down in Whoville knew better, but I posit that most of us wouldn't hold hands and start singing if we discovered all our stuff had vanished.

But let's put aside the stuff and things. Let's give ourselves credit and say that, yes, if the things were removed, we'd still rejoice on Christmas. But...why? Because, probably, we'd say we still have our families, and that's what matters.

This is beautiful. And anyone who knows me even a little knows how much I value my family.

But this year, thanks to my husband's reflections at Thanksgiving, I had a new realization.

Christmas isn't about our families either.
Maybe, just maybe...we're doing something a little bit wrong
by making it about spending time with loved ones

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating not spending time with family--I think this is important! But I think it's important all year long. Every day or week. Not just on holidays. They provide a great reason for us to get together, and the tradition of gathering to observe holy days is long-standing and not something to toss aside.

But within our hearts and minds, where are we ranking that family time in relation to Christ, to worshiping Him and standing in awe at his arrival?

If it were in the right place, would people who have lost loved ones still find this time of year so hard? Depressing? Difficult to get through?

I don't think so. I think...and I know people are going to rail at me for saying this...I think we've turned our families into idols, especially this time of year. I think we value them more than we value God. Christmas has become more about who is around us than Who is in our hearts. Gathering together for a holiday is supposed to be a way of teaching the young what the day means, of reminding each other, of corporate reflection and thanksgiving--after all, corporate prayer is greater than the sum of its parts, so I daresay corporate praise is too! But the gathering-together is not supposed to be the main thing it's about. Thanksgiving, for instance, was first and foremost supposed to be a day to thank God--even if we've lost our families in the year past. How much more so Christmas?

A few years ago, we had an ice storm Christmas morning that prevented our normal brunch at my mother's house. And yes, it got me down. I missed my family, missed spending that time together, and was watching the thermometer, waiting for it to rise above 32 and melt that ice.

Now I wonder...what should I have been doing that day to make it special, even without all my family? How can I keep my eyes on Him, even if I'm alone (I wasn't even alone that day, still had hubby and kiddos)?

I love, love, love my family. But I ought to love, love, love, love God even more. Spending time with them is important. But spending time with Him is even more important. So here's my challenge to myself and anyone else who wants to join in.

This year, I will take time only for Him on Christmas. This year, I will stop and rethink my thoughts to make sure that I'm paying more attention to Him than to gifts and cookies and lights and decorations...and family.

This year, Christmas will not be about presents. It will not be about anything I can "have." It will not even be about those people I love so much.

Christmas will be about Christ.

So if we were each absolutely alone this year on December would we worship Him? And how can we bring that into our busy day?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Remember When . . . Christmas Traditions

I've blogged many times over the years about different Christmas traditions throughout history, and how we apply it to our lives.

There are probably more my search just isn't finding, because I distinctly recall reflecting on the differences in New England versus mid-Atlantic or southern American traditions in Colonial days, and I'm sure that's in any of those links. ;-)

But today I wanted to talk a bit about our traditions. Here are a few that my kids love.

  • Every year, their grandmother takes them out shopping for a new ornament, and they pick out our (real) tree.
  • Making gingerbread cookies. We could make nothing else, and they'd be happy.
  • Decorating. In my life, I think I've spent a total of about $20 on Christmas decorations--everything else has been given to us by family. And let me assure you I have PLENTY of decorations. Every year, I resist getting them out (because it's work, man, LOL), but every year, when I have those evergreen garlands hanging from windows and doorways, I'm utterly charmed.
  • The Christmas train under the tree. No, this isn't an electric one that chuffs around. It's just Rowyn's wooden track, but he and Xoe build it around the tree every year as soon as it's is up and decorated.
  • Going to church. The Christmas Eve candlelight service is well loved, and Xoe has declared that "Christmas on church day would be the coolest thing ever."
  • Our countdown chain. We did it the first year as an art project for school, cutting and coloring strips of construction paper and taking one link from the chain each day. Now Xoe also counts down the days until December so she can make it. =)
  • The music! While Rowyn will occasionally groan when I turn a Christmas station on, he also loves the ones we sing in church, especially one of the praise and worship songs called "Born Is the King (It's Christmas)" (or as he refers to it, "The du-du-du-du-du-du-du-du song.")
  • The pickle. Even if it was a department store hoax (it's kinda shocking how many traditions were started by stores!), my kiddos love trying to find the pickle ornament on the tree.

I know there are more, but I won't bore you. Instead, I'd love to hear about a tradition your family makes sure never to miss!

Then brace yourself, because tomorrow I'm getting thoughtful about why Christmas is depressing for so many people...and how maybe we can adjust our mindset.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Word of the Week - Elf

I am sometimes baffled by how things come into our cultural consciousness...and change over the centuries. Cue the elves.

Elf comes from Germanic folklore, with equivalents in Norse and Saxon mythology. The word itself hasn't changed much since Old English in spelling, sound, etc.

The meaning, however...

Back then, an elf was considered to be a mean-spirited goblin-like creature with quite a bit of power. Descriptions range from creatures who are merely mischievous to "evil incubus." Since the mid-1500s, it's been used figuratively for a mischievous person. They were thought to create knots in hair (oooookay) and hiccups.

Over the centuries, they gradually took on new roles in people's minds. They were occasionally referred to as "house gnomes," and while they would act with traditional mischief if not treated properly, they were thought to scare off true evil spirits from your house if you treated them properly--people were known to leave out gifts of food and baubles to appease them.

It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Scandinavian writers took this ancient tradition and decided it would be fun to apply it to Christmas. Popular writers of the day began crafting stories that assigned elves the new role of being Santa Claus's helpers. By this time traditional belief in elves had pretty much fallen away, so people seized this new thought that sort of revived an old belief, but in a nice, cute way. Visual artists joined this new movement and began painting pictures of what we now identify as elves--cute, small, sprite-like creatures who are all least unless a child in naughty, in which case some old mischief might sneak out and cause them to replace goodies in a stocking with switches or lumps of coal.

So there we have it. Elves. ;-)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Inspiring Generosity

How do you inspire generosity in your kids?

This is a question I'm asking myself a lot lately. Because while one of my children would give up absolutely anything to help someone else, the other is hard pressed to ever think about giving. Or want to give, even when it's not remotely sacrificial.

So this is my question to you, who may have already dealt with this. How do I inspire my children to generosity?

I certainly can't force them. Pretty sure if I make my children act selflessly, it would backfire. I'm trying to take opportunities in daily life to talk about the importance of giving (a popular topic this time of year). Of service. Of thinking of others.

It's not sinking in, thus far.

I thought we'd try something in the spirit of Christmas and asked the kids to pick out gifts for their friends and cousins. This sort of worked, until this particular child told me what fun it was...because they knew they'd get to play with them at the friends' and cousins' house. (Le sigh) (And yes, writer-me was deliberately using "they" to refer to a singular person, because I want to avoid gender here in referencing my kiddo, LOL.)

I'm stumped. And giving it a lot of prayer. Because while I'm fine with kids being kids and would love to be assured that this is a phase children grow out of, I'm not willing to be one of those parents that waves off behavioral or moral issues using that excuse. But I'm also not remotely a tiger-mom type that will be an iron fist enforcing exactly what I deem necessary. Trying to strike a balance here, and I could definitely use some thoughts from you guys.

Have you ever noticed a decidedly selfish bent to one of your kids? How did you address it? Did it worry you?

I'm not gnawing at my nails in anxiety here or anything, but I do believe it's my responsibility as a parent to foster virtues in my kids. Some come to them naturally, a part of their personality. Others are more difficult. Have you noticed that?

So what do we, as parents seeking to raise God-honoring children who love Him from the depths of their hearts, not just by rote, do to foster those good traits that they're lacking?

I'd love to hear what you've found that works, either with generosity or other lessons in virtue that a child may have struggled with!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Word of the Week - Ice

Since it's getting rather frosty outside here in the Appalachians, I thought today we'd take a look at ice...or rather, at when some of its idioms came into use. =)

Ice itself is from Old English, from Proto-Germanic is. There are cognates for it in quite a few other languages that also derive from that old-old-old German tongue. Our modern spelling began to appear in the 1400s.

Having been part of our language for so long, it's no surprise that eventually it began to be used in idioms. The oldest of these is to break the ice. It has been meaning "to make the first attempt" since 1580! I had no idea it was so old. But it comes about as a metaphorical allusion to boats breaking up the ice in a river.

The 1800s brought us quite a few uses. The term ice age was coined in 1832. Ice fishing began to be spoken about in 1869 (which makes me wonder...was the activity itself first practiced then or did people use to call it something different?). Thin ice, in the figurative sense, first appeared in writing in 1884. On ice--as in, kept out of the way until needed--is from 1890.

And finally, the use you may have spotted in The Lost Heiress. Ice as a slang for diamonds is from 1906. (I totally would have thought it a product of the 1920s before I looked it up for use in my book. Shows what I know, LOL.)

Stay warm, everybody!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Offense


It's officially the advent season. The time of year when decorations are everywhere you turn, where cheerful lights proclaim Christmas around the corner, where you expect smiles from your fellow man and sales in the stores and happy greetings to be upon lips.

The season where, in recent years, everyone finds something to . . . complain about.

Yep. Let's face it. This has become a season of glaring at one's fellow man as often as smiling at him. 

I honestly have no idea where the chain of offenses began. Were people who don't celebrate Christmas offended at storekeepers wishing them a happy one? Is that why some of the big stores dispensed with "Merry Christmas" and opted for "Happy Holidays"? I don't know.

But I do know this. My job as a Christian is to save my offense for matters of sin. Of ungodliness. Of things that endanger the soul. And a non-Christian not celebrating the day of Christ's birth isn't one of those. Honestly, it's kind of right, isn't it? We shouldn't get offended at non-Christians not celebrating Christmas. If anything, we should get offended at how many do, and then twist the meaning. But I digress...

My job is not to get all up in arms over a greeting. Or, heaven forbid, a coffee cup. (I mean seriously?) I'm not going to get offended at schools calling it Winter Break. I'm not.

For me, this decision came easily when I was a sophomore in college, working at an insurance agency after school. We sent out a lot of mail and had a printing scale to apply the postage to it. We could choose our postmark, and around this time of year, we chose one that said, "Happy Holidays." Why? Because we had Jewish clients, and we wanted to respect them.

I have no problem with that.

What's more, we used that stamp for nearly two months--beginning in mid-November through January. Guess what--that covers more than just Christmas. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years...not to mention Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (which still baffles me, but let's not go there...) were all included.

I'm 100% cool with that. I always thought that was part of the fun of this time of year--the multiple holidays we get to celebrate. So why do so many Christians get offended at "Happy Holidays"?

I don't know, but the joke's kinda on the users who think they're stripping the time of year of religious meaning, isn't it? Holiday literally means "holy day." Holy. As in, hallowed, sacred, dedicated to God. (Didn't know you'd get a bonus Word of the Week, did ya?) ;-) Tell me, why should that offend a Christian?

There is plenty in this world, and in this season, to be offended by. I'm offended by the mass commercialism that has taken it over. I'm offended that people think gifts are more important than Christ. I'm offended that Santa Claus has been so distorted that he's seen as a pagan elf rather than who he truly was--a saint dedicated to giving in Christ's name.

But I will not be offended by:

* Happy Holidays (holy days are by definition days given to God. So yeah. Wish me happy holidays.)
* Santa Claus in principle (because I know his true story, and it's inspiring. Read this blog I wrote last year if you're not familiar with the amazing early church tradition of St. Nicholas)

* Red cups (I mean, really.)

* Snowflakes, penguins, etc. decorations (because, yo, folks--it's winter. I'm not offended at fall leaf decorations either. Or flowers in the spring.)

* Schools calling it Winter Break (because it is, and while it's Christmas break for many, it isn't for all. I'm okay with that.)

Yep, there is plenty in the world to get upset about. But as Christians, we're supposed to answer to a higher standard. Let's not get riled at the world acting like the world, or even at the world not taking part in what is supposed to be our holiday. 

Let's save our offense for where it counts.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Word of the Week - Advent

I was surprised to realize this weekend past that the Advent season is officially begun--I thought it would start next weekend, but my calendar is obviously off. ;-)

As a child, I knew that advent marked the season leading up to Christmas...but it wasn't until later that I realized advent actually meant "the approach, arrival, or coming." But once I learned that bit of information, I naturally assumed that the word had always meant "the approach, arrival, or coming," and hence was applied to the Christmas season as it counted down to the arrival on earth of our Savior.

As it happens...not exactly.

It wasn't until 1757 that advent took on that general meaning--then that people may have begun saying things like "the advent of summer" or the like. Until then, the word meant only the Christmas season.

Advent was present in Old English as such, taken from the Latin adventus (which does indeed mean "coming, arrival" etc.), but in Church Latin (what would have been used in English-speaking realms at the time) it was used only for the season leading up to Christmas.

As for the Advent wreath many churches and families keep today--the tradition was begun by a German pastor and missionary, Johann Hinrich Wichern, in 1839 (though there were a few earlier versions that didn't catch on dating back to the Lutherans of the 16th century). The original version counted down the whole month for the children of the mission school where he served, with 20 red candles and 4 large white ones.

The purple and rose candles most churches use today were made to match the liturgical colors in the Catholic church for those Sundays in December.

Monday, November 23, 2015

We're taking the week off for Thanksgiving, 
so I'm also going to take the week off blogging--
and focus on getting back to my St. Nicholas story, 
which will come out next fall
 (I know I'd originally said this fall, but alas. It's not finished, LOL).

I wish everyone a blessed week, full of realizations. 
I pray that we all look on things in new ways this Thanksgiving time,
and that our gratitude is deep, pervasive, 
and for things we cannot touch or hold in our hands,
that we cannot see with our eyes or buy with a credit card. 
I pray that this year, our hearts find the ultimate thankfulness 
for the gifts He gives us that transcend the physical.

Because even when we lose it all, He is still there. 
Still loving us. 
Still giving to us.

Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Hatred, Fear, Terror, and How to Defeat Them

It's been an ugly week. A terrible week. My heart and prayers have dwelt much with the people of Paris after the horrible attacks. My heart is heavy that so many have tried to use it as a platform for their own agenda. I won't be one of those. I just want to talk today about all that evil in the world.

And how we can fight it.

Terrorism is evil. I'm positing that as an axiom, so if you disagree with that general statement, then don't bother reading on.

Terrorism is evil, and those who commit it have let that evil dwell in them, which makes them by extension evil as well. Not beyond redemption, but so committed to their cause that they are unlikely to hear opposing views.

Terrorists, then, are evil. And they are committed. And as people committed to evil, they will work hard to achieve their goals. They will find ways in. They will plot. They will plan.

But their plan isn't just to kill--it's to terrorize. That's part of the definition, right? That they are trying to instill terror into a people group. Not just to hurt and kill them, but to make those who are unharmed fearful. To make them quake. To make them hate them back.

Wait, what?

No, I didn't mistype. Think about it. If these people are working for evil, let's examine what we know about the ultimate Evil. It too has a goal--to steal, to kill, to destroy. And to turn hearts away from God. What turns hearts away from God?

Hatred. Unforgiveness. Bitterness. Fear.

If terrorists can make good people hate Muslims, then they're happy--because they're polarizing the world. They're ending peace, even where war hasn't been officially declared. They're convincing endless nations to greet with hate anyone from the Middle East, which will only help them in their efforts to radicalize more young people. "Look," they'll say, "how the West treats us. Look how they hate us."

I will not hate them.

I will not fear them.

Are the radicals out there, planning ways to sneak into Europe and America? Absolutely. Will they take advantage of the flood of refugees? Absolutely. If the refugees are forbidden entrance to a country, will the radicals find another way in? Absolutely.

So how do we react? Do we lock down our borders? Do we pick up our weapons? Do we declare every Muslim the enemy?

I pray, with everything within me, that we do not.

Eighty years or so ago, there was an evil regime in control of a country. It perpetrated unspeakable evil. It terrorized an entire continent into subjugation. It killed. It raped. It mutilated. It convinced its youth that it was right to do so. And anyone who didn't agree was either killed or forced out.

I have some German blood in me. Does that mean I'm evil by association? Does it mean people were right to distrust any German Americans during WWII? Were we right to force Japanese Americans into internment camps during the war?

I hope you think the answer is "no." But just think, for a moment, how afraid that generation was. How they said, "We're just protecting our country."

Now fast-forward to this regime in Syria who is killing or forcing out millions of its own citizens who don't agree with its beliefs or politics. These people are already victims--and now they're facing a world who will blanket them with hatred, because they fear that one of those evil people--the very people who beheaded their friends and blew up their neighbor's car and burned down their house--might be hidden among them.

This is what our generation will be judged for. How do we respond to this crisis? This tragedy?

We don't defeat terror by reacting from fear or anger or hatred. That is how they win. They steal our peace, they steal our security . . . and they steal the love from our very hearts.

We have to be wise. Absolutely. While we're praying, we would do well to pray that those in authority have discernment. We don't want to be responsible for bringing in those few evil ones. But we also don't want to be responsible for destroying the innocent. We don't want to be responsible for hating an entire group of people because of what a mutual enemy has done. We don't want to step on a slippery-slope of blanket judgment that leads us to become the villain in our effort to protect ourselves. But that is a possibility. We have decisions before us, and some of them would lead us to committing terrible sins in the name of security.

But other paths lead to millions of people hearing the truth about God. Seeing how He loves them. Seeing what it really means to be a Christian. To be part of a faith that isn't founded on killing, like parts of Islam are, but on sacrificing for the salvation of others.

My Jesus didn't kill his enemies. He died for them.

He didn't hate them. He loved them.

This isn't a question of how the nation will respond. It's a question of how you will. Will you hate, or will you love? Will you fear . . . or will you trust in Him?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Remember When . . . Some Historical Book Covers

I'm feeling unaccountably tired (and, ahem, lazy) this morning. So I thought I'd just share some of the historical covers I've done recently. Not going to do a behind the scenes post right now (cause that takes energy, LOL), but if any catch your eye and you want to know more about the process, just let me know!

A couple months ago I was designing covers for WhiteFire and came up with these for a really fun novella collection (in two parts) that we're publishing in 2016.
Here are closer images of the two volumes.

As you can see, they both feature the same model, but in different positions, and in the background is a picture of historical Austin, Texas. Awesomely, the city skyline is from an old postcard we've been given permission to use! So these two are clearly part of the same set, and yet different enough to be memorable. The authors are setting these 8 novellas based on Jane Austen's novels in historical Austin and have included in them all a school called "Austen Academy." They based the descriptions of the academy on a certain old house, which you see in the series badge. Fun, huh? =)

I also designed covers for the individual novellas, which will be on sale individually in digital formats (compilations will be available both digitally and in print). Well, the first four are ready. The others will come later, since Vol 2 doesn't release until next September. ;-)

Again, I wanted a design that spoke to the series aspect--and the fact that they belong in that first volume--but had something individual. So they're all on the background of their volume, but with an image of their heroine. And of course, the novella title is large rather than the series title.

Not long after these covers went live, I got two inquiries on cover design from writers of Jane Austen fan fiction. =) That resulted in two covers for each.

Those first two are full-length novels by Brenda Webb.

Next up were two collections of P&P-based short stories by Renee Beyea.

As a side note, I found it so much fun to work with these authors and see the different ways they viewed Elizabeth and Darcy!

Then it was time for another fun one that required some characters with attitude.
(How fun is that??)

And I'll leave you today with some Christmas covers!

This first one sounds super-interesting, following the cloth eventually used to swaddle the newborn Christ on its long journey through the house of David.

Then we have a fun Western novella that's part of a bundle you can get. I've worked with Heather Blanton before and loved taking the "Heather" design styling into the holidays. And then she also recommended me to another author in the same collection. A Mountain Man's Redemption was one of those covers that I put together not AT ALL following her questionnaire, simply because that photo wouldn't let me go. I sent it to her rather wincingly, fully expecting to have to go back to the drawing board and make one like she said she wanted, LOL. Instead, she loved this one as much as I did!

So there we have it. My lazy morning, but following months of productivity. (And those are just the historical covers! I've been a busy girl, LOL.)

Do you have a favorite? Any you want to see the design process on? Let me know!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Word of the Week - Anyway

This one is quick--but interesting!

Anyway dates from 1560, though it was traditionally two words until the 1830s. And up until modern history, it was quite literally "any way." As in, Is there any way I can help you? I'll get there any way I can. It quite literally meant "in any manner."

It wasn't until 1859 that it took on the sense of "regardless" that it now often has. So, historically, no "I'm going anyway!" unless you mean "by any path."

Yeah, pretty sure I may have used that one incorrectly at some point or another, LOL. But now we know!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Things

I have two shoeboxes sitting in my living room, waiting for next week when I'll drop them off at a local church, and they'll begin their long journey to children in need. Children who, so the websites say, may never have gotten a gift before. Children who have never celebrated Christmas, not in a way we'd recognize.

All the advice I read said to gear those boxes toward specific things. Things like flashlights and batteries. A shirt. Candy (that won't melt). A toy--but no stuffed animals, as those terrify young children in many of the countries the shoeboxes go to, and are boring to the kids old enough not to be scared. Things like toothbrushes and combs and ponytail holders.

These are the things that will delight these children.

I look around my house, and I see so many things. And I realize anew how blessed we are in this country . . . and how the blessing has turned to the norm. And how the norm is not only taken for granted, but turned into something that can be used against us. Because we get so hung up on things. We spend so much time, effort, and money on them. We think that's what makes holidays bright, what makes our kids happy, what we have to give to each other to prove our affection.

I look at all the things . . . and I wonder. I wonder at this world we live in.

My kids don't have to fear wild animals--so they can call them cute and ask for toys that show them with big eyes and baby faces.

My kids don't know what it means to go hungry--so candy is no rare thing.

My kids have so many toys they can lose one and not even notice.

My kids have so many clothes that one shirt means next to nothing to them.

My kids have never had to brush their teeth or wash their hair at a river.

My kids may have wants, but they have no real needs.

We're blessed. Yes. Absolutely. And we're also, in so many ways, blinded to some key truths. I'm not sure any of us really understand what things mean anymore. They're not often special. They're easily replaced.

Yet they're still our language.

I look at the things in my house, and I think about the difference between survival and luxury. And suddenly I can understand a little better the clerics of old who took a vow of poverty.

Because things are so loud. And the voice of God is so soft.

Which one are we listening to throughout our day?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remember When . . . We Met the Characters?

Sometimes it's a little weird to be on a writing schedule a full year ahead of publication--while I'm brainstorming ideas for a whole new series and wrapping up edits on the final book in the current series, readers are still waiting for book 2's release in a few months.

But since The Lost Heiress is at least out now, LOL, and I've been getting lots of questions about whether book 2, The Reluctant Duchess, is about Brice, I thought I'd take a few minutes to talk about these next hero and heroine.

In short, YES. It's Brice's story. ;-) (Wow, that was a short blog. Back to work now...LOL)

In case you haven't seen the cover yet, here it is, with my heroine, Rowena.

I am so in love with that red dress...*blissful sigh* And the model is a great Rowena. I describe her as having honey brown hair and silver-grey eyes. She's the heir to a Highland earl (women could inherit titles in Scotland if there were no sons). She's also in desperate need of a hero to rescue her from a bad situation.

Cue Brice.

When one writes a "perfect" character, one gets a little nervous that reader feedback will be "He's too perfect! Totally unrealistic!" But given that Brice, called Lord Worthing in The Lost Heiress, was just a secondary character, I guess I got away with it. ;-) Heir to the Duke of Nottingham, some of his confidence no doubt comes from his position in society. And the fact that he's handsome. (I picture him rather like Justin Gaston...)

But Brice is certainly more than charming. He's a man of deep faith, and that faith informs everything he does. That faith has given him a knack for seeing things most people don't, and for knowing when and what to pray that people are always surprised by.

Obviously, Brice needed a fabulous love story. But what kind of love story does the silver-tongued charmer get??

An unexpected one. I had to pair him with someone totally unlike him. Someone who distrusts charmers. Someone who has absolutely no interest in becoming a duchess (Brice has inherited the duchy before the opening of book 2, so that I didn't have to worry with shifting title names within the book. #YoureWelcome). Someone who at once needs the help he can offer and feels it's worthless if she can't help herself.

And Brice, who is always right . . . well, Brice gets a taste of what happens when he assumes he's right and isn't. (Cue the maniacal laughter.)

So while Brice isn't quite "perfect" in this book, he's still a man of compassion and faith and honor, and I hope the readers who fell in love with him in The Lost Heiress will love him even more in The Reluctant Duchess.

Meanwhile, I need to get back to editing his sister's story in A Lady Unrivaled. So if y'all will excuse me now . . .

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Active Faith

My husband came home one evening a while back with quite a story to tell. He'd met a friend of ours at a local Christian restaurant--a blatantly Christian restaurant, mind you, with a Christian name and which is decorated with nothing but Christian art. They were sitting there having some iced tea on one end of the restaurant, when from the other end came a scream, and an older gentleman began convulsing, falling from his chair. His daughter was crying, "Daddy, don't leave me! Don't leave me!"

David and our friend jumped out of their chairs and rushed over to help.

They were the first ones there. From the complete opposite end of the restaurant, with a couple dozen others between them and this man, and they were the first ones there.

Were they trained in how to help in a medical emergency? Um, no. But they did the best the could, easing him down so he didn't hit his head, making sure his airway was clear. Our friend called for the owner to call 911. David tried to keep the daughter calm, then went out to meet the EMTs. Our friend stayed with the man. Prayed for the man.

One other person in the restaurant came over to help. One.


No one else asked if he was okay. If they could help. No one got up to pray with our friend. David's words were, "They just kept buttering their bread."

How many times have we all heard the story of The Good Samaritan? How many times have we thought, "Well obviously I'd help"?

Yet here was a restaurant full of presumed Christians, and only 3 got off their rears to do something when someone was collapsing on the floor. Part of me thinks I should be angry about this. But mostly, I'm sad.

We're not like some of the people we've seen in those terrible police-shooting videos, where they just stand there filming while someone's shot or beaten, even cheering them on. But even if we want to help, too often we don't. Why?

Because the church is so afraid. And the people are rendered paralyzed. Maybe people think they'll get in trouble if they try to help but don't know how--if that's so, let me assure you that there are Good Samaritan laws protecting you. Maybe those people had thought, "Well someone's already up..." But haven't they also heard "Where two or three are gathered in My name...?"

No, we're not comfortable with the idea of helping in a situation where we're not qualified. But so often in a situation like that, no one is qualified. What then? Does God expect us to just sit back? No. I daresay the Good Samaritan wasn't a board-certified physician. But the Lord still expects us to do what we can. And to bombard heaven with our prayers. To put down our bread and butter and storm the gates of heaven on behalf of our brethren.

Sooner or later we'll all probably find ourselves in a situation similar to this one. Not exact, probably, but similar.

A situation where we can either help or not.

Get up or not.

So the question is...what do you do?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When You Sit Down to Dine with a Duke . . .

Yes, I did it. I made things complicated for myself--I wrote a series of books about the nobility of England, complete with all their complicated rules on what to call people.

Even worse, I wrote books about dukes. Who aren't treated like the rest of the nobility, at least not in speech. Oh no. That would be far too simple.

So I read all I could find on how to address them. I scratched my head at what seemed really weird to me, and double checked it with those fiction writers who have made a career of this sort of thing. They agreed with the weirdness. So I went with it. And, of course, have heard from a few readers that I've got it all wrong, LOL. So I went back to those experts, who assures me that, no, I'm right. Small consolation when my readers don't realize it, snicker, snicker.

But I thought I'd give us all a quick crash course--you know, just in case you're ever dining with an Edwardian duke.

Now, we have it easy as commoners--the duke is just Your Grace when speaking to him. When speaking of him, you go with the full Duke of Stafford (because that's the duke in my first book, so what other duke would you possibly want to dine with??) You never, never, never call him "my lord" or "Lord Stafford." Dukes are too high up the social ladder to get a mere "lord." If you become very good friends with him (despite your own lowly station, ahem), you may call him "Stafford" without the Duke part.

But what, you ask, if you happen to marry an earl or a marquess or a baron and are yourself titled when you meet him?? Well, that is the question, isn't it? Then it gets tricky. Other peers (as you're called) don't ever say "Your Grace." I mean, really--that would be beneath you. No, no, you simply call him Duke.

Which is where that weirdness comes in. "Duke?" People say. "What a funny nickname."

But it's not a nickname--it's a term of respect. A bit like saying, "Come this way, Mr. President." You would say, "Have a seat, Duke."

In a pinch, you might use a "sir" with him--but again, never, never, never a "my lord" or "Lord Stafford." You would just use Duke or Stafford.

Unless, of course, you know him really well. Then you might actually give him a nickname. (Yes, even lords and ladies have nicknames!) But what nickname? Because, honestly, they never, never, never use first names--not unless you were the mother or sibling of a titled man. And even then, if it's a title they had since birth, you'd use the title, not the Christian name. So you're not going to call them Bill or Joe or Alex. Sorry. No, what they did was shorten or modify the name they went by.

Which was--you guessed it!--their title.

My Duke of Stafford had a friend who loved to come up with odd nicknames. Back before he inherited the duchy, he was Lord Harlow--Thate called him Harry. Then he inherited the title of Marquess of Abingdon--Thate called him Bing. So what did Thate come up with for the Duke of Stafford?

"Stafford . . . Staff . . . which reminds me of a shepherd . . . so Shep!"

More simply, my Lord Whitby would have been called, for instance, Whit. Strange as it seems to us to take a high-faluting title and then un-falute it (let's pretend that's a word), they did. We have scores of books of the Victorian and Edwardian era proving it.

I know, I know. The rules are complicated for how to address the nobility, and especially so for dukes and duchesses. But we all must be prepared. So next time you dine with an Edwardian duke, you'll know just what to do.

Monday, November 2, 2015

12 Books ~ 12 Winners! Giveaway

How better to celebrate the arrival of November than with a big ol' giveaway? The authors of 12 fabulous inspirational historicals have teamed up to bring you this one. And with 12 winners, your chances of bringing home a prize are great!

Giveaway includes:

The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall
Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund
A Refuge at Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky
The Lost Heiress by Yours Truly (aka Roseanna M. White)
The Bound Heart by Dawn Crandall
A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter
The Captive Imposter by Dawn Crandall
Not by Sight by Kate Breslin
The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz
The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah E. Ladd
The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson
A Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason 

You have the whole month of November, so get entering and sharing! ;-)
 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Remember When . . . Harvest Traditions Clashed?

It's that time of year again--the time when most of America gets ready for Halloween, and those who oppose it often take the time to explain about why.

I'm not going there, LOL. Instead, I'm looking at how some of America's Halloween traditions got here to begin with, and what the Puritans did this time of year instead. Because, you see, it's the 4th Wednesday of the month, which means it's my day to post on Colonial Quills. ;-) Hop on over to read about the anticipated ear of red corn that could usher in your future, and how jack-o-lanterns came from the clash between Christianity and Druidism.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Word of the Week - Knit

About a month ago, a lady at our church volunteered to teach knitting classes. Having been crocheting since she was 9 and then knitting as well when she moved to our area and began working in a yarn store, Ms. Judith knows her stuff!

I joined mostly because Xoe has taken a few classes and needed a few more, LOL. And I figured, this way I could help her. I wasn't expecting to fall in love with it, but boy have I!

So today, our word of the week is knit.

The word has been around since Old English, meaning "to tie with a knot, bind, fasten." And while the art of knitting has been around so long no one knows exactly when it started, the word has been in English with the particular meaning of "to do knitting" only since the 15th century. (Only . . . LOL)

Interestingly, referring to a piece of knitted work as "knitting" is quite new! That only joined the English language in 1848. (Wondering now what they called it before...)

(Those are my knitting projects thus far in the photo - starting at the left, we have a stitch I just wanted to try so did something that ended up the size of a pot holder, LOL. Didn't like the yarns though so stopped. Then I decided I'd do a cable knit scarf. I still had lots of the yarn, so I made a cable-knit hat to match [it's finished, but I didn't take a finished photo yet]. Those are the same yarn in the two middle pictures, just different lighting, LOL. And finally, I'm trying some toy patterns, so I did a star fish. Just finished that this weekend, and am currently working on a bat!)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . The Refugee Crisis

In my circles, we hear about the refugees flooding Europe from Syria and the Middle East, driven out by ISIS, and we're horrified. We want to help. We want to learn more. 

I was a bit surprised to realize that the opinion of my circle wasn't the norm (though I guess I shouldn't have been). Scrolling randomly through Facebook one day showed me that most people's opinions are that this is just another ISIS tactic to infiltrate the world--that the refugees are terrorists in disguise, not to be trusted, not to be helped. Or that even if many aren't, it's not our problem. We have an immigrant problem of our own, I saw one lady say on a friend's post. We need to deal with our own issues before we go taking on theirs.

That, my friend, is a dangerous, dangerous philosophy. That, if you carry it out in all aspects of your life, is an excuse for turning a blind eye to any problem--because seriously, when will we not have something to deal with already? Does that mean you let every other atrocity go on, unchecked?

Last week, my husband and father were in Bulgaria, and they went to the refugee camp there to interview some of the refugees. Do you know what they found?

They found people who just want respect, who want to be treated as people, not as a disease. They saw people who manage to smile and joke and talk of their hope of going home, even while they admit that they still have family in Syria, and they haven't heard from them in months, don't know whether they're alive or dead.

These people said over and again, "Syria is beautiful. Syria is wonderful. Syria is even better than the United States. Until DASH [the local name for ISIS] we all lived in peace. We all helped one another. Of course I want to go home. As soon as it's safe, I'll be there. We'll rebuild."

I'm not sure Americans understand that--that these people aren't fleeing by choice, aren't trying to find a new life in Europe or America or anywhere else in the world. They're just trying to survive, to help their children to survive. Their goal isn't to stay in those countries to which they flee, it's just to earn a living there until they can go home. That's the ultimate goal--to go home, to a place they swear is the best place in the world.

Are there terrorists trying to take advantage of this? There are. Bad people will always try to take advantage of the hardships of others. But those people will find ways in no matter what. To those who live in fear of that, I say this:

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25)

When I stand before God, I don't want Him judging me for the thousands of innocents I chose not to help for fear of the few evil men among them. When I stand before God, I don't want to be on the left hand, begging and pleading and saying, "But Lord, I might have helped an enemy by mistake!"

I think He has an answer to that, don't you? Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you . . . if your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him drink.

Already there are stories coming out of terrorists who were trying to do what we fear . . . but who, being met by the love of Christians in the camps, changed their minds. Because never had they seen such love, and they couldn't deny it.

Christianity has an opportunity here--to show the world what it really means to serve a loving God. A merciful God. A God who loves you so much that He would make the ultimate sacrifice. That's a love that changes people. That's a love that changes the world.

Are we willing to shine that love into the darkness? Or do we turn our faces away and pretend the darkness can't reach us here?

Over the next few months, I'll be sharing opportunities as they become available--opportunities to support those ministering to the camps, and hopefully to take some more active roles too.

And if you'd like to see more of what my husband and father did last week, you can listen to their presentation to our church this coming Saturday, October 24, at 11 a.m. We'll be broadcasting the service here: FGSDB Live Stream

Please, please join us in praying for the thousands of displaced Syrians. Pray for their safety. Pray for their provisions. Pray for their hearts and souls.

If by chance you're ready to give right now, you can donate through our not-for-profit organization, the Appalachian Relief Mission. Just put a note that it's for the refugees--we'll be sending money to our contacts at the camp in Bulgaria (the poorest country in the EU, just FYI).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Remember When . . . The Models Posed?

Last week I had a super-exciting email from the folks at Bethany House, asking for my input on poses for the book cover of A Lady Unrivaled, the third and final installment in the Ladies of the Manor Series.

Yes, if you heard giddy squealing, that was me. ;-)

Now, they hadn't selected a model yet, so this was purely an in-general question, but a fun one. And it got me thinking. As a cover designer myself, I know how much poses matter--and it's especially true on a book cover where the figure is the majority of the composition, like in these.

(I'm still so in love with these covers!)

But in the email last week, my editor asked if I'd like to see them use any props this time (props! squee!), how I'd like to see her positioned. And oh, the possibilities!

Just looking through Edwardian photographs gives such a wide variety...

We've got the parasol-as-a-cane.
Which was very popular.
Or hey, just a cane!
We've got the show-off-the-waist ones...
(I can't breathe just looking at that one...or this one)
And of course, some softer poses.

Endless possibilities, of course. And I love how much attention Bethany House gives this as they prepare for their photo shoots. Just look at some of these fabulously posed covers.

We tossed around some ideas, and I can't wait to see what they settle on during the shoot and the photo selection.

But now I'm curious. What are your favorite types of poses for models on book covers?  Close-ups? No faces? Something quirky? Serious? Action shot? Obviously much depends on the type of book, but which ones tend to draw you?