Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Remember When . . . This

We are officially 13 days from the release of A Lady Unrivaled, the final book in the Ladies of the Manor Series. I'm so excited to share Ella's story with the world! Most of you probably know how special this series is to me--how The Lost Heiress is rewrite of the very first novel I finished at age 13. Well, Ella's story is very special to me too . . . because Ella is more like me than any other heroine when it comes to her heart. Her way of seeing the world.

And Russian ballerinas sent to England as spies. There's that too. That made this book so much fun!

So last week this happened.

That would be the arrival of my author copies of A Lady Unrivaled. Always an exciting day (even if I have nowhere to put those three boxes!).

And this week--this week, we could start looking up the 10-day forecast for where we'll be in England next week!!!! Still can't believe that one's actually happening. But it is. Next Thursday, I'll be looking up at Stonehenge with my kids and husband.

I'll get to celebrate A Lady Unrivaled's release day in England, after having been where Ella and Cayton would be (more or less). This is pretty awesome.

My to-do list though . . . that's a wee bit intimidating, LOL. So I need to get back to it, if you'll excuse me. Just had to share the joy of books arriving and soon releasing!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Song Unheard Contest Winner!

Well the votes were tallied, and the public spoke! The winner of the Song Unheard Contest is...

Finalist #3
Jessica Brand!

Congratulations, Jessica, and thank you so much for the gorgeous song for my heroine, Willa!

Thank you, everyone, for joining with me in this fun contest! I loved watching all the votes and views climb upward and to hear the chat about them on Facebook and Twitter!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Blessings?

I'm not sure when this thought hit me--but it was in the last month or so. One of those things that has niggled and wiggled around in my head and then burst into realization during a sermon in church one week.

I'd been wondering about blessings . . . and if we really know how to identify them.

Living as we do in a prosperous, rich country, we tend to think of things as blessings, don't we? We're blessed to have a nice house . . . a car . . . a paycheck. We're blessed to have insurance . . . college savings accounts . . . and closets bursting with clothes. We're blessed, we think, to have all we need.

But what if we're not?

Let me be clear from the start--I'm not saying these things aren't blessings, period, end of story. They could be. But I am saying this: I don't think they are always blessings.

Why? Because a blessing shouldn't ever get between us and God--and all too often, our possessions do. All too often we focus more on finding that new set of curtains or bookshelf or new car than we do on Him. All too often we give to others, offer our service or money, only after we've met our "needs." But is that what the Lord instructs? Or are we to give Him our first fruits? Or our all?

Yet so many times we heard people say, "Thank you, Lord, for giving me ________ [insert possession here]."

This has made the thought wiggle and niggle with increasing frequency. Yes, I think God does help us get the things we need, absolutely. The things that will aid us in our walk with Him, the things that will help us help others. I do fully believe that it was a gift from God when our friends with a calling to hospitality found a great deal on a big house, which they frequently opened up to visitors and missionaries.

Yes, I think it's a gift from God when the funds come in to buy a new laptop that allows a writer or blogger to continue their ministry with words.

Yes, I absolutely think it's a gift from God to find a dependable car at a good price so we can get where He wants us to go.

But for every one of those clear blessings, how many murky ones have we seen? I can't count them. And I certainly can't judge them in anyone's life but my own. But I think, in order to keep them straight, I need to give myself a new definition of blessing.

Blessings aren't the things God gives us--
they're whatever brings us closer to Him.

Does my house bring me closer to Him or get in the way? My car? My clothes? My bank account? Does air conditioning make me a better Christian? Does my full pantry?

Does heartache? Does loss? Does having to scrounge around for dollars enough to cover an expense? Does needing to lean on Him in hard times because my own strength isn't enough?

Sheds a different light on things, doesn't it? That sometimes, those things we thank Him for might not be the real blessings in our lives at all (though sometimes they certainly are). But the real blessings might be the hard parts. The valleys. The days of darkness. Because those are the things that make us curl up in the lap of our God and cling to Him as our Father.

There are always going to be things we need, things He gives us. Yes. Absolutely. But there are also so very many things that are just that--things. And we need to be careful about how we look on those--as what we ought to be striving to possess . . . or as mere objects that litter our lives.

Remembering always that the real gift, the most valuable is the eternal. Is Him and His salvation. That is the dearest, most precious, most expensive thing in this world--it cost Jesus His life! So if that is the best thing, the thing we ought to guard and yet share, what is the rest? Nothing.

Yet we offer people God freely--because it cost us nothing--and hoard our belongings. We've got it all backwards, my friends. And until we realize it . . . well, then I'm going to stick with my new epiphany. These things around me aren't always a blessing. And that's why sometimes God has to take them away from us.

That isn't God removing His blessing. That's God removing a curse we'd been clinging to.

The biggest blessing is something He'll never take away, ever. Him.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Word of the Week - & (Ampersand)

At last week, my attention was grabbed by one of their slideshows about punctuation. Because, yes, I'm a grammar nerd. This has been well established. ;-) But the very first slide was far and away the most interesting to me.


Both of these things have always been an enigma to me. Where in the world did we get that curly thingy-ma-bob, and why did it mean "and." And why in the world was it called an "ampersand"? Questions I have long gone without knowing the answers to. But now it's all clear. ;-)

The original ampersand was the one that looked like the above, in the graphic--the others are just deviations. And the reason is quite simple. When writing in cursive, Latin scribes would combine and quicken the letters in "and"--et. That combined et made its way into other Latin-based languages like English as a symbol. But it wasn't called an "ampersand" until the 1830s.

At that point in time, this symbol was being taught as a 27th letter of the alphabet. The schoolchildren's recitation would say, "X, Y, Z, and per se and." That "and per se and" got slurred--into ampersand!

And there we go. Your weekly dose of word . . . er, punctuation? . . . fun. ;-)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

#SongUnheard Contest ~ Finalists!

The finalists for the #SongUnheard Contest have been selected!

First, I'd like to say that this was a fabulous batch of songs. And there were quite a few gorgeous piano pieces that were ruled out solely because they wouldn't convert well to violin, but which deserve a mention. Those were by: Cara L., Jen L., and Pepper B. I so enjoyed listening to these!

But now for the finalists! They are (in alphabetical order):

Jessica B.

Melissa M.

Thomas R.

Congrats to these amazing composers!

NOW -- it's up to you to choose the winner! Votes will be tallied from:

Want to hear the entries and vote? Go to my YouTube Channel and vote for your favorite with a Like!

You have one week to vote!
The winner will be announced on Thursday 25 August 2016!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Remember When . . . A Virtual Tour

Today, for a change of pace, I thought I'd take you on a little virtual pre-tour of the sites of my books--particularly the ones I might get to see next month in England. =)

These first ones are places I won't see, but which Brook and Justin, Rowena and Brice certainly did. To start our Ladies of the Manor tour, Brook would have arrived in North Yorkshire by steam train . . .

and then gotten her first view (eventually, not from the train, LOL) of Whitby Abbey.

 Rowena, on the other hand grew up in a castle built out on a Highland loch...

...before moving to the Sussex countryside near Brighton--and also near the white chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters.

Then we move on to the soon to release A Lady Unrivaled--and the places I get to go! For starters, the oh-so-picturesque Cotswolds villages...

I'll be spending a few days near here and am so looking forward to it! This is where A Lady Unrivaled is set almost exclusively, with the exception of two scenes in lovely Paris.

Then we'll move on, as my stories do, to Cornwall. Next summer, you'll meet Rosemary Gresham--thief--and Peter Holstein, who makes his home in the Cornish countryside, where I'll be spending a lovely three days.

At one point in the story they venture to nearby St. Michael's Mount--which is within sight of where we'll be staying!

The climax of A Name Unknown, which I just rewrote, takes place in the Cornish coastal countryside, much like this.

We may also take a day trip (maybe) into Wales to visit Cardiff, where the book I'm currently writing, A Song Unheard, will take place. Perhaps we'll get a peek at Castle Coch (The Red Castle) nearby...

I haven't determined the setting for the final book in the Shadows Over England series...but my plan is to pick a place I've seen and loved during my trip. ;-)

And after I get back, you can rest assured that I'll take you on another tour, using photos I actually took! (Or that my husband did. I'm lousy with a camera.) All these photos were purchased from Shutterstock. ;-)

Now back to the real work I go!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to School!

I'll have my normal posts up later this week. Today, however, is our first day back to school. Plus I'm determined to finish up revisions for A Name Unknown before that first class starts, so . . . you know. Blogging takes a back seat. ;-)

But stay tuned!! Also on today's agenda is going through the many amazing entries in the Song Unheard Contest and then announcing the finalists! Within the next day or so I'll have the voting system set up, and YOU can help me select the song that Willa will have composed over the course of her story!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Our Stories

As a writer, I know all about picking the interesting times to write about--we leave out the boring stuff, right? Or the unimportant stuff. We certainly don't spend pages describing something that will never come up again.

It's something I've noticed in biblical narratives as well. When the ancient writers are telling us a story--like in Esther or Daniel--they don't tell us all. They tell us the parts that are relevant to the particular idea they're trying to get across, or to the particular events they'll really be expounding on. I noticed this quite a lot back in the day when I was writing Jewel of Persia. It was the first I'd really noticed the huge gap of years between when Xerxes had the queen removed from the throne and when he started looking for a new queen. This wasn't a next-day or next-year thing. It was literal ages later.

We've been reading Daniel in our Bible study the last month or two, and the same thing is apparent there. Nebuchadnezzar reigned 43 years. We know it was near the beginning of his reign when Daniel and compatriots were brought to Babylon. And we see his story all the way to the end of his reign. But it's easy to read it as if it all happened within the course of a couple years.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a statue.
Nebuchadnezzar built a statue--surely they were linked, right? The nerve!

Nebuchadnezzar admits to the greatness of God.
Nebuchadnezzar thinks only of his own greatness--what a short memory he has!

I said several times in our study at church, and keep thinking now . . . it's not that his memory is short. It's that our narrative is truncated. And then I ask--how would our life stories sound if we only hit the major ups and downs?

What if our story were written, and included, say, the first time we admitted that God was up in Heaven watching us . . . and then skipped to the first time we questioned Him? What would our story sound like if the next tale written were of our conversion . . . then it was directly followed by that time someone died suddenly, and we railed at God?

To a reader, it would look like our memory was short. Like we forgot how great God is. To a reader, we might seem to go from praising God for taking us out of Egypt to crying out against Him in the wilderness in a couple seconds. A reader might not understand that our children are dying of thirst, so of course we cry out. Right? A reader might not understand that it's been a decade since that high point, and the world has been pressing in, and it seems like God has forgotten us . . . so we question whether He's what we first thought.

In this world of commentaries and footnotes in our Bibles, it's sometimes easy to take the quick, simply explanation--and in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, most all the notes I read on him were pretty harsh, dude. But I think the man deserves a lot of credit. His chapters in the book of Daniel are the only chapters written by a so-called pagan. Ever wonder why? I think it's because of the ending of his story.

Yeah, he had his ups and downs with God. He didn't quite believe fully at first--it didn't square with everything he'd been taught since he was a kid, you know? In his world, admitting to the power of one god didn't negate the others. He had to go on a journey to understanding the true nature of the one who is God over all. It involved some fits and starts. Some battles with pride. Some days where he forgot what Israel's Lord was all about.

But it ended with him declaring our God supreme. It ended with a declaration of faith. Think of that--a Babylonian king, declaring his faith in the God of Israel. That is why his story is worth writing about--and why Daniel took such care to show us the rocky road that led him there.

Our own roads not be rocky to the same degree. But they all have their peaks and valleys. And if those were all anyone knew of us . . . what would  our footnotes say?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Word of the Week - Cranky

We have one more week left of summer vacation. One more little week, then back to the homeschool grind we go. Needless to say, that has inspired a few sighs and a whimper or two (okay, perhaps that was more from me than the kids, LOL).

With the end of days of freedom and fun (or in my case, work-work-work), a little crankiness is to be expected. And so, today I thought I'd look at the history of the word. =)

Cranky has its roots, obviously, in crank--a word which is as old as English itself, taken from the Proto-Germanic krank: a handle for turning a revolving axis. We obviously still use this meaning of the word as well, though both German and Dutch have apparently leaned away from the literal ancient meaning and instead gone toward a figurative "sick, weakly" meaning.

This is where our cranky comes in. Around 1803, cranky appeared in English texts, meaning "sickly or ailing." By 1825, crank itself was listed in dictionaries as having a secondary meaning of "hard, difficult." (Like  a crank job.) Crank meaning "an irritable person" came along in 1833--a back-formation from cranky.

Though to give my kids credit where it's due, they're less cranky about school starting than I thought they'd be--in part at the promise of going to Staples and stocking up on pens and paper. (They are so my children, LOL. Fresh writing supplies make everything better.)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . For and Against

I just got back from a couple days at a church conference, and the director said something in one of his presentations that resonated with something my husband and I had been discussing too. And that is this:

One of the greatest perceived failings of the modern church is that we put more thought into what we're against than what we're for. As in, in a survey of modern America, this was listed as one of the top 5 reasons that people stopped going to church. All they ever heard was the negative. The don't-do. The can't-have. The stay-away-from.

The negatives are important. They are. God's pretty clear on what we shouldn't do.

But . . . but. If we carve out those places, what are we then filling them with?

I kinda look at it like this. A successful diet isn't one that just says "Eliminate these foods." Right? Because if you just cut out the chips and dessert and saturated fats or whatever and don't fill your meals with anything else in their place, what happens?

You get hungry.

A successful diet is one that says, "Eat this. Instead of a banana muffin, have a banana. Instead of chips, have some hummus."

Not that I'm an experienced dieter, LOL, but I have definitely noticed that when I'm focused on getting my five servings of fruits and veggies in a day, I don't have room for the junk food. If I make conscious decisions to eat something healthy first, then I rarely get around to the unhealthy stuff.

This is true of spiritual health too. Yes, we definitely, 100% need to avoid things. But if all you preach and teach is a system of DON'T, you leave your people empty . . . and that makes the way for apostasy and legalism.

When it comes to faith, we need to be careful to focus on how to fill ourselves with Him. That is the #1 most important thing. Because if we're filled up with His Spirit, there's no room left for the sins. If we're full of His love, there's no room for hate. If we're dwelling in Him and He in us, that old man will fade away and we won't still desire the same old junk. If we're basking in His grace, we won't even notice the "lack" we now have of those things of the world--we'll only notice the fruit of His presence.

I don't want to be known as "the person who doesn't . . ." even if that "doesn't" is an important distinction. Yes, I am absolutely the person who doesn't murder, doesn't steal, doesn't commit perjury. But that doesn't tell you a thing about who I am. What I do.

This holds true in a church as well. We can't just be known for the sins we don't embrace--we have to be known for the spiritual fruit we do produce. Let us be known for our kindness and goodness and self-control. For our giving and serving and need-meeting. Let us be known for being Jesus's hands and feet in a hurting world. Not for just shaking a finger at that world and judging.

Let's not just be against things . . . let's stand for things as well.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Word of the Week - Class

Class. It seems like a simple word. One that has surely been around forever, right? Well, I looked it up last week because I wanted to make sure that classy was in use for a story. And instead I learned that the whole word was rather surprising.

Class comes from the Latin classis, which is the word for how Servius Tullius divided the Roman people for purposes of taxation. This also had something to do with how the people were called to arms, which is the original meaning (and spelling) carried into English first. It wasn't until around 1600 that it was shortened to class . . . at which point it meant a group of students.

In the 1650s, class was expanded from the group of students to mean a course or lecture students might take in school--based on the idea that it required reaching a certain academic level.

In 1705, the word became a verb--"to divide into classes." In 1753, scientists began talking about classes of plants and animals.

But it wasn't until 1772 that class began to mean "divisions of society according to status." I was really surprised it was that late! And so, the notion of class being "high quality" was unheard of until the 1840s. My classy, therefore, didn't come around until the 1890s.