I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Doctor in Petticoats

Everyone appreciates a good book recommendation, including me. So when I realized I’d read few of the books nominated for an inspirational RITA award (Romance Writers of America’s contest for excellence among published romance novels and novellas, with the winners being announced July 1 at the annual convention in New York City), I picked up a copy of nominee Doctor In Petticoats by Mary Connealy.

Set in 1870s Texas, the book follows Beth McClellan (whom Connealy fans will recognize as the daughter of Sophie from Petticoat Ranch), who wants nothing more than to serve as the doctor of her hometown, Mosqueros. Alex Buchanan can’t quit doctoring fast enough—but with medical emergencies landing at his feet and bossy Beth insisting he do his part to patch up folks, there’s no escaping the blood on his hands.

While this book contains all the ingredients that make Connealy’s books pure magic—it’s funny, poignant, inspirational, and adventurous, with a boo-worthy villain and characters you care about all in a western setting—this one is a little different, because it features a hero who’s utterly broken, an emotional wreck hiding from his memories as well as the law. Alex is still full of the masculine charm Connealy’s readers have come to expect from her heroes, but he’s clearly a man in need. As his story unfolds, he realizes he not only needs the Lord, but he comes to terms with who he is and what he’s done to land him on the wrong side of the law.

Best of all, Alex grows stronger and more fully develops his gifts when he works as a team with Beth. I can’t remember reading a novel where the hero and heroine are such complimentary (and necessary) partners. Neither can do without the other, professionally or emotionally. I enjoyed reading about their relationship and watching both grow, in character and faith.

An unresolved subplot involving Beth’s sister Mandy sets the stage for Sharpshooter in Petticoats, the last installment in the Sophie’s Daughters trilogy. Sister Sally’s story, Wrangler in Petticoats, is the second novel.  All are available at your favorite Christian retailer or amazon.com.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Welcome Debut Author Ruth Reid! (and a giveaway!)

Today it's my delight to welcome Ruth Reid to Tea and a Good Book.

I was blessed to have been placed in a critique group with Ruth Reid when I joined American Christian Fiction Writers. She and I hit it off, and since that God-appointed day, we've critiqued innumerable pages from at least eight of each other's novels (partial and full). Everything I've written in the last two years has benefited from her insight.

I'm absolutely thrilled to help Ruth celebrate the release of her debut novel, The Promise of an Angel, from Thomas Nelson. (Ruth has graciously offered to give away a copy to one lucky commenter...see the bottom of the post for instructions!) Please join me in welcoming her to Tea and a Good Book!

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, The Promise of an Angel. Can you share some of the memorable moments during the process from getting “the call” to holding the book in your hands for the first time.

I laugh when I think about getting ‘the call’. My agent sent me an email saying a publisher was interested in my story and she would call me that evening. I was ecstatic. I waited for the call, but it never came. Later, I discovered one of my kids had unplugged the base phone and without it plugged into the outlet, the cordless extensions wouldn’t ring. I’ll always remember, not receiving ‘the call’. For me, seeing the book cover for the first time was very exciting. I teased my daughter asking her if she would like me to sign a picture of the cover and she said that she would wait for the real thing and would I please sign a check for lunch money at school. Another great highlight was when the box from the publisher arrived with the books. One of my daughters asked if I was going to read it again and my son flipped the pages of the book and with a puzzled expression said, so you’ve already read this? I told him, Danny, I wrote it. He rolled his eyes and said, oh, so that’s what you do in your office.


Sigh--our kids keep us grounded, don't they? So, can you give us a little preview of your novel?

Interrupting the ordered routine of the Mecosta County Amish settlement, an angelic visitor awakens Judith to a new faith, but not without obstacles to overcome.

After a barn raising accident, Judith Fischer's convinced she's met an angel. However, her attempts to convince others end up frustrating her Old-Order Amish community. Only Andrew Lapp believes her, but the rest, including Levi Plank, the man's she's waited to marry, demand she forget the nonsense. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Martha, has taken a fancy to Levi. Martha sees her sister's controversy as a perfect distraction for turning Levi's head.

Well Ruth, I've got to say, when you sent me the very first chapter of the first draft of the story which would become The Promise of an Angel, I knew you'd come up with something unique. Angels and Amish? How did you come up with such a fresh and rich idea?

I think most authors start with ‘what if…” Mine was what if the conflict in the Amish settlement came from God in the form of angel instead of from outside of the community. How would the character respond to an angel? Would she believe? Would her faith still stand if she stood alone? Those questions sparked the story premise.

Although the novel is a romance (and whoo hoo, the romance element is great!), featuring an angel as a character adds a dimension to the main character's faith journey. What was it like writing an angel? How did you decide to describe him?

I found the angel’s character challenging to write. It was important to show that he didn’t have all the answers because God hadn’t revealed them to him. I wanted his characteristics unearthly, while appearing to Judith as an Englischer. According to Hebrews 13: 2 some of us have unwittingly entertained angels. With that being the case, wouldn’t they appear to us in a recognizable human form?

In The Promise of an Angel, faith seems to be the central theme. In a recent interview with Beth Wiseman on Amishliving.com, you mentioned your personal faith journey when your son was born in liver failure. Can you share a time when you struggled with faith?

My son, having had a liver transplant, is immune compromised. One of the issues that plagued him with his disease state was warts. At one time, he had over 50 on one hand. They were so bad that they were embedded in his nail beds. As a pharmacist, I knew the danger of the warts spreading to potentially every area the child touched. I tried everything. I tried both over the counter treatments and prescriptions medications. I took him to a dermatologist to have them burned off, but was refused when they realized the severity of his case. I even tried duct tape after reading in New England Journal of Medicine that a study had shown success. Nothing worked. As I would get one, three or four would come in its place.

One day after I had given up, my son mentioned a boy in his kindergarten class and I asked if he was his best friend. My son’s response crushed me. He said L.J. was the only one who would hold his hand during circle time. I asked why already knowing the answer. The other kids were afraid of his warts. I told him if he didn’t want the warts any longer, he needed to pray and ask Jesus to take them away. Danny replied, “Yeah, that’s what Jesus said.” I was stunned. I asked Danny when he talked with Jesus and he replied, “When I told Jesus about the kids at school, Jesus rubbed my back and told me to pray and ask them to be taken away.”

That night, I listened to Danny pray. “Jesus, I don’t want theses warts anymore, please take them away.” The entire time Danny was praying, my silent prayer went something like this: “Oh, God, you know I’ve been praying for him to be healed of those warts for over a year now. Please, don’t let anything destroy his faith. I’m worried he’ll be disappointed. How will I explain without damaging his faith…”

My faith had already crumbled. Two weeks later, I went to reach for Danny’s hand to walk across the parking lot, and I stopped and stared at his hand. All I said was “Danny,” and he completed my thought. “Yeah, Jesus healed me.” I examined his hand closely. Warts don’t fall off—not all of them at once—without leaving a scar. I asked to see his other hand and he showed me how those were gone too. Danny smiled and said, “Now the other kids aren’t afraid to hold my hand.”

What I learned about childlike faith is that he asked, believed, and trusted God to take away his warts. I, on the other hand, prayed for healing, but continued to exhaust my means to find a treatment. When I failed with my abilities, my faith weakened believing that God didn’t answer my prayer. Looking back, I believe, God was waiting for me to stop interfering and to trust that He didn’t need duct tape.

Oh Ruth, that story brought tears to my eyes. I'm so glad you shared it with us. Deep breath--ok, onto the book. You’ve had some firsthand experience living close to an Amish community. Could you tell us about it?

During college, I lived with Mary and Simon, retired dairy farmers who rented their upstairs bedrooms to college students. I lived with them several years and since I took summer classes also, I was there throughout the year. Mary and I would go to the Amish farms and buy produce and bread. The Amish women were very open to answering all of my questions and I had many. Last fall, when I went to visit, Mary and I drove over to a couple of farms so I could ask them questions. They were warm and welcoming, and what I found the most interesting was how the children lined up their chairs in a row to sit and visit with us. Of the five, only one spoke a little English. The others were not school age and they only spoke Pennsylvania Deitsch. One little girl rocked her doll, a birthday gift. The faceless doll was handmade by her mother and dressed in an Amish dress.

The Amish community were so open to you--what a gift. (And the doll sounds beautiful.) You've certainly got a lot of material available to you for future stories, but I'm curious about what you're reading, since writers tend to be voracious readers. What favorite book do you return to over and over again?

I don’t tend to reread fiction. I have too many on my reading list to read. The Bible is the only book I read over and over and my favorite book is John.

John is my husband's favorite, too. Speaking of husbands...What is something your husband or children would say is quirky about you?

Something my oldest daughter found quirky about me when she learned to drive was how I would drive out of my way (sometimes several blocks) to hit a turning light. While she practiced driving, I wouldn’t let her make left hand turns unless she was at a light. When she rolled her eyes and told her dad about how I insisted she make only right hand turns, which meant going 4 miles out of the way, he laughed. The first time he rode with me while we were in college, he tried to tell me we were going the wrong direction. I explained that I only turn left at a light. He thought driving six blocks the wrong direction was the craziest thing he’d ever heard. My daughter received her license six months ago. When she started driving to school, she teasingly asked what she was going to do because she couldn’t plot out a route only making right turns. I shut her up by agreeing and saying, yep, she’d have to continue riding the bus. Okay, so my OCD isn’t that severe—she does drive to school.

Ruth, thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions, and with such honesty and humor. Congratulations again on the release of The Promise of an Angel. It's definitely a gem of a book.

Ruth will be stopping by later if you have any questions or comments for her! And to win a copy of her new release, please leave a comment by 11 PM Wednesday, June 29, and include your email address in your comment so I can contact you. One commenter will be drawn at random. Good luck!

Ruth Reid is a full-time pharmacist who lives in Dade City, Florida with her husband and three children. Her fascination for the Amish began twenty-years ago when she skipped college classes to watch a barn-raising. Today, she’s still captivated by the simple ways of the Amish lifestyle, and in her debut novel, The Promise of an Angel, she writes about what started her curiosity with the Amish—a barn raising. When Ruth is not working, she loves photography. 

You can visit Ruth on her website here. The Promise of an Angel is available from your favorite Christian retailer or here, in paperback or Kindle formats.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Welcome Author Jeannie Campbell!

I first met Jeannie Campbell in 2008, almost as soon as I joined American Christian Fiction Writers. I posed a question to the general loop, she responded, and she's been helping me out ever since.

When Jeannie isn't writing award-winning contemporary romances, she works as a full-time therapist. In addition, Jeannie offers a popular web service called "character therapy," which has proven invaluable to me as a writer. I've taken two of my heroes to her for therapy. Her assistance has helped me better develop my back story, discern the plausibility of my characters' responses, and make my hero and heroine more three-dimensional.

Jeannie has agreed to take a minute to put her feet up and have a cup of tea. Please welcome Jeannie Campbell to Tea and a Good Book.


Q: Congratulations on being named a semi-finalist in this year's ACFW Genesis contest! Can tell us how you come up with your ideas?

Thanks! I guess one of the perks of doing therapy by day and writing by night is that I have more than enough fodder to keep me burning the midnight oil. The people I encounter on a daily basis often do end up in my novels, usually in bits and pieces.

Q: How do you find time to write as a busy therapist, wife, and mom? How do you balance your spiritual life with the demands on you?

I try hard not to take my work home with me, at least not time-wise. I rarely do anything outside of work hours that’s not solely family time or writing time. I rarely write when my little girl is awake. (Talk about the realm of impossibility!) I generally take a few hours every weekend to knock out all my blog posts for the week, and that frees up weeknights for other things.

In all honesty, my fiction writing comes in hot and heavy bursts. My husband will know up front if and when I’m in the “groove,” and he’s wonderful about honoring the time I seek to write and will often take our daughter out of the house to give me a few blessed hours of uninterrupted writing time.

I never skip church to write. It’s important for our family to be there as a unit. Lately I’ve been convicted about reading my Bible more…or at least as much as I spend time with my nose in my Kindle. I don’t always get the balance right, but I’m a work in progress too. J

Q: Tell us about your writing journey.

I started writing as a young child. I fell in love with those writing prompts in grade school. I became the editor of my high school paper, and as a result received a degree in journalism—so I think I’ve always had the writer’s bug. I didn’t get “serious,” though, until 2006.

My first book—one that will never see the light of day, I promise, because it was over 200k!—was a self-reflective and healing journey through a time in my past that I regretted. I re-wrote my history as a way to say I’m sorry to the people I hurt and to apologize to Christ for not being the best example of His love. After typing the last period on that book, ideas came to me non-stop. I started a journal full of story ideas and eventually one stuck with me so fiercely that I had to write it.

Q: You're kicking off a brand new website. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Is it aimed toward writers, readers, or both?

My new website, CharacterTherapist.com is aimed mainly toward writers. Authors can fill out a therapy intake form for their characters, much like you would fill out in a therapist’s waiting room, and can get a free mini assessment from me in the same vein as what I’ve done on my blog, or can pay to receive the full assessment, which is more detailed and longer. I’ve got four Writer’s Guides for sale, as well as telephone/Skype consultation and my therapeutic editing service where I read anything from synopses to full manuscripts and look for personality inconsistencies, plot infeasibility, and factual accuracy about any portrayal of mental health.

Q: How do you enjoy spending your free time?

I’m a musician, and I love to sing and play the piano. I find something very freeing and uplifting in singing, and it’s always a joy to give back to the church as a pianist. I also make time to work out at least 4 times a week. In order to feel good about myself—and offset my writing lifestyle of behind-on-couch—this is a necessity. Any thing I do with my family is great, and living where we live in northern California, there are a lot of beautiful places to go and fun things to do.

Q: What's your favorite thing about summer? Any good summer reads picked out?

Summer where I live is a balmy and temperate 68 degrees or so, usually. The sun comes out and doesn’t stay hidden behind the typical clouds of the Pacific Northwest, and the days are just glorious! I love getting my toenails done and wearing my sandals.

As for summer reads, yes of course! I’ve got Delia Latham’s new book, Kylie’s Kiss on my TBR pile, as well as Angela Breidenbach’s new non-fiction, Gems of Wisdom. I’m looking forward to both.

I've heard wonderful things about Gems of Wisdom. It sounds like you've got some great summer reads picked out to enjoy while you soak in the sun.


Thanks so much for visiting Tea and a Good Book, Jeannie! I wish you the best with all of your writing endeavors. Blessings!

Be sure to check out Jeannie's new website, http://charactertherapist.com, to check out the array of resources she's made available to authors.

***

Jeannie has been writing ever since she received a diary for her fifth birthday. She began writing angst-ridden middle-grade novels in junior high, often commandeering the family computer for hours on end. After eight years of higher educational pursuits, she moved onto adult contemporary romance and romantic suspense, frequently using her day job as a therapist to generate lots of fodder for her night job as a writer. Two of Jeannie’s “therapeutic romance” manuscripts have garnered the high praise of being finalists in the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which she is an active member. She writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in many other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank Sit for a Photo

There’s scarcely a smile in the bunch, a notable exception being a young girl standing on a chair beside a young man in a Civil War-era Union Army uniform (her brother, perhaps?). I can’t help wondering at the lenience of the photographer, indulging a little girl who will probably not see her soldier relative for a long while—if ever again.

The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection, is an informative exhibit recently opened at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Featuring over 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs from 1861-1865, the exhibit showcases portraits of Union and Confederate soldiers, revealing almost as much about the weapons, musical instruments, and clothing of the Civil War as the people who sat for their portraits.

Collected by a Virginian, Tom Liljenquist, the photographs provide a unique glimpse into the faces of the Civil War. If, like me, you aren’t within driving distance of the capitol, you’ll be pleased to know that the entire collection is available for viewing online here.

What a treat. Thanks to my plodding browser, I have yet to look at every photograph, but I found the ones I saw engrossing. (As I tell my kids, we writers are like that. But any history buff should enjoy this, too.)

Not as many of the soldiers pictured had beards as I expected, an oddity in an era when facial hair was fashionable. Unlike Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Robert E. Lee, however, most of these soldiers were too young to sport scruffy cheeks. Their youthfulness is somewhat jarring; many wear too-large hats along with brave expressions. One particular youth, a member of the 5th New Hampshire infantry which fought in Gettysburg, is shorter than his bayonet.

A broad spectrum of Civil War-era subjects make up the display, including African Americans, family members, and survivors, each with their own story of the Civil War’s effect on his or her life. As a writer and a history fan, I can’t look at these photos without wondering who these nameless folks were or how they felt when they sat, dressed and groomed, for the photographers. Fear, mischief, thirst for adventure, sorrow, and pride are in evidenced on various countenances, overshadowed by a seriousness that conveys more than just the practice of photo subjects of the day. War and all its gravity looms over each photo.

Additional information about the photographic process and photographers of the day are also available on the website.

The photos tell a story, even though most of the subjects’ names and destinies are long-forgotten. Take a peek, and as you honor and remember the veterans of a long-ago war that still impacts America, see if your imagination takes flight.