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.

Monday, December 22, 2014

O Great Mystery!

This is one of my very favorite pieces: Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. It speaks "Christmas Eve" to me. It pierces my soul and brings me to the manger.

In the busyness of these days, I hope you can take a few minutes to experience His peace. Set aside time with your Bible. Pray. Reflect on what it means that the God of the Universe took on flesh and was born for your sake. That He loves you.

That's something this song helps me remember.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Praying you and yours enjoy a blessed Christmas.

I'll be taking a break until January 5. See you in the New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

We've got a Winner!

Congratulations to Caryl! She's the winner of A Cup of Christmas Cheer Volume 3, thanks to author Debbie Lynne Costello!

Caryl, I'll be in touch for your address.

Thanks for the giveaway, Debbie Lynne, and thanks to all who entered!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Welcome Debbie Lynne Costello...and a Giveaway!

Thanks to Debbie Lynne for being here today!
Debbie Lynne has enjoyed writing stories since she was about eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina. She has worked in many capacities in her church and is currently the Children’s director. Debbie Lynne has shown and raised Shetland sheepdogs for eighteen years and still enjoys litters now and then. In their spare time, her and her husband enjoy camping and riding their Arabian and Tennessee Walking horses.

Thank you for having me on your blog, Susanne. I’m looking forward to meeting your followers and chatting with them. I’m giving away a signed copy of volume 3 A Cup of Christmas Cheer, Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Past. To be entered I’d love to hear from you. Tell me some random information about you. I’d love to get to know you.  

 Let me see…ten things about myself.

1)      First thing would have to be that I am super sentimental! Oh, I want to keep so many things for memory keepsakes.

2)      I love Christmas and have so much decorations that my husband swears the attic is going to collapse.

3)      I raise Shetland sheepdogs aka shelties and have a litter right now.

4)      We plan to visit Scotland. My family genealogy has been traced back to 12th century Scotland.

5)      We were so poor in our first few years of marriage that I cut up curtains to make maternity clothes and then after the baby arrived I cut up my clothes to make baby clothes.

6)      I would choose camping in our fifth wheel over a motel any day.

7)      I cheered in high school and college and then coached cheerleading for over 10 years.

8)      I love animals and will go out of my way to help one in need. We’ve had lizards, chickens, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, prairie dog, birds, cats, dogs, miniature donkey, and horses. Thank goodness we didn’t have them all at the same time. I do draw the line on pet spiders. EEEEKKK!

9)      I love anything coconut.

10)  One of my favorite things to do is ride horses with my husband—r & r—relaxing and romantic.
Thank you, Debbie Lynne! We have a lot in common...Christmas, genealogy, and coconut, for starters!
Don't forget to leave a comment with a way to contact you to be entered into the drawing before Thursday, Dec 18, 11:59 pm PST (winner announced Friday, Dec 19)! Cup of Christmas Cheer is a keeper, just the sort of book I leave out all December long. The stories are short but full of holiday spirit. I can't say it enough: enter to win this book! You'll love it!
Christmas Cheer Volume 3
Available from Guideposts! Click here.
Here's a bit about Debbie Lynne's story:

      A recent WWII widow receives a mysterious letter seeking reconciliation with her in-laws, but when she goes for a visit only her father-in-law seems to be interested in mending fences. But as the days pass mother-in-law and daughter-in-law learn a little about themselves and the true meaning of forgiveness.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Cup of Christmas Tea

How is your December going?

I'm having a lot of fun so far with holiday prep, Christmas parades, open houses, shopping, gift-wrapping, and kids' activities.

But I'm not doing well at savoring the season. Sitting down with a cup of tea and enjoying a good holiday story while enjoying the tree, jotting a note to a friend, or thinking of the Incarnation and how it changed the world (and me, too!).

Will you join me in trying to squeeze in time for a cup of Christmas tea? You know the poem, but let's not wait until Christmas. Let's set aside time this week for quiet, peace, and reflection...and a nice hot cup of tea.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wassail! Wassail! All Over the Town!


That’s an Anglo-Saxon greeting of good health, part of an ancient custom that’s changed in meaning over the centuries. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the image of the wassail bowl, filled to the brim and redolent with sweet and spice, ready to be shared among friends.

When Anita Mae Draper sat down to write Here We Go A-Wassailing for Guidepost’s Cup of Christmas Cheer, she “thought of the song and imagined a woman on her way home, gathering people along the way as they do when they go caroling on Christmas Eve. It only seemed natural that when she got there her mother would have a steaming wassail bowl waiting.”
Purchase here!
Clearly, wassail is now and has always been about more than a warm, spicy drink. Today, we think of it as a Christmas tradition, but it was not specific to any holiday in centuries gone by. The first recorded mention of wassail—as an act of salute and fellowship, not just as a drink— is in the epic 8th-century poem, Beowulf.
The rider sleepeth,
the hero, far-hidden; no harp resounds,
in the courts no wassail, as once was heard.

One can easily imagine the fellowship taking place in the great halls of England as folk gathered on chill evenings around a bowl of wassail, wishing one another good health as they drank.
One wonders what such a drink tasted like. Originally, wassail was made of ale, mead, or wine, eggs, sugar, spices, and curdled cream, garnished with floating toast (the source of our modern day term for raising one’s glass to someone!). The addition of roasted apples and their frothy-looking pulp gave rise to another name for wassail, Lamb’s Wool.

Regardless of the recipe, wassail of days gone by was undoubtedly stout in its alcohol content. Fruit juice in the bowl, if any, was no doubt fermented. Only the wealthy could afford the wine and spices, so the recipes varied according to the finances of the family serving it. Wassail was heated and then served from huge bowls, often made of wood, silver, or pewter.
While wassailing in some areas of England had a pagan connotation (orchard-wassailing entailed to the health of apple trees and scaring away evil spirits), eventually, wassailing came to be associated with Christmastide. By at least the 16th century, wealthy landowners hosted villagers for a feast and wassail on Twelfth Night in exchange for the villager’s singing and toasts to the master’s health (a bit like trick-or-treating). Ever wondered why the singers demand figgy pudding in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” after sharing their good tidings? It all goes back to wassailing—a salute in exchange for food and drink.

The Gloucester Wassail carol from the Middle Ages, puts it like this:
Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

By the 19th century, wassailing evolved into Christmas caroling, going door to door sharing holiday cheer but still expecting alcohol in return. Around 1850, the popular wassailing carol came about, and we still sing it today:
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Today, wassailing is almost synonymous with caroling, although modern folk don’t expect figgy pudding or mulled mead as the price of their songs. On the contrary, the fun and fellowship of the experience are payment enough, but if a neighbor offers cocoa to warm our cold hands, few of us are loath to say no.
Ready to make your own wassail for the holiday season? Some recipes call for claret mulled with spices. Others mix spices and juices (apple, pineapple, and orange) with sherry and brandy. Tamer versions (like mine, below) are alcohol-free. No matter the recipe, wassail will be fragrant with cinnamon and cloves, served warm, and sticky if spilled!

And best of all, it still tastes better when shared with friends.

Wassail Punch
Serves 6

In a crockpot or Dutch oven, combine:

6 cups apple cider (not juice)
1 cup cranberry or orange juice
In a cheesecloth pouch or large bag for steeping tea, place 4 cinnamon sticks, 8-10 whole cloves, and 8-10 whole allspice. Add to juices. If desired, add one sliced orange for color. I do not add sugar, but if desired, a small amount may be used.

Simmer until hot. Enjoy!
originally shared on Heroes, Heroines, and History Blog.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Delirious for Downton

My friends across the pond are enjoying another Season of Downton Abbey (as are some of my American friends, thanks to the internet). While I'm very, very curious about my friends Bates, Edith, Tom (stay away from that pushy schoolteacher, Tom!), and the rest of the upstairs/downstairs gang, I've held out.

Still questioning the wisdom of this. I could have answers!

But I wouldn't necessarily be able to speak about them, which is half the fun.

It's already available for preorder on Amazon! Look how big the babies are now!

Speaking of spoilers, avert your eyes for a bit if you wish to know nothing about the current season. I'm not giving anything away, mind you, because I haven't seen the current season. But I do know a bit and I want to know what the hoopla is about:

  • Who might be moving to America? Tom, you are forbidden to go anywhere!
  • Why is George Clooney in the Christmas episode? (Celebrity gossip tangent: George became friends with Hugh Bonneville while filming "Monuments Men" and that is how he got the gig. If there is a bit of poetic justice in the Downton Universe, he will be there to woo Edith and won't care a figgy pudding about Mary.)
  • What happened to Edith's beau/baby daddy?
Ok, it's safe to look again.

Meanwhile, I have my Downton Abbey possessions to comfort me (yes, this is a joke).

Last year I scored for Christmas. Mom gave my daughter and me D.A necklaces that are super fancy. I was also given Downton wine (according to the label, it was chosen by Bates himself). I photographed it next to Downton Abbey wrapping paper, which I found at World Market (they also sold china, white with little gold and black flourishes).
Ooh la la! I'm just like the Crawleys!

I was also given a D.A. plum pudding, which we ate Christmas Day. It was dense, sweet, and chock full of raisins.
Of course we set it on fire! If you look closely, you can see the blue flames.

And this year my friend gave me some D.A. tea. It's delicious!
Yum! Other flavors are available, too, but this is mine!
Looks like there are lots of new D.A treats for 2014, too.

Scouring Amazon, I found new goodies for this year. Behold, a cd of Lord Grantham's favorite Christmas tunes! Elizabeth McGovern (Cora) sings! The classical pieces look fabulous. Of course, this isn't the first D.A. cd. There's a soundtrack out, too.
Available here
I think this cookbook may end up on my Christmas list. Because I want to eat just like Lady Mary does (assuming she eats chocolate, tea sandwiches, and opera cake).
Yum again!

Want another book with pretty pictures? Julian Fellowes put out this one, with recipes for "kedgeree, orange marmalade, asparagus tarts, cream of watercress soup, Irish stew, lemon barley water, meringues with red berries, parmesan straws, Christmas pudding with brandy butter and more." I'm not sure how I feel about lemon barley water.
Want it under your Christmas tree? Click here.
Looks fun to me. But if your budget is a little tight (and $11 for an ornament isn't ridiculous sounding, which it is to me) why not bring a little D.A. to your tree with this bell pull?
Ring ring!
If only I could ring for Carson.

Speaking of Carson, he's written a book on staff management. It'll be out Nov. 25.

If you're having problems with your footmen, click here.

Is there nothing that man can't do?

Last but not least--because I could go on forever, trust me--is the official board game. This is something I may have to buy so I can play with my local D.A.-fan friends, and haul in a suitcase to next year's ACFW for some cutthroat competition with a few Inkies.
Oh mercy. Guess what I want for Christmas.
Whom shall I be? Why am I even asking this when Tom is an option? If Deb Marvin beats me to that punch, I'll call the Dowager.
Oh wait, looks like our options are Faceless Anna and Faceless Barrow (aka Thomas, not to be confused with Tom, thank you very much). I'll pick the red Anna.

It looks a bit like Clue, but the directions describe tasks to complete.

Squee! Roll the dice and have a sip of D.A. tea while the Christmas cd plays in the background. We're on!

Who's with me?

originally appeared on Inkwell Inspirations

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chugging Along

How's your November going?

I'm still plugging along on NaNoWriMo, but I admit it's not going as fruitfully as I'd hoped. November is a busy month with my family, and we've had a few extras piled on to the usual sources of busyness. Isn't that how life always goes?

I'm tired. Worn out. Weary.

I'm spiritually tired, too. Seems like some things are tough to get over. Other things, I'm not sure why I bother. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't appear to bear any fruit.

Ever feel like that?

But I'm determined not to give up.

James 1:12

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

2 Thessalonians 3:13

And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Galatians 6:9

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
This November, I look forward to reaping a harvest that will never spoil or decay. Even if I don't see that day for years to come.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nutcracker Christmas by Jennifer Allee

I'm reading a delightful holiday-themed novella by Jennifer AlLee right now: 

Nutcracker Christmas, part of the Christmas Traditions novella collection. Right now this sweet story is available as an e-book for only 99 cents!

Here's the scoop:

Isabella Brandt lives to dance, but she's spent the last four years in obscurity as part of the corps. Now, she's finally landed a principal role in The Nutcracker. But a handsome Hungarian violinist and a shocking visit from her past may knock this ballerina off her feet and ruin Christmas.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

It's 1945, and Isabella's just one of many ballerinas in the San Francisco Ballet Corps trying out for a plum role in The Nutcracker. Victor Randolf, Hungarian immigrant and violinist, is delighted for the job in the orchestra. Working together, they become close, but a Thanksgiving surprise threatens to ruin their relationship. Not to mention Christmas. And Isabella faces an entirely different looking future than she'd planned.

The 20K word novella is a quck-paced read. I love Jennifer's style. If you have a Kindle and enjoy inspirational romance, this is a sweet holiday option.

Click here to buy!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Now that it's November...

  • I'll make my super easy pumpkin cake (1 can pumpkin + 1 box spice cake mix, bake at 350 for half an hour). Not the healthiest recipe, but it's so fast...and sometimes fast is what gets things done.
  • I'm drinking a lot of hot apple cider. Warms my hands and tummy, and tastes like autumn.
  • I'm curious to see which of my neighbors will begin decorating for Christmas first.
  • I may not decorate, but I might give in and listen to some Christmas music while I write or drive in the car--alone, so my family doesn't laugh at me.
  • Yep, I've already started Christmas shopping.
  • I'm also reading Christmas books, including Cup of Christmas Cheer from Guideposts! A few of my friends have stories in this year's volumes (3 and 4) and I was privileged to critique one. These are the sorts of books I leave out every December for family members or guests to curl up with; they are short stories big in holiday spirit.
  • Thanksgiving is coming! What will I do differently this year? I'm always shaking up side dishes.
  • I'm working on NaNoWriMo, trying to write 50K words in 30 days. So far, so good. But it's a busy month, so I expect a few challenges.

How about you? What are you up to, now that it's November?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gearing up for NaNo

November is National Novel Writing Month--NaNoWriMo, or NaNo for short.

In one month, authors from all over the world participate, committing to do their best to complete 50,000 words--1667 words a day. Does it sound doable? Impossible?

I think it's both, depending on the day. But last year, I gave it a try, and found it a great way to finish a first draft of a historical novel that's now out with publishers. Each day that I wrote, I entered my word count into the program (I'd already registered) and the number was broadcast on my profile page on the website (and on my website, since I'd installed a NaNo widget) so the world could see my progress.

That widget was enough to get my rear end to stay in the chair.

The NaNo community is encouraging. There are local gatherings, if a writer is so inclined. Not everyone finishes, but that's ok. And it's not a system that works for everyone.

But I need to finish a first draft ASAP, so I'm giving it a try again this November.

I'll put into practice some tricks I learned last year:

  1. Pray for discipline and diligence. And grace and creativity, too. God has given you this story to tell, and He alone knows the plans He has for it. Maybe publication, maybe not. But if we write to honor Him, He'll be glorified in what we accomplish.
  2. Prep in advance. I have a synopsis, a Pinterest story board, character worksheets, and an XL spreadsheet broken down by chapter and scene, all ready to go. When I sit down, I consult my XL chart and see what happens in what scene, and in whose Point of View I think I it should be. This helps guide my writing.
  3. Take notes on these sheets if something changes as you write. This happens. As I write, I realize a character has a dog or has a nervous habit--or would never do what I have neatly written in my XL sheet that she does. No biggie. Jot down the info for reference.
  4. If I'm stumped by something happening in the story, I make a note in the text (I use ***), add a note to myself on my sheets (ie "figure out if John does X and why") and then skip ahead to something easier to write. Sometimes, something has to get figured out in my brain in a later scene before I understand what should have been accomplished in that earlier, tricky scene. Later, I do a search for *** and find all those spots again, easy peasy.
  5. Any other problems? Come back to it later, when it's not NaNo. This isn't the time to fuss over adjectives, syntax, or imagery. If it's not flowing, leave it to fix in rewrites, which are far easier for me than first drafts anyway. Sometimes, this means flat writing. "He walked down the path. There she was. He struggled for words." Just spit out what the action is and (wait for it) Come back to it later.
  6. Do not do research online. Or check email or Facebook or Twitter. This is time to get words on a page. If you have a research question, mark it with your asterisks or whatever you choose to mark question areas. Then come back to it later.
  7. Get a hot mug of coffee or tea, a snack, and a blanket so you don't need to get up if you're cold, etc.
  8. Set a timer for 45 minutes (or whatever works for you). Write nonstop during that time, and then take a break. Your body needs to do something other than sit all day (and your brain needs a break, too). Use the restroom, fold laundry, walk around your house, brew more tea. I tend to listen to a CD or album on my phone: when it's done, that's my cue to get up and move around.
  9. The crock pot is your friend. Dump food in it in the morning. Family is happy at dinnertime.
  10. Some days you will get no writing done. That's ok. You may not even meet the 50K word goal. That's ok too. Life happens.
Anyone else have any good NaNo tips?

Want to give NaNo a shot? Here's the website: http://nanowrimo.org/

Looking forward to sharing this novel with you all!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Things with Author Sandra Ardoin!

Welcome Sandra!

Sandra Ardoin is a multi-published author of short fiction who writes inspirational historical romance. Her Christmas novella, The Yuletide Angel, recently released. She’s the married mother of a young adult and lives in North Carolina.
Visit her at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Sign up for her newsletter.

Sandra's Ten Things:

1) I had my jaw broken … on purpose. Do you know how hard it is to eat a blenderized burrito? But after a week or so of a liquid diet, it was worth the effort.

2) I’ve been called a late bloomer and, yes, it’s the story of my life. For instance, I didn’t marry until I was thirty-one and had my child at thirty-five. While most of my friends are grandparents … well, maybe one day.

3) As a writer, I’m a hybrid—part plotter, part pantser. I like to have an idea of where I’m going and how I’ll eventually get there. But I’m too impatient to start the journey to plot out the entire trip.

4) I once rode my pony in a parade. Can we say, “Long day!”?

5) I’m the only one in the family who likes raisins … and cucumbers … and tomatoes. What is wrong with those people?

6) I burn myself on the oven more times than not. I’d try not to use it, but my family likes to eat.

 7) I love watching sports on TV—NFL, NASCAR. I used to watch PBR, but can’t find it anymore on my non-cable stations. I enjoy the “here and now” competition, but I am not a stats keeper. Generally, in six months, the identity of the last Super Bowl winner eludes me.

8) I used to write and sell poster quotes. Many were education/attitude-related, and one appeared in a movie. “Life has rules. Play fair.” J

9) We still own (and drive) the Camry my husband and I bought new two weeks after our wedding—27 years ago. In truth, my daughter drives it now. It’s been in and out of the auto hospital a few times, pitted by a Texas hail storm, and banged up by accident, but it still runs.

10) Favorite food: Mexican, preferably Tex-Mex
      Least favorite: Any vegetable with a “good for you” label.

Thanks, Sandra! I love Mexican Food too.

What an intriguing cover!
 The Yuletide Angel:

It's Christmastime in 1890s Meadowmead, and someone is venturing out at night to leave packages at the homes of the needy. Dubbed The Yuletide Angel, no one knows the identity of this mysterious benefactor.

No one, except Hugh Barnes, a confirmed bachelor who finds himself drawn to the outwardly shy but inwardly bold Violet Madison, a young woman who risks her safety to help others.

When Violet confesses her fear of eviction from her childhood home, Hugh longs to rescue her. His good intentions are thwarted, however, when Hugh's estranged brother shows up in town ... and in Violet's company.

But Violet faces an even bigger threat. A phantom figure lurks in the shadows, prepared to clip the wings of The Yuletide Angel.


Sounds like a fun holiday read! Thanks, Sandra!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Ten Things with Author Laurie Alice Eakes!

Image of Laurie Alice Eakes

Welcome, Laurie Alice!

“Eakes has a charming way of making her novels come to life without being over the top,” writes Romantic times of bestselling, award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes. Since she lay in bed as a child telling herself stories, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with a degree in English and French from Asbury University and a master’s degree in writing fiction from Seton Hill University contributing to her career path. Now she has nearly two dozen books in print.

After enough moves in the past five years to make U-Haul’s stock rise, she now lives in Houston, Texas, where she and her husband are newly minted church leaders. Although they haven’t been blessed with children—yet--they have sundry lovable dogs and cats. If the carpet is relatively free of animal fur, then she is either frustrated with the current manuscript, or brainstorming another, the only two times she genuinely enjoys housekeeping.

Here are Laurie Alice's Ten Things:
  1. Once upon a time, I was a missionary. Other than a short stint in France, I worked at the US headquarters of Operation Mobilization. Mostly, I did things like type letters from the director to missionaries all over the world. I’m an appalling typist.
  2. I once flew across the Atlantic in a plane so small we had to refuel in Iceland.
  3. My favorite color is purple.
  4. I used to live on the top of a mountain, where odd things occurred in the fenced land a few hundred yards away—like planes flying low and then just disappearing, helicopters used to circle around, and sometimes I heard automatic gunfire. I was also stranded up there once alone, with no electricity and no phone service or cell reception during an ice storm. And people wonder why I write suspense?
  5. My favorite fruit is raspberries.
  6. My favorite time period is the eighteenth century.
  7. I have sailed on a tall ship and climbed the rigging.
  8. I love hyacinths.
  9. My favorite state is Virginia.
  10. Coffee is my favorite beverage.

Click here to purchase on Amazon!
Check out Laurie Alice's latest release, Moonlight Promise!

Camilla Renfrew is a highborn English lady fleeing false accusations when she runs smack into love on a steamboat bound for the new Erie Canal. But can this unexpected attraction survive the treacherous journey?


Thanks for sharing with us today, Laurie Alice!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Anne Mateer's Playing by Heart

It's another great WWI-era read from Anne Mateer!

Here's the story:

Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything.

With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn't even consider those real subjects!

Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.

However, the more time she spends around Jewel's family, the girls' basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she's given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she'd expected.

As with Mateer's previous publications, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The writing is crisp, the plot moves quickly, and the multi-dimensional characters have flaws, hopes, and disappointments to work through.

Lula can't shake off her past as Fruity Lu in her hometown. She doesn't want to take the only job available, but she has to prove to her town that she can start and finish something. The only person who can help her is Chet--who's single and attractive. But she won't fall for a local fellow. She has bigger plans.

Chet has his own issues--staying home from the war, his mother, his burgeoning feelings for Lula... Both he and Lula have to come to terms with God's plans for them, rather than their own plans.

The story differs from Mateer's previous works in that the hero and heroine both have viewpoints (as opposed to just the heroine). This makes for a rich romance and deeper character development for the hero.

A fully engaging read. I recommend to fans of inspirational, historical romance!

I received a copy from Bethany House for the purposes of review. A positive review was neither promised nor expected.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My First Cover!

A few days ago, the cover for The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection went up on Amazon! (Click to follow the link, if you like.) I'm totally biased, but I think it's a beautiful cover (and not just because my name is on it). I love the roses and the grand estate.

The book's available May 1. Between now and then there will be edits for my novella, Love's Reward. Also, the other authors and I are planning a pretty spectacular giveaway (bonus blessing for me: these women are delightful and I'm so glad for the opportunity to get to know them!).

May 1 seems far away, but I know it'll come and I will get to hold the book in my hands. I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finding the Seeds of Stories

How do authors get ideas for their stories?

Tough question. Sometimes the answer is, "things just come to you," although many times, my answer would be: prayer, grit, work, and agony. I'm only slightly exaggerating.

Occasionally, I'll be inspired by things I find in my genealogy projects, stories I read, or historical happenings.

For instance, I'll see something in an old newspaper that makes me say, hmm.

I was perusing a paper from 1909 and this story caught my eye:

Rancher Suicides
Ely, NV -- "...a rich sheep rancher ... committed suicide in a saloon in this city today by taking strychnine. His mind was temporarily deranged."

What? When I read he'd committed suicide in a saloon, I thought there would be a gun involved. But strychnine? Why did he bring a poison with him to a saloon? Why did he want that particular audience? How did the observers know he'd brought strychnine? Did he make a show of it, or quietly slump in the corner?

There has to be more of a story. Who was he really? Why did he do it? Why, why, why?

These mysteries are often the seeds of a story.

How about you? Where does your imagination take you when you read the news clipping?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Nob Hill: Glimpse Into My Coming Novella

My novella, Love's Reward, goes to the editor this week (which gives us about nine months to edit before publication in early summer, 2015). I've been hard at work, but I'm so excited, I want to share a few photos that helped inspire the story's setting!

The novella takes place in spring, 1896, San Francisco, CA among some of the city's wealthiest citizens. And there were indeed very wealthy people living in San Francisco. In the late nineteenth century, many of them clustered on Nob Hill, an exclusive neighborhood with breathtaking views. Because the residents were rich, they were called "nobility" or "nabobs", which was eventually shortened to "nob"--hence Nob Hill.

Take Mark Hopkins, for example. He was one of the Big Four who started the Central Pacific Railroad. Here's his home on Nob Hill in the 1880s.

Mark Hopkins Mansion, Nob Hill, San Francisco, 1880's. Survived only 28 years until the 1906 earthquake.
Mark Hopkins mansion, Nob Hill.
It's so grand, I used it as the setting for one of my secondary characters, Theodora Humphries. Get a look at the inside of it:
Mark Hopkins Mansion, Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA destroyed in San Francisco earthquake 1906
Hopkins mansion, interior
Too bad I didn't set the entire story here, eh? Alas, none of my characters are as wealthy as Theodora. Or Mr. Hopkins. (Sadly, the house wasn't entirely finished by his death in 1878.)

Mr. Hopkins' next door neighbor, by the way, was Governor Leland Stanford, of Stanford University fame. He was also one of the railroad's Big Four. His house is a little less showy than Mr. Hopkins'.
Mansion of Gov. Leland Stanford, Nob Hill, c. 1890--quite similar to Congressman Blair's house.

It is just the sort of house my hero's father, Congressman Roger Blair, would find worthy of his high position.

Unfortunately, these homes (and their neighbors') were utterly destroyed by the earthquake and fires of 1906 (except for the granite walls surrounding the homes of the Big Four, including Hopkins and Stanford). The neighborhood maintained (and still maintains) its swanky reputation, but every owner of a great mansion rebuilt elsewhere. The InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco Hotel now stands where his mansion had been, and The Stanford Court sits atop the site of his home.

There are stories upon stories here, both real and imagined, just one of which is in my novella.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What to Pack to ACFW

ACFW is right around the corner, so I've dusted off a blog post from last year with my thoughts on what to pack. At my first national conference, RWA '13, I managed to overpack the wrong things and underpack things that might've been useful. So if you're a first-timer, here are my thoughts!

What to take in your tote bag/big purse?

You'll no doubt carry a bag around with you . When considering what to take, start Early.
  • Order business cards and any other printed promotional items early. Remember your business cards advertise your industry, which is YOU. Your card should include your name, tagline, and website information. Mine also includes a photo of me, my twitter handle, and my agent's contact info. If you do not have an agent, be sure to include your email address.
  • All of us need one-sheets. I use Vistaprint to print my one-sheets of my proposals for my editor pitches, but you can print something up on your computer easy-peasy.
  • Do you have a book to promote? You can leave small giveaways to share with others in the Goody Room or, at ACFW, on the Goody Table--and in your bag.
  • Bring something to keep business cards in--yours and the ones you receive. I put the ones I receive in a zipper pocket of my portfolio. Later, if a card is super important (ie has an editor's contact info on it), I take photos of it with my phone.
  • Prepare a one-sheet cheat-sheet for pitches, but memorize your elevator pitch. Also think about who your audience is, why you think you might be a good fit for a publishing company, and any other pertinent details about your story.
  •  Charge the battery in your camera. You'll want to take pictures of friends and your favorite authors!
  • Snacks. Otherwise you'll stand in a huge line at the hotel Starbucks. Even when meals are included, they may not be to your taste/dietary restrictions. It's always safest to have a protein bar at the ready.
  • Sanitizer, lotion, etc that is unscented--this is a rule at ACFW.
  • $1 bills to tip with. There are a lot of people to tip: maids, airport shuttle drivers, cabbies, etc.
  • Something to take notes with--your laptop or a notepad. If you forget a pen, don't worry. There will be one or two (thousand) in the goody room. ;)

What to wear? 

 Here's my thought:
  • Business casual clothes. To some, this means denim; to others, it means suit. You want to be comfortable, clean and neat. I take jeans for "off-campus" trips, but at the conference, I tend to wear pants, blouse, blazer or sweater, and flats. Sigh--no Uggs.
  • I turn into a Garanimal. I pick clothes in the same color family so if something happens to one pair of pants, the world doesn't end. Hopefully, I also pack less clothes this way.
  • Flat shoes (as I mentioned earlier). Heels are great for the gala, but unless you're the type of person who is fine wearing heels all day long, bring along some nice, comfy flats.
  • A shawl. I learned the hard way at RWA that the conference rooms can be cold. My 3/4 sleeve sweaters weren't warm enough and I ended up buying a black shawl in the gift shop when I already had one at home. A shawl is nice because you can shove it into your bag, and if you need it, you can wrap it around you like a blanket. (You can also use it as a pillow or blanket on the plane.)
  • Don't overpack. You will get free books. At RWA, I packed a bunch in my suitcase, but I still had to ship a box of books home. Remember the hotels charge a fee to do this. It's still worth it.
Also, remember your Bible, medications, cell phone charger, water bottle, makeup, and anything else you need to be cozy. Something to help you sleep can be useful, too.

Try to get some rest, too. At conference, there's always something going on. You have to say no to something. That's ok. Enjoy what you experience!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Inky New Releases

My TBR stack is running high these days, and four of the books on my list are by my fellow collaborators over at Inkwell Inspirations. This diverse bunch of stories is proving to be a real treat:

Sadie's Gift by Niki Turner

Colorado Springs, 1921 — Nurse Sadie Hubbard wants to give the children at the preventorium a wonderful Christmas. Heartbroken Nathan Wells hopes to return to Chicago and mourn his brother's death alone. When an accident brings them together, their plans for the holiday collide. Will they find a way to work together in the spirit of Christmas?

Niki's book is the second novella in the 9-book-series, Christmas Traditions. It's available on Amazon for only 99 cents--what a deal for a cozy, sweet read with a holiday flavor.

The Marshal's Pursuit by Gina Welborn

Malia Vaccarelli Needs a Place to Hide 

When her brother is arrested for a gangster's murder, Malia is plunged into danger. Her life in peril, she trusts no one—not even the special U.S. marshal assigned to protect her. But handsome Frank Louden isn't what Malia expects. 

Hiding Malia on his grandparents' Tuxedo Park estate may not be the best idea, but Frank is determined to do anything to protect her…even if he's soon unable to ignore his growing feelings for the beautiful woman. As their romance blossoms, will Malia's criminal connections force her to choose between her family and her heart?

Gina's novel is one of four in the Tuxedo Park series. It's got lots of heart and humor, and this Harlequin Heartsong Presents is available on Amazon in print and e-editions.

Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything.

With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn't even consider those real subjects!

Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.

However, the more time she spends around Jewel's family, the girls' basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she's given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she'd expected.

Anne is a former Inkwell contributor, and I love her books. This one is a treat, and it's available at your favorite Christian retailer or on Amazon in print and e-editions.

Last Family Standing by Jennifer AlLee

Twenty-five years ago, Monica Stanton gave up a baby girl for adoption. Now, the thing Monica didn’t dare hope for has happened: Jessica has reentered her life… and brought a little drama and competition with her. Jessica is willing to meet her birth mother, but she wants the reunion to air on a reality TV show. Monica would rather chew glass than appear on TV. But she’ll swallow her pride—and a few other unsavory items—if that’s what it takes to reconnect.

As if getting to know her grown daughter while competing on a remote island isn’t hard enough, Monica is further confused when Jessica’s long-lost birthfather shows up, complicating both her relationship with her daughter and the attraction Monica has to the hunky reality show host. The fruit-basket-upset of emotions, accusations, and regrets might make for good TV, but will it destroy the family in the process?

I confess to a bit of bias: I was lucky enough to be one of Jen's critique partners and enjoyed the first chapters when she put together this proposal. I love Jen's plots, and can't wait to get this book when it comes out the 16th! (Here's the link to Amazon's e-edition.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Princess Diana, A Royal Exhibition Aboard the Historic Queen Mary

I was just a girl when Lady Di married Prince Charles--and oh, how she made an impression on me. She was lovely, charming, flawed, and despite some of her questionable choices, I never quite got over her. Or the rest of her Windsor relations.

So naturally I was eager to visit the RMS Queen Mary, permanently docked in Long Beach, California (a fun experience all by itself) to visit an exhibit featuring Diana: Legacy of a Princess -- a Royal Exhibition.

The name of the exhibit is a little misleading. It's not all about Diana; in fact, the exhibit's opening rooms ground the visitor in the abdication of Edward VIII. You may recall he abdicated so he could marry his divorced American love, Wallis Simpson. Via original newspaper articles and timelines to give the visitor a sense of time and place, one follows history as one walks through the exhibit at one's own pace to view thousands of interesting items (some personal, including letters, clothing, and photographs; some not, including collections of Diana dolls, replicas of tiaras and wedding bouquets, books written by Prince Charles, and commemorative plates) relevant to just about every other member of the Royal Family through to Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and adorable Prince George.

No wonder the whole family is included, really. The ship is the Queen Mary, who was the mother of Edward VIII and George VI, Queen Elizabeth's father.

Alas, no photos are allowed inside the exhibit. Double Alas, there is no guide book available, so I cannot direct you to a place where you can experience the exhibit without being there. The best I can do is share a few things I saw and this handy dandy, 30-second Youtube video:

Needless to say, I loved the exhibit. And it broke my heart. There's something about being right in front of something personal to a historic figure that makes them real to you in a way you can't imagine.

For instance, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth's dad, was one slender man. His coronation robe is on display (a cream-colored jacket with padded shoulders, worn under all the robes of state), and while it is an amazing piece of embroidered craftsmanship, I couldn't get over how lean the guy was. Most men I know could not wear that robe. Probably not even Colin Firth, who played him in The King's Speech. (You can find a photo of it on this blog. As I said earlier, photos weren't allowed and many are under copyright, so I'm playing it safe.)

Also thin? Wallis Simpson, later the Duchess of Windsor. Her pink negligee is on display. (Isn't it creepy to think your nightclothes might someday be ogled by thousands?) It is sheer and there's nowhere to hide a muffin top in that thing.
shocking pink chiffon nightdress came with a matching capelet late 40s owned by Wallis Simpson ~ sold at a Kerry auction
Wallis' negligee, Taken from Pinterest via the Washington Times

None of the Queen's or Queen Mother's clothes are on exhibit, but other mementos are on view, including letters. I loved peeking at the royal family's Christmas cards. Each one I saw had a photo on one side and a printed message on the other, signed by one or both members of a royal couple. Oddly, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's card from 1978 shows them posing with three corgis, but none of their unmarried children. I believe Prince Andrew and Prince Edward were teenagers at the time, still clearly in the royal nest. Hmm.

Speaking of those princes, I learned their wives each had two wedding gowns made. This was done so if something happened to one dress, another was ready for the Big Day. Sarah Ferguson, Andrew's bride, and Sophie, Edward's bride, befell no trauma to their gowns, leaving us the distinct pleasure of being able to view their backup gowns. They are not copies, but rather identical twins, created by the designers of the same fabric and embellishments at the same time.

Both gowns surprised me. I knew when Fergie married her gown was embroidered with bees, thistles, the letter "A" and hearts, but on TV I couldn't see the details, nor could I make them out in photos. Now I wonder how I missed them: the embroidery is a dark silver-gray and quite a stark contrast to the ivory of her gown. (Due to copyright issues, I can't include a photo, but you can view a replica here to see what I mean about the embroidery.)

Sophie's gown is medieval in style, and I thought it looked lovely in photos. I would have liked to see the backup gown displayed without the "coat" over it, however, because the style looked plain on the mannequin. (Click here for a photo of the dress without the coat.)

Other observations? Prince Charles signs his name in such a way that in some of his letters, I couldn't tell it was Charles. Here's a link; scroll down to his signature, but this one definitely is more readable than some I saw. His wife Camilla has better penmanship, at least when signing Christmas cards.

Kate Middleton could probably fit into Wallis Simpson's clothes, if one judges by looking at her dresses on display. While the exhibit contains a replica of the "Blue Dress" she wore to announce her engagement, other dresses are original, including "The Dress" she wore when William first laid eyes on her, a sparkly, er, ensemble/tube/swimsuit cover-up she modeled. I believe this dress later sold at auction for a hundred thousand pounds. Replicas are on sale in the gift shop for over $200.
Nope, can't wear this to church.
And then there's Diana. The exhibit includes letters she wrote, some of her jewels, and sadly, gifts Charles had given to her: part of a tea set was one example. There was also quite a few pieces of wedding memorabilia, including the seating chart for her Wedding Breakfast, a wedding invitation, and a program to the service.
The gift shop--where I did not buy a single thing! Honest!
There's also a handwritten schedule for her hairdresser, which made me laugh out loud. You see, when I was younger, my mom subscribed to Good Housekeeping, and Diana annually graced their cover. One article that stuck with me described Diana's hair routine: wash every other day "without fail" and trim every five weeks. The message was even someone like me could have fabulous hair if I followed Diana's regimen. And I've remembered that silly article all these years and it's stern "without fail" warning.

What the article didn't say is Diana had a hairdresser appointment at least 50% of the mornings during any given month, sometimes more often. I am confident Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, also has significant hair support. Remember that "casual" first photo of Will, Kate, and baby George, taken by her father? She had two people work on her hair for that casual shot.

Not that I'm judging. I wish I had somebody to do my hair for me.

But back to Diana.

Several of her gowns are on display, currently owned by various individuals and purchased at auction (before her death, Diana donated many ensembles for charity). Sigh. Just lovely, and I remembered most of them.

Diana's wedding gown, as well as her jewelry and other items, belong to her sons and are not part of the exhibition. Her famous wedding gown used to be on exhibit on her brother's estate, Althorp, where she is buried, but the exhibit closed a year ago.

I left feeling a little sad. I couldn't help wondering how some of the objects came to be included. Clearly, Diana gave away Charles' gifts for some obvious reasons, but the other items in the exhibition were sold--sometimes by people who needed the cash (as in the case of the wedding invitation). What would it be like, to write letters or invite a friend to my wedding, and then have those things sold at auction? I stood in front of each of her gowns and wished things had turned out differently for their original owner. I wondered, what if she'd known Jesus?

Fortunately, I had something to cheer me up: a nice tea.
Uh oh, that's caviar on the salmon.

The tea shop is located next to the exhibit, and the mango chicken salad sandwiches were fabulous. I wouldn't mind another right now.

If I get the recipe, I'll let you know. Until then, I'll be washing my hair at least every other day without fail.

What about you? Do you enjoy Royal Watching?