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.

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.)