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, May 27, 2014

Music to Write By

If you're a writer, you probably have a routine you stick to when you sit down at the computer. A cup of coffee, maybe a snack, your notes (unless you're a Seat-of-the-pants writer, which I am not), and perhaps you have music playing.

If the songs have lyrics, do they distract you? Do you prefer classical or movie soundtracks to inspire your writing? Or do you require silence when you write?

I'm all over the map, but generally I listen to music as I write. I have an iTunes playlist called "gooshy songs" that I listen to when I'm writing emotional scenes, but most of my choices depend on my mood.

Since I write historicals, I also like to listen to period appropriate music to get me in the mood. When writing a 1915-set romance, I found a youtube video of an Al Jolson recording, just the song I wanted my heroine and her sister to quote to each other when teasing about their respective love interests.
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I've been researching a story set on the Oregon Trail, and I wanted the names of some songs my characters might have heard fiddled as they huddled around their buffalo-chip fires at night. Eureka! I not only found a CD, but could order it for a steal.
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Listening to music boosts my imagination. That Oregon Trail CD has given me earbugs for my characters to have stuck in their heads while they urge their oxen to cross a river; it's helped me envision buckskins and worn out boots and joyful dancers underneath a canopy of stars on a dark prairie night.

It's been fun.

So what about you? What do you do?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Do You Need to Thank Contest Judges?

You've worked hard, polished your first chapters until they glitter like a disco ball, and you paid some hard-earned cash to enter your baby into a contest. Your motives may be mixed: you might want to receive feedback to see how your story will be received, or you might want to get your work in front of a particular final-round judge. Either way, submit. You wait expectantly...and then the results come in.

I've had all sorts of contest results. The first contest I entered, over a decade ago, didn't go so well. (This was before the days of email entries, and my chapter was literally covered with red pen.) Since then, I've improved as a writer, and I've finaled in or won a few contests. It's been a humbling, exciting journey.

Through it all, I've had some excellent judges. These authors donated their time to help me on my journey to publication and pointed out areas where I could grow.

Not every judge has been like that. I don't need to elaborate, but I certainly appreciate the helpful judges I've had.

No matter what happens when you receive your contest results, finalist or not, good news or bad, excellent critique or comments that might seem barbed, it's my opinion that you should thank your contest judges. Even if they didn't seem to like your work a whit.

Why? Well, these folks give up time they could be spending with their own writing or their families to help you and serve the organization running the contest. These folks enjoy the genre and want to see it thrive.

Are judges always right? Well, as a contest entrant and as a judge, I'd have to say no. None of us are perfect, nor do we know exactly how an editor will respond to a particular piece. I've disagreed with some of my contest judges. But this was good practice for getting my work in front of editors, and, when I'm published, readers. Not every reader of our work will like/agree with our style. We as authors have to get used to it. Grow a thicker skin, as the cliché goes.

It's also a good reminder that we have a choice when we offer critiques. Will we be encouraging, patient, helpful and hopeful, or snarky and rude?

But back to writing thank you notes. It's best, in my experience, to exhibit gratitude. It's good spiritual training, it extends to every aspect of my life. Home, church, community, and yes, writing. It keeps me grounded in what the Lord has done and is doing.

Writing thank you notes also shows others in the writing world that you are teachable. You are willing to learn and mature as a writer. You are humble and appreciate the help you're receiving from a  judge.

Also, it's just plain old polite.

That said, not everybody writes thank you notes, and very few judges receive them. But after I wrote thank you notes, some of my judges contacted me directly with additional encouragement, advice, and open invitations to grow in a professional relationship.

Now that was worth every penny of the contest fee.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Regency Forms of Address

What to do when one encounters a member of peerage while out and about? What does one call the Earl's mama? What's the difference between a baron and a viscount? In movies, lords are often called Your Majesty. Is that accurate?

In a word, no. And as for the earlier questions, well...that's tricky. One addresses members of the peerage according to a particular set of rules.

First of all, Your Majesty is reserved for the Sovereign (today, Queen Elizabeth II). In the Regency period, the Prince Regent was always  addressed as Your Royal Highness, and after that, Sir. (Today, Prince Charles is styled as His Royal Highness.)

Following the Royal Family, the peerage has five descending grades: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, and Baron. Peers are men and are considered noble. Wives and children of peers are considered commoners (Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of an earl, was a commoner when she married Prince Charles--she was not a princess in her own right). Children, primarily first-born sons, often receive a courtesy title of lesser rank, and it is not until their father dies that they inherit the father's title and are considered peers.

Peers have surnames as well as titles. Rarely they are the same (as in the case of Lady Diana Spencer, whose father was Earl Spencer).

First names were used depending on family preference. Often, a peer was referred to by his title rather than his first name, even by his close family. But not always.

I have also included Lords of Parliament in my list, which is a Scottish title. You'll also see Baronets listed, although they are not peers but commoners. However, the title is hereditary.
DUKEDuke  (David Moneybags, the Duke of Bigbucks)
   Introduced as:   His Grace the Duke of Bigbucks
   Referred to as: His Grace
   In Speech: Your Grace

Duchess (Davinia Moneybags, the Duchess of Bigbucks)
    Introduced as: Her Grace the Duchess of Bigbucks
    Referred to as: Her Grace
    In Speech: Your Grace
    Dowager: Her Grace Elinor, Duchess of Bigbucks or Her Grace the Dowager Duchess of Bigbucks

Eldest Son (George Moneybags, The Marquess of Midas -- courtesy title)
    Introduced as: The Marquess of Midas
    In Speech: Lord Midas

Younger Son (Henry Moneybags)
    Introduced as: Lord Henry Moneybags
    In Speech: Lord Henry

Daughter (Olivia Moneybags)
    Introduced as: Lady Olivia  Moneybags
    In Speech: Lady Olivia

MARQUESS (Sometimes Marquis)

Marquess (John Awesome, the Marquess of Fabulous)
    Introduced as: The Marquess of Fabulous
    Referred to as: Lord Fabulous
    In Speech: Lord Fabulous, My Lord, or Your Lordship
    Referred to by employee as: My Lord or Your Lordship

Marchioness (Emily Awesome, the Marchioness of Fabulous)
    Introduced as: The Marchioness of Fabulous
    Referred to as: Lady Fabulous
    In Speech: Madam, Lady Fabulous (not my lady)
    Referred to by employee as: My Lady, Your Ladyship
    Dowager: Mary, Marchioness of Fabulous, or the Dowager Marchioness of Fabulous

Eldest Son (Charles Awesome, the Earl of Cool -- courtesy title)
    Introduced as: The Earl of Cool
    In Speech: Lord Cool

Younger Son (William Awesome)
    Introduced as: Lord William Awesome
    In Speech: Lord William

Daughter (Sarah Awesome)
    Introduced as: Lady Sarah Awesome
    In Speech: Lady Sarah


Earl (Sylvester Goodlooks, the Earl of Handsome)
    Introduced as: The Earl of Handsome
    Referred to as: Lord Handsome
    In Speech: Lord Handsome, My Lord, or Your Lordship
    Referred to by employee as: My Lord or Your Lordship
Countess (Jane Goodlooks, the Countess of Handsome)
    Introduced as: The Countess of Handsome
    Referred to as: Lady Handsome
    In Speech: Lady Handsome, Your Ladyship (not my lady)
    Referred to by employee as: My Lady or Your Ladyship
    Dowager: Elizabeth, Countess of Handsome or The Dowager Countess of Handsome

Eldest Son (Andrew Goodlooks, the Viscount Comely--courtesy title)
    Introduced as: The Viscount Comely
    In Speech: Lord Comely

Younger Son (Bertram Goodlooks)
    Introduced as: Lord Bertram Goodlooks
    In Speech: Lord Bertram

Daughter (Georgiana Goodlooks)
    Introduced as: Lady Georgiana Goodlooks
    In Speech: Lady Georgiana


Viscount (Edmund Jewel, the Viscount Diamond--note, there is no "of" in the title)
    Introduced as: The Viscount Diamond
    Referred to as: Lord Diamond
    In Speech: Lord Diamond, My Lord
    Referred to by employee as: My Lord, or Your Lordship

Viscountess (Gemma Jewel, the Viscountess Diamond)
    Introduced as: The Viscountess Diamond
    Referred to as: Lady Diamond
    In Speech: Lady Diamond, Madam (not My Lady)
    Referred to by employee as: My Lady
    Dowager: Sapphira, Viscountess Diamond, or The Dowager Viscountess Diamond
Eldest Son (The Honorable Robert Jewel)
    Introduced as: Mr. Robert Jewel
    In Speech: Mr. Jewel

Younger Son (The Honorable Giles Jewel)
    Introduced as: Mr. Giles Jewel
    In Speech: Mr. Jewel

Eldest Daughter (The Honorable Emeraldine Jewel)
    Introduced as: Miss Emeraldine Jewel
    In Speech: Miss Jewel

Younger Daughter (The Honorable Pearl Jewel)
    Introduced as: Miss Pearl Jewel
    In Speech: Miss Pearl Jewel (includes first name)


Baron (Peter Storehouse, Baron Gold)
    Introduced as: The Lord Gold
    Referred to as: Lord Gold
    In Speech: My Lord or Your Lordship
    Referred to by employee as: My Lord or Your Lordship

Baroness (Eliza Storehouse, Baroness Gold)
    Introduced as: The Lady Gold
    Referred to as: Lady Gold, Madam (not my lady)
    In Speech: Lady Gold
    Referred to by employee as: Your Ladyship
    Dowager: The Right Hon. the Dowager Lady Gold or Caroline, Lady Gold
Son (The Honorable Hugh Storehouse)
    Introduced as: Mr. Hugh Storehouse
    In Speech: Mr. Storehouse

Eldest Daughter (The Honorable Aurora Storehouse)
    Introduced as: Miss Aurora Storehouse
    In Speech: Miss Storehouse

Younger Daughter (The Honorable Cassandra Storehouse)
    Introduced as: Miss Cassandra Storehouse
    In Speech: Miss Cassandra Storehouse

(LORD OF PARLIAMENT -- a Scottish title which would fall here in order of succession)

Lord of Parliament (Angus MacDonald, The Lord Haggis)
    Introduced as: The Lord Haggis
    Referred to as: Lord Haggis
    In Speech: My Lord
    Referred to by employee as: My Lord

Lady (Flora MacDonald, Lady Haggis)
    Introduced as:   The Lady Haggis
    Referred to as: Lady Haggis
    In Speech: Lady Haggis
    Referred to by employee as: Your ladyship

Oldest Son (Alexander MacDonald, The Master of Haggis)
    Introduced as: The Master of Haggis
    Referred to as: The Master
    In Speech: The Master
Younger Son (Fergus MacDonald)
    Introduced as: Mr. Fergus MacDonald
    In Speech: Mr. MacDonald

Daughter (Fiona MacDonald)
    Introduced as: Miss Flora MacDonald
    In Speech: Miss MacDonald


Baronet (Thomas Pleasant)
    Introduced as: Sir Thomas Pleasant
    Referred to as: Sir Thomas
    In Speech: Sir Thomas
    Referred to by employee as: Sir Thomas

Wife (Anne Pleasant)
    Introduced as: Lady Anne Pleasant
    Referred to as: Lady Pleasant, Madam
    In Speech: Lady Pleasant, Your Ladyship
    Referred to by employee as: My Lady
    Dowager: Dowager Lady Pleasant

Son (Edward Pleasant)
    Introduced as: Mr. Edward Pleasant
    In Speech: Mr. Pleasant
Eldest Daughter (Lydia Pleasant)
    Introduced as: Miss Lydia Pleasant
    In Speech: Miss Pleasant

Younger Daughter (Maria Pleasant)
    Introduced as: Miss Maria Pleasant
    In Speech: Miss Maria Pleasant


Knight (Richard Braveheart)
    Sir Richard Braveheart

Wife (Georgiana)
    Lady Braveheart

The various orders of knighthood are not hereditary.
Taken from my website. For more Regency and Victorian Americana, pop on over!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day!

Ah, May Day. In my childhood, it was the ultimate day for a legitimate game of Doorbell Ditch.

Image by Barbara KB via Flickr
On May first, I’d weave baskets out of construction paper, fill them with blooms from my yard, and place them on neighbors’ porches. Then I’d ring the doorbell and run away, hoping my neighbor would enjoy my gift. (The widower next door was tolerant, if not jubilant, in regards to my attention.)

Maybe I was alone in my observance of May Day. It certainly wasn’t a huge thing in my town—no folk festivals or anything—but our elementary school owned a maypole, which made its annual appearance at the sixth grade folk-dance performance. With polka music blaring from the loudspeakers, the kids each took hold of a pastel streamer and wove over and under each other around the pole. The effect of plaited streamers and rosy-cheeked kids was charming, in my young opinion.

Maypoles at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania
I later learned that Maypoles, just like a lot of American customs, are rooted in pre-Christian traditions. Unlike other holidays, however, May 1st was a day to celebrate spring, life, and romance.

The Romans honored Flora, goddess of flowers, with a five-day festival in late April. The tradition spread to the British Isles, but already, the Celts marked roughly the same period as celebratory. May 1st was considered the first day of summer, fallingl halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice (Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream took place on the solstice, what we now consider to be the first day of the season).  And summer was a reason to party.

And boy, most of Europe celebrated, from England to Germany to Sweden. Many villages elected a flower-crowned May Queen, an unmarried young woman to symbolically rule over the coming harvest. Elizabethan-era diarist Henry Machyn records seeing a lord and lady of the May one “jolly May Day,” along with drums, speeches, and morris dancers.

Lily of the Valley, May's official flower
The advent of summer seemed a good time to make marriages, too. What’s more romantic than “bringing in the may” with a handsome suitor? Gathering greens and flowers was only done by single folks in some parts of medieval Europe, and it no doubt provided a chance for romance to blossom alongside the wildflowers. Maypoles, too, were the domain of marriageable young folk. May Day baskets must have been, as well, because if you were caught dropping one off, you owed the person who caught you a kiss. (I am thankful I never knew this as a child.)

European settlers brought these traditions with them to America—even on the Mayflower. Gradually, most customs faded or, like the symbols of baby chicks and bunnies, became incorporated into the most glorious celebration of life in history: Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus is the greatest gift we'll ever receive, but God still showers us with additional blessing upon blessing on top of the gift of His Son. Spring is another of His gifts, I believe--a reminder that He is the giver of life and He takes pleasure in the beauty of His creation. He who makes all things new has provided vivid illustrations to underscore His point: leaves unfurling, baby birds hatching, tomatoes ripening on the vine.

I think God knows how much I need spring, too. When the gray fog of winter gives way to blue skies and the first daffodils push through the ground, my energy swells. I paint my toenails, visit the farmer’s market, and spend more time outdoors. Today I’ve watered seedlings, adjusted sweet peas on their trellises, and anxiously checked on the mama hummingbird nesting outside my front window.

I feel healthier. When spring comes, I even feel like cleaning. Well, for about five minutes. But that’s five minutes' more enthusiasm than I had in February. I can totally understand my ancestors’ appreciation for May Day.

So consider this my virtual May Day gift to you. I’ve rung your doorbell, and sitting on your welcome mat is a poorly constructed basket of good wishes and your favorite flowers. Happy May, and Happy reminder that God, the giver of life, is busy and active in His world.

What flowers are in your virtual May basket?