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, 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?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Goodnight Mr. Darcy

This goes under the Why Didn't I Think of This category:
Goodnight Mr. Darcy

I love Goodnight Moon. I love Pride & Prejudice. This looks like a fabulous mash-up.

Here's the blurb:

The adored children’s classic Goodnight Moon gets a classic lit makeover in this charming parody of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice novel. All of Austen’s much-loved characters are at the Netherfield Ball. In the great ballroom, there was a country dance, and a well-played tune, and Elizabeth Bennett; and Mr. Darcy surprised, by a pair of fine eyes . . . And don’t forget Jane with a blush and Mr. Bingley turned to mush, and a gossiping mother and father saying hush. Parents and toddlers alike will enjoy this new take on Austen’s timeless work à la Goodnight Moon.

I'll have to place this on my Christmas list; it will be a nice addition to my BabyLit collection!

What about you? Do you enjoy "kid versions" of adult books?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dreams Come True, Part Two

Last week I announced that I sold a story--a memorable event which occurred at a memorable place.  It was an all-around, Dreams Come True sort of day.

Since I'm always interested in how people get published, I thought I'd share my experience with you, because my dream took a long time to bear out. Sweat and tears, too (no blood, but it felt like it). One week before my agent's phone call, I seriously thought of quitting.

Here's what my journey looked like:

  • I've always written for fun and even as a young child, I dreamed of seeing my name on a book cover. In high school I wrote romances about my friends. The longest running was a Regency about my friend Laura. Around that time, I first articulated that I'd love to write romance and/or YA someday in the far off future while I stayed home with my kids.
  • It wasn't until I was pregnant with Kid #2 in 2001 that I started writing a Regency-set romance. I wrote during Kid #1's naptimes, little bits every day. Writing was my dream, and now that I had a bit of spare time, I wanted to give it a try.
  • I joined Romance Writers of America to gain information about the craft and the industry, but I soon found that writing and taking care of little ones was difficult. It works well for some people, but I grew frustrated. With prayer I decided to put my writing on hold for a while, until my babies were a bit older.
  • When my youngest started elementary school, I started another novel and, utterly clueless as to whether or not it was worth anything, I decided I should get feedback on it. I entered it into RWA's Faith, Hope &; Love Chapter's 2008 Touched by Love Contest. To my shock, the story finaled, and while I didn't win, that final gave me encouragement, hope, and validation. I decided to keep on writing and see what happened.
  • The next year, I joined American Christian Fiction Writers and entered a second novel into the Touched by Love contest. To my delight, it also finaled, and I made contacts, including the women of the Inkwell Inspirations blog. 
  • In 2009, I attended a small workshop run by an agent. Since I don't live near an ACFW or RWA chapter, this was my first time gathering with other fiction writers. After reading their stuff, I felt inferior and I knew I had a lot to learn. I gained experience pitching to an editor, however, and while she rejected the proposal, I learned about the industry and the craft of writing.
  • I entered other contests, but did not final. One judge gave me a score of 50/100. This was the first time I cried over my writing, but it wasn't the last.  I learned that writing requires vulnerability, a teachable spirit, and a determination to keep going. If I was going to be a writer, I had to keep writing and keep growing.
  • Through entering and finaling in another contest, I received an editor request for my first novel. Happy dance! I worked hard to present my best. Unfortunately, it was not selected, but the editor wrote me a super nice, thoughtful three-page rejection letter, encouraging me to keep going. I realized it was a good thing that book didn't get published, as it had some serious issues!
  • I submitted a devotional to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotionals for Mothers. It was accepted! I was paid for something I'd written--a first.
  • I entered a third novel the ACFW Genesis contest and was amazed when it finaled. I didn't win; I probably came in last place among the finalists. A final-round judge scored me with a 50/100 (that humiliating score again), which broke my heart. I wondered if I was fooling myself, thinking I could be an author.
  • I started two new projects. Friends signed contracts and I rejoiced with them, but I also realized I might not ever publish. I kept putting my writing into God's hands, snatching it back, and trying again to trust Him. I knew that if I wrote for Him, I should be content writing and never publishing. But because I'm broken, I fought against that. I still do.
  • I finaled/won the Gotcha! and Phoenix Rattler with my reworked Regency. I felt more confident, but again, when an editor requested the full and took it to committee, it was declined.
  • Again I felt as if I was at a crossroads. Should I keep going or just stop? I'd made no money, only spent it on contests. With a heaviness, I decided God hadn't told me to quit yet so I would keep writing.
  • In 2012 I was introduced to agent Tamela Hancock Murray and to my astonishment and delight, she liked the novel I sent to her! She offered me a contract. This was one of those things in life that I still can't get over. I'd long wanted her to represent me.
  • I attended a national RWA convention. I pitched to a few editors and learned a lot from the workshops. Not a lot of nibbles on the manuscript, though.
  • To get more feedback, I entered the Genesis again, this time in the new Novella category. I had been writing a novella for a collection with some of my Inkwell friends and wanted feedback. Unfortunately, the Novella category folded and my entry was placed into the Historical Romance category--typically one of the most-entered categories in the contest, which meant there would be lots of tough competition. I knew I had no chance.
  • The story, One Word From You, finaled in the Historical Romance category. Surely it wouldn't win, because, well, I reckoned it's a novella.
  • I attended ACFW 2013 in Indianapolis. I met friends. Learned from workshops. And to my utter astonishment, my novella won the Genesis. This was a highpoint of my life!
  • For the next several months, I submitted proposals. I wrote. I read books on writing and dialogue and plot. I received rejections. A bunch of them. Other Genesis winners sold. Other friends sold. I didn't. I spoke to my husband about me getting a job. (He said to keep writing.)
  • July 11, 2014, something cracked in me. I'd had moments of self-pity, doubt and grief over my writing before, but this was different. I sobbed at my computer. This isn't working. Maybe it's not meant to be. I want God's will and not my own, but oh how I want my will, too!
  • I got ready to go on vacation with my family. I admit I was thinking the break from writing would do me good. I planned to return home refreshed and ready to seek where the Lord would lead me.
  • July 18, 2014 I got a call from Tamela saying I'd sold a story, and you can read the rest of the story in the previous post.
Is the lesson to Not Give Up? That it's always darkest before the dawn? I'm not sure, but clearly, this has been a spiritual journey for me as well as a writing journey. I've staggered blindly in places, unsure whether I was serving God or myself. I've grown, however, as a writer and, hopefully, as a person.

But the journey isn't over. It's just that today, after a lifetime of writing for fun, thirteen years after briefly dipping my toes into the waters of writing toward publication, and six years seriously writing,
I sold a story.

I'm glad God kept the door open for me to keep writing. And I'm glad I didn't give up. We'll see what's in store for the future. Meanwhile, I've got more work--on my stories and on myself--to do.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dreams Come True...I SOLD!


My novella, Love's Reward, will be published by Barbour in June, 2015!
Signing the contract!

The contract is in the mail, and I'm busy with the novella.

You might be wondering what a novella is. Well, it's a shortened novel (20,000 words in my case), and my story will be one of nine Christian historical romances in a special collection, The Most Eligible Bachelor. Novellas are a popular read among fans of Christian romance--including me!

The timing was amazing. My parents gifted our family with a trip to Disneyworld and after a hot, full day of rides, meeting characters, and walking for miles, we waited for our dinner reservation and sat on the porch of the Crystal Palace restaurant. Perfectly in view was a very noisy but cute show about Disney heroes defeating the bad guys, with fireworks to boot--which is probably why I missed the call.

We went in to dinner (air conditioning at last!). Once seated, I got out my phone to take a picture of my kids with Piglet when, eek, I saw I'd missed a call from my agent, Tamela Hancock Murray.

That could only mean one of a few things. A sale, perhaps...but it could have been anything. A clarification question or an update were possible.

Then the high-volume Pooh Friendship Celebration conga line started up and I decided my best bet to hear Tamela was to head to the restaurant's bathroom.

Fortunately for me, there were two chairs in a little vestibule outside the bathrooms. While I phoned Tamela, my husband and son washed up in the men's room. I cannot remember everything Tamela and I said during the call, but My Guys could hear me shrieking from the men's room. I didn't sound creepy, they assured me. But I did get odd looks.

I didn't care. My story had been chosen. And I got back to the table with the clichéd thought that Disneyworld advertises that dreams come true at their parks. A nice campaign.
The slogan is even on the coasters!

But in my case, it was true!

And I could go back to the table and tell my husband, kids, and parents all about it.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am. For one thing, I love Barbour novellas. I have about two shelves' worth of them, doubled stacked, that I read over and over. It's an honor to be chosen to participate in one of their collections.

And of course, I can't believe I'm going to see my name on a cover of a book. I may be a writer, but words can't express how I feel about this. Delighted, thrilled, scared, humbled, in awe. There are some things in life that happen that knock your socks off. This is one of those for me.

I am so grateful. I appreciate Becky Germany from Barbour for taking a chance on me. I am thankful for Tamela's hard work and many, many kindnesses. Then there's my family. My husband supports me, my kids cheer me on, my parents are encouraging, and I wouldn't have sold without them.

Neither would I have sold without my friends and critique partners encouraging and helping me. In the case of this specific story, Debra E. Marvin, Gina Welborn, and Anita Mae Draper helped me polish up the proposal.

Thank you for reading this far and celebrating with me! Thank you for cheering me on!

After a lifetime of dreaming this dream, it's an amazing day for me, and I'm so glad to share it with you.


The Dream, by the way, took a lot of time, sweat and tears (no blood, but it felt like it). Next Monday I'll share Part 2 of the story.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


If you're on Twitter, you may have seen this hashtag:


Lots of writers use it when they pop into Twitter on a writing break to share something pertinent about the writing process, or divulge how distracted they are.

It's also a nice way to let people know what you're up to, or to feel a sense of camaraderie when you see a buddy who's busy writing too.

This week, I #amwriting. Seriously. It's not been easy to do since June, although I've kept on hacking away on the keyboard. Summer has a way of slowing my family down in some ways, speeding us up in others. 

But for me, this also means:

Nevertheless, this summer, I'm keenly aware of another occupation of mine:


I don't regret the board games or silliness or road trips we've enjoyed this summer. Still, with every season, life requires balance, and writing is an important part of my life.

So this week, I

But also, I


Balance. Not easy to maintain, but I'm working on it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

We have a Winner!

The winner of Davalynn Spencer's book, Romancing the Widow, is

DeAnna Julie Dodson!

She was chosen at random to win the copy. Congratulations, DeAnna!

Thanks to all who entered, and thanks to Davalynn for sharing with us and offering a copy!