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.)

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.