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, July 27, 2015

Announcing...a SALE!

I am so happy to announce a sale!

Isn't it beautiful? More on the cover in a minute.

A few years back, some of the collaborators at Inkwell Inspirations blog were chatting about Jane Austen books. Anita Mae Draper said she might like Mr. Darcy better if he wore a Stetson. And then...

kaboom! Eight of us at the Inkwell got busy retelling Austen stories, set in historical Austin, Texas, centered around a very special institution. We were excited, joyful, and delighted to be writing something TOGETHER.

My story, One Word From You, is Pride and Prejudice, 1883-Texas style. To get feedback on it, I entered it in the novella category of the ACFW Genesis contest back in 2013.

Unfortunately, the novella category folded due to lack of entries. I had an option at that point: withdraw, or place my novella into the Historical Romance category.

I chose to go the Historical Romance route, but with trepidation. I seriously doubted my little 20K word novella would hold up against 80-100K word novels, but I hoped I would receive some good comments from judges, and maybe even some encouragement.

It turned out the story finaled. And even though I believed it wouldn't win the Genesis, it did.

You can't imagine how exciting it is to see this story go to print. It's a thrill and honor that WhiteFire accepted the novellas, and it's humbling and delightful to share this with women who've walked with me since the earliest days of my writing career. We shared this dream together. A-ma-zing!

Oh, and the cover...Roseanna White does such amazing work! I teared up when I saw this. She is as gifted a cover-designer as she is a writer.

Austen in Austin will release in two volumes. The first, which includes my story, releases January of 2016 and is available for preorder on Amazon!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Green Bean Salad with Dill~Summer Garden to Summer Table!



I grow dill weed in my garden every year. I love it with just about anything: in tuna salad, with eggs, sprinkled over steamed carrots...yum. It's a delicate, pretty plant, but I have to keep a watchful eye on it in my hot climate. It dries out fast, and it tries to go to seed a lot faster than I want it to.

But it's worth it, especially in recipes like this one, which is a perfect salad for a hot day.

If you don't grow dill in your garden, no worries. It's easy to substitute dried for fresh.

Green Bean Salad with Dill and Mustard

2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into pieces, and boiled until tender-crisp OR a 32 ounce bag frozen green beans, defrosted
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 T fresh minced dill weed OR 2 t. dried dill weed
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 T dijon mustard
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 t sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Cool beans, if cooked.

Place beans in a bowl with dill and onions.

Whisk together remaining ingredients and toss with salad. Refrigerate to let flavors mingle.

Set salad out before serving; it tastes best when it's closer to room temperature.

Monday, July 13, 2015

What Every Story Needs

You've been there. You pick up a story and the main character spends so much time in her regular life, happy and unfettered, that you wonder what her story is even about. Or she's met along the way by characters so flat they could be paper dolls. The story can work, but it isn't always satisfying.

Chances are they're lacking GMC. Ye olde Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Every character has GMC. The concept is key to making a story successful, and without it, characters seem thin, unrealistic, or come off as confusing.

If you're an author, it's imperative to come up with GMC before writing a story, and knowing your characters' GMCs also makes writing blurbs, a sales handle, and a synopsis much, much easier.

Essentially, GMC can be summarized like this:

My character wants GOAL because MOTIVATION but can't have it because of CONFLICT.

Sounds simple? Sounds a bit like real life? We all want things we can't have, sometimes for deep seated reasons. Let's unpack a bit.

GOAL:

Every character needs a goal right away. Especially the protagonists. What do they want? Everybody wants something. To escape, to be wanted, to get a job, to protect someone. Kurt Vonnegut said your characters should immediately want something, even if it's just a drink of water. Goals often set the plot in motion.

In my novella Love's Reward, heroine Josie starts out wanting to raise awareness and funds for a proposed home to shelter unwed mothers. She seeks out donated architectural plans. This goal remains important to her throughout the story, but--

Her goals change. More on that under "conflict."

MOTIVATION:

Every goal needs a reason why it is desired. Some motivations are obvious, eg, I need a job because without one I will not be able to pay my mortgage or buy food. But there's more to it than that, isn't there? Keep asking your character why they feel like they do. It may sound silly, but ask again. Why do you need to buy food? The obvious answer is to eat. Ask again. Why? Is there nobody you can ask to help you? Many times the answer will boil down to an interesting, not-always-appealing core: something that is selfish, based in a deep dark experience from the past, or lack of trust in God. And that can help reveal the three-dimensional heart of a character.

A proper motivation can make an unlikable goal sympathetic. And that gives a reader something to root for in a character.

CONFLICT:

Every goal needs to be thwarted somehow. At least for now. At the story's end, the goals should be met, or settled to a satisfying conclusion. But maybe not this first mentioned, primary goal (the drink of water/escaping off the edge of the cliff/finding a job). Conflict is necessary in a story, for it creates tension, furthering opportunities for plot and character development.

In a romance, the hero's and heroine's goals are often at odds, which creates an external conflict between them. They should each start out with their own GMCs*. So should villains. Secondary characters are richer if they have GMCs--nothing show stealing, but

A character's main goal should change as the story progresses. As the motivation for new goals changes, too, it is often something more mature or selfless than the motivation for the initial goal. And the conflict will heighten, raising the stakes.

That's it. It's that simple, and that hard.

Think of your favorite stories and the characters' GMCs. That can help mold and train us as writers to think in these terms.

If you're a writer, what do your characters want?



*In a romance, a hero and heroine will most likely eventually take on a common goal to bring them together.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Our Book Reviews: What's Helpful, What's Not

This has been a big topic of conversation lately among some of my friends, both readers and authors. Among the things I've heard from readers (and perhaps even thought to myself while I'm perusing book reviews for potential reads on Amazon):


"I really want to know what people think of a book, but some of these reviews sound like they were written by the author's friends. That means their reviews aren't honest."

"Why did this reader give it a 2-star rating and then say they liked it?"

Or, from an author's perspective:

"Someone gave my book a 1-star rating based on the packaging, not the story!"

"Why did the reviewer have to be so mean?"

Earlier, I posted on ways to help an author. Writing book reviews is one of the things I mentioned specifically. Book reviews can let others know if the book is worth their time, especially considering the price of purchase.

They are also viewed by others in the industry. I'm not saying editors read every review (they're busy people) but some editors pay attention to authors' social media stats and reviews, along with sales and awards.

So what's helpful when writing a book review?
  • Know that readers, authors, and editors appreciate the time you're taking to write a review that could be helpful to potential buyers. Your gift of service is a blessing!
  • Some sites, like Amazon, require a review to accompany a rating, but others, like Goodreads, don't. Try to write a few words to explain your rating, anyway. I recently contemplated purchasing a sequel to a book I enjoyed. The reviews let me know that several readers finished the book feeling frustrated about their perceived regression in the characters' developments. That told me so much more than a 3-star review without an explanation.
  • State the facts about the story and why you enjoyed it/didn't enjoy it. Was the story engaging? Was there a specific reason you didn't like it? Is the issue you have with a book a major stumbling block... or personal preference? I've liked a few movies that critics graded an F, and disliked a few well-regarded movies, but I'd read reviews in advance and determined the critic and I judged on different merits. Same with books. That reviewer's three-star rating might be my perfect cozy afternoon read.
  • Consider the book's audience. It's not fair to criticize a book for being what it's supposed to be, ie, by disparaging the spiritual elements in a Christian book, finding the hero too young when the book is a YA, or for bemoaning the lack of blood and gore in a cozy mystery.
  • Mention if you received the book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This is the law.
What's not helpful when writing a book review?
  • Don't stress about recapping the book. Some reviews summarize the plot or back-cover copy, which can be helpful to readers, but it isn't necessary.
  • Don't rate the packaging, shipping speed, book cover, or other things an author has no control over. Sometimes this extends to the title, too.
  • Refrain from spilling the author's private info. You may know where the author went to high school or where she gets her hair cut. This information, spread on the world wide web, is an invasion of her privacy, and to many readers, it negates anything positive that was mentioned in the review because it makes a review sound inauthentic.
  • Harsh language isn't polite.
  • Avoid spoiling the plot. Announce if you're divulging anything twisty or pertaining to the end with an all-caps SPOILER ALERT.
Some other facts about book reviews?
  • Yes, authors do review their friends' work sometimes. It's less about boosting one another up as it is sharing honest reviews, because authors are big readers, too.
  • Mean-spirited reviews do hurt authors' feelings sometimes. They don't expect everyone to love their books, but nobody likes to be called names.
  • They last forever. Or until the internet explodes. Just as in real life, our words stick around.
What do you think when you read book reviews? Do you often review products you buy?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Independence Day!



Giving thanks for our nation, our heritage, and the sacrifice of others so we could enjoy freedom. Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Congratulations to the ACFW Carol Finalists!

Here are the finalists for the 2015 Carol Awards. The winners will be announced September 19 during the gala awards dinner in Dallas at ACFW’s annual conference.


Contemporary:
Last Family Standing by Jennifer AlLee, Abingdon Press, editor Ramona Richards
Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Becky Monds, L.B. Norton
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate, Tyndale House, editors Sarah Mason, Jan Stob

Historical:
Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson, Howard (Simon & Schuster), editor Beth Adams
Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, Tyndale House, editors Sarah Mason, Stephanie Broene
What Follows After by Dan Walsh, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Andrea Doering

Historical Romance:
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editors Raela Schoenherr, Luke Hinrichs
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editor Raela Schoenherr
While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editors Andrea Doering, Jessica English

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller:
Poison Town by Creston Mapes, David C. Cook, editor L.B. Norton
A Way of Escape by Serena B. Miller, independently published, editor Connie Troyer
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Amanda Bostic, Natalie Hanemann

Novella:
An October Bride by Katie Ganshert, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Becky Philpott
I’ll be Home for Christmas from Where Treetops Glisten by Sarah Sundin, Waterbrook/Multnomah (Random House), editor Shannon Marchese
A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editor Karen Schurrer

Romance:
The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Ami McConnell, L.B. Norton
Love Redeemed by Kelly Irvin, Harvest House Publishers, editor Kathleen Kerr
Somebody Like You by Beth K. Vogt, Howard (Simon & Schuster), editor Jessica Wong    

Romantic Suspense:
Under a Turquoise Sky by Lisa Carter, Abingdon Press, editor Ramona Richards
No One to Trust by Lynette Eason, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Andrea Doering
Deceived by Irene Hannon, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Jennifer Leep

Short Novel:
Second Chance Summer by Irene Hannon, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Melissa Endlich
Rescuing the Texan’s Heart by Mindy Obenhaus, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Melissa Endlich
The Wyoming Heir by Naomi Rawlings, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Elizabeth Mazer

Speculative:
Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams, Enclave Publishing, editor Steve Laube
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, Enclave Publishing, editors Jeff Gerke, Karen Ball
Jupiter Winds by C.J. Darlington, independently published, editor Carol Kurtz Darlington

Young Adult:
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof, independently published, editors Amanda Dykes, Denise Harmer
Samantha Sanderson at the Movies by Robin Caroll, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Kim Childress, Mary Hassinger
Storm Siren by Mary Weber, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Becky Monds

Debut Novel:
Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Amanda Bostic
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editors Raela Schoenherr, Luke Hinrichs
The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall, Whitaker House, editor Courtney Hartzel

Congratulations!

- See more at: http://www.acfw.com/carol/2015_carol_award_finalists#sthash.qZqdUBge.dpuf

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Garden to Summer Table!



What's growing in your garden this year?

I've been enjoying my summer tomatoes for a few weeks now. Paired with fresh basil, they've made for some delicious bruschetta.

I'm also making Tomato Salad Dressing, which is wonderful on salads as well as on pasta or crostini toasts with some soft goat cheese. It won't last in the fridge long, but it's so tasty you might just use it all up first.

Oh, and the first ingredient is sun. Or at least dry weather. Don't make this on a rainy day! It needs to sit out in the summer sun so the flavors can blend.

Tomato Salad Dressing

8 good-sized ripe tomatoes or 4-6 beefsteak tomatoes--vine-ripened from your backyard is best!
1 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2-3 T. fresh basil, sliced thin
1 t. sugar
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
green onion to taste, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
(other herbs you might want to add? A little parsley and/or oregano...but let basil be the strongest!)

  1. On a warm, sunny day, peel the tomatoes (score an x on the bottom and then dunk them in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds: the peels come right off.).
  2. Chop tomatoes and add them and their juice to a glass bowl (I use an 8-cup Pyrex bowl, but it isn't full--it's just a good size for me.).
  3. Add other ingredients.
  4. Cover tightyly with saran wrap and place outside in a safe place in full sun for 3-5 hours.
  5. That's it! Serve at room temperature but store in the fridge.