Friday, March 30, 2012

All Work and No Pray....

Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.
This quote from St. Augustine is taped beside my desktop monitor, so I'll be reminded of it daily.

While I value a strong work ethic, and desire to give my all to whatever creative project I put my hand to (at the moment: editing one manuscript while researching, plotting, and writing another) I also know that in so many ways what I want to accomplish with every novel I tackle is beyond my present ability to pull off. I learned that by writing the first one. I learned it again with the second. I have the lesson driven home every time I reach The End.

But it's at the start of the process when this realization can be most daunting. Because I know now how insanely hard it is to write a novel. Because at the outset there are far more questions than answers. So many choices about plot and character and theme. It can be overwhelming if I forget that I have an infinitely creative and caring God who is faithful, day by day, scene by scene, even line by line, to show me the next step. And the next.

If I ask Him to.

When that next step is revealed, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, I'm learning not to hesitate, but to take it. Write the scene. Add the character. Make the change. Whatever it may be. Often it's not until I do so that the step after that is revealed: the knotty plot problem untangled, the character issue solved.

One step at a time.

"As soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord--the Lord of all the earth--set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap." Joshua 3:13 

Who can help but admire those brave Levites! They carried the ark of the covenant right into the water, for the river was not dived until "their feet touched the water's edge (v. 15)." God has promised nothing else. ~Thomas Champness

How steadying to remind myself, and Him, each morning that I'm depending on Him for inspiration, focus, wisdom, insight, creativity, and energy every single time I come to the computer to write, or while I'm researching. For those unexpected moments when story ideas seem to drop into my head out of nowhere, like the gifts they are. He's been faithful for years to provide these essential elements of novel crafting. It's my part to show up each day, expecting it, ready to give it my best.
When God is the architect, men are the bricklayers and laborers. Faith assists God. It can shut the mouths of lions and quench the most destructive fire. Faith still honors God, and God honors faith.
Oh, for the kind of faith that will move ahead, leaving God to fulfill His promise when He sees fit! ~ Thomas Champness
What path has He placed you on? Whatever is it, work as though everything depended on you, then pray as though everything depended on Him!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Big Day (and some news)

13 years ago today I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. That might have made March 26th a dark day on my calendar. It didn't though. That very day I began to see the hand of God at work in the details of that journey. That very day I began to experience what scripture calls the peace that passes understanding.

Every year since 1999, when the cancer went into remission, has been a year to celebrate, and I mark that year on the 26th. In the same way, every novel I've written since that time feels like a gift (more about my writing/cancer journey here).

As of today I have another reason to count March 26th a special day. Today I signed my first book contract. A contract for two books, in fact, each a historical novel set in the 18th century. One takes place on the New York frontier, 1784, the second on what was then the western boundary of North Carolina, 1787. Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group (a division of Random House, Inc.), has agreed to publish them, and I couldn't be more pleased.

Of course, the offer came via my wonderful agent several months ago--December 14, 2011 to be exact. I've had to sit on the news all these months and let me tell you, it hasn't been easy! I did a bit of journaling on that day so I wouldn't forget how I was feeling, what I was thinking, and what my agent and I talked about. If you'd like to read some of that, I've included it below. Otherwise, I hope you'll rejoice with me and celebrate this writing journey that began in December of 1991.

I look forward to sharing more about my experiences as this new journey unfolds. No released dates are set in stone yet, nor book titles, but it looks as though my debut novel will release sometime in the middle of 2013.
Journal entries: 

December 14th, 2011: I know it will be a little while before I can post this, because a writer can't go blurting this sort of news all over creation before the proper time, even if it's taking every scrap of self-control she possesses to keep her fingers still. There's this official stuff called ink, and it has to dry and all. So I'm telling you (but not really telling you), that today, December 14th, 2011, exactly twenty years and a cross country move and a bout with cancer and a lot of set-backs and rejections since I first sat down to write a novel and see if I could get it published, I got The Call.
My agent, Wendy Lawton, was on the other end of the line. "Are you sitting down?" she asked. I was sitting down, working away on the edit of my current historical novel. "We have an offer," she said.
A two book offer, as it turns out. For one of my finished 18th century historicals, and for the one I had been working on seconds before the phone rang. The offer comes from Waterbrook, a publishing house I've long admired for its historical fiction. Liz Curtis Higgs! Jane Kirkpatrick! Susan Meissner!
"You're so quiet," Wendy said.
I was bestunned. I had no words. Or not a lot of them. "But I'm shaking," I said.
I still am.
I'm pretty sure I said Wow once or three times too. How articulate!
In the hours since I've laughed and cried, prayed and rejoiced, gulped down mouthfuls of giddy nerves and had about a hundred questions crash across my dazzled brain.
December 15th, the day after The Call: This morning I'm reminded that early in the year I chose One Word to be a theme for me for the coming months of 2011. I blogged about it here.
That one word? PATIENCE
Think I got that one right? :)
I've printed off what's called the Offer Letter. I'm staring at it. It's addressed to me, but surely it's a mistake. It isn't a rejection. It has words in it like contract, publishing relationship, release schedule, sub-rights, due date. I can't quite connect these words to me, to my writing. Net yet. Maybe tomorrow?
December 16th: My One Word for 2012, I'm nearly certain now, is TRUST. Not trust in myself, or what-all lies behind this letter propped on my desk. Trust in God, who is behind what's behind it. Trust in His timing and purpose for the unfolding path I'll soon be walking. One step at a time. Trust for the stretching to come. The moments of joy, and those of terror. I've already had several of both.
Trust in His goodness, and His good plan.

March 26, 1783. War with Great Britain Ends! Preliminary Peace Articles penned in Paris!! Lady Authoress Signs Book Deal!!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 of Lines

I snagged a meme from Jo Bourne. If you want to play too, go to page 77 of your manuscript, then to line 7, then post the next 7 lines. Here's mine, from my WIP, working titled Stone-Thrower's Son:

“I hope.…” He seemed to think better of whatever he’d intended to say, but the words slipped out anyway. “I hope young van Bergen knows what he’s getting.”
Lydia quirked a brow. “I daresay he does.”
He looked abashed at her wry tone. “I meant that kindly.”
“I know you did, Major.”
She watched his expression ease. Then his mouth tilted at one corner. “You’ve taken to calling Mrs. Doyle by her given name. And my wife by hers. Why do you not call me Reginald?” 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Write what you know....

I began writing years before I ever heard the words write what you know strung together and aimed at writers. I'm awfully glad about that. I'd likely have misunderstood it.

From my very first attempt at writing fiction I immersed myself in a culture and place I'd never experienced in order to bring my characters to life. The challenge of recreating a world I've never seen save in photographs, or artifacts, or reenacted history, is still a huge part of what fuels my passion for fiction writing.

I love the learning!

Not only do I write about places I've never seen, time periods I never lived in, situations I've never experienced, I write about races that I don't belong to. As far as I know....

After all the generations since the early 1600s when I'm told my ancestor at Jamestown married a Powhatan girl (not Pocahontas), I must have so little Native American blood that it really can’t matter. Yet I’m fascinated with Native American history and the history of colonial frontier settlement, and how the cultures of red and white clashed and mixed. Especially intriguing to me are those men and women, European, native, and mixed, who lived in the shifting place between their two cultures.

Slavery, and what it did to those enslaved and those doing the enslaving, is another big draw for me. I've never owned a slave, or been a slave. I have no direct experience.

Nor have I been a father, or a son. I've never even been a parent. Yet I’m drawn to deep and troubled father/son themes in the stories I write, from the first novel twenty years ago to my current work in progress. Where does that interest come from? It's simply there, woven into the weft of me.

So I’ve become a perpetual student of the things I don’t inherently know, but can’t seem to stop writing about.

Know what you write, whatever that is. Find every means you can to immerse yourself in the subject, whether that's a person, setting, or situation, then let your characters live those themes and conflicts that just won't let you go. Which brings me to this:

If by write what you know we're talking about emotions... then yes. We all know those. Love, jealousy, resentment, grief, elation, passion. I may not have lived on the frontier, or had to shoot my own supper, and skin and butcher it too, but I've been worried, afraid, determined, proud of an accomplishment, dashed by disappointment and failure. I've been in love. I've had my heart broken. I've faced death, just not by bear or panther or musket ball. Or a cruel overseer.

I can learn what I need to know to write the situations I've never experienced, then take what I do know--emotion--and breathe life into the characters who do what I've never done, see what I've never seen.

photo credit: WagsomeDog via Flickr

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I swear this writer dude, Keith Cronin, is one of the boys in my basement.* He outlines my** method of writing in his post on outlines, The Big O, at Writer Unboxed, as clearly and exactly as any writer ever has. I mean, pretty much everything he says I've done, or am doing. Except maybe the highlighting part but even there I think I did do that with one manuscript.

If you've ever struggled with outlines, wished outlining worked for you, dreamt of being more of a plotter.... Keith's approach to it just might be what you need to read.

* Boys in the basement--referring to the subconscious, creative mind. I first ran across the phrase used by Stephen King, in his book On Writing.

** his really but it's so close to mine it could be its identical twin except for that highlighted beauty mark next to its mouth.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Love's Sacred Song by Mesu Andrews

Wisdom came as God's gift, but sacred love was forged through passion's fire.

Standing in the shadow of his famous father, young King Solomon wavers between fear and bravado, longing for a love that is true and pure--a love that can be his cornerstone.

A shepherdess in the northern city of Shunem, Arielah has known since she first laid eyes on Solomon that it was her destiny to become his bride. When her father secures a promise from Solomon to marry Arielah as a treaty bride to help unite the kingdom, it seems her dreams will come true.

But how can this simple shepherdess live as part of Solomon's harem? Can Solomon set aside his distractions to give himself completely to just one woman? Or will he let duty, deception, and the daily routine divide his heart?

My thoughts on Love's Sacred Song:

I admit I’ve wondered what life was like for those women in the harem of one of Israel’s ancient kings. Never having the whole heart of your husband. Having to endure the jealousies and petty scheming of your husband’s other wives. Palace intrigue. Rebellious plots. Manipulations. Lies. Dashed expectations and hopes. Neglect. Favorites. Was there anything good about it?

The promise of exploring such issues drew me into this story. I wasn’t disappointed. The tension between Solomon’s situation as the husband of multiple women—treaty brides for the sake of political alliance and Israel’s peace—and my hope (along with Arielah’s) that hers and Solomon’s love could somehow rise above that and be exclusive, was often hard to bear. I was in turns sympathetic to Solomon and infuriated with him.

Only someone as pure-hearted and certain of God’s will for her life as Arielah could have walked that tricky road between a man’s heart and a king’s duties. That road is rife with peril and sacrifice. Though women bring him pleasure and he has plenty of them, Solomon has never known a love like his abba David had for his ima Bathsheba. Arielah longs to show him that kind of love. A love that is a gift from Jehovah. Unconditional. Unbreakable. And if anyone can do so, it’s Arielah. This is a young woman with the faith of a giant, a willingness to forgive those who hurt her drawn straight from the well of God’s forgiving heart, and a love for Solomon as uncrushable as iron.

Though she's had her share of detractors in the past (especially chilling were her brothers, introduced at the story's beginning), Arielah’s entrance into Solomon’s harem earns her instant enemies, and unexpected allies. Even without the individuals scheming against Arielah and Solomon, and despite the best of intentions on Solomon’s part, his duty as king is a constant pull on his heart. The question of whether he can ever be true in any sense of that word to one woman turned those pages for me.

Great secondary characters abound. Arielah’s abba, Jehoshaphat. A young man named Reu. Solomon’s right hand man, Benaiah. Solomon's mother, Bathsheba. And one of Solomon's other wives that I won't name (no spoilers!), a character I grew to admire for her strength and complexity.

Normally I don’t care for chapter inscriptions--quotes from outside sources included at the head of each chapter. They feel like author intrusion to me and usually don’t add to the story. In this case I appreciated the scripture references, many from Song of Solomon, some from other books in the Bible, included at the start of each chapter. They gave the story its Biblical context, and I was amazed how many details in scripture I’d glossed over through countless readings, little clues to the story behind Song of Songs woven into the cloth of this novel.

Finally, I felt Mesu Andrews brought even more attention to historical detail to Love's Sacred Song than she did to Love Amid the Ashes, her debut novel, creating a landscape rich in sensory and visual details, and completely transporting. This was a turbulent, painful, beautiful love story, played out against a setting in which building and nurturing the love Solomon and Arielah each desired required complete reliance on God's wisdom and promises. 

PS: If you haven't read Love Amid the Ashes, see my review of it. Maybe I'll convince you.

This book was provided by Revell for review.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Blog Roll Addition

I've added Relz Reviews to my top blog roll, Books & Writing Blogs, over on the side bar. This is a lively, frequently updated book review site for fiction written from a Biblical world view (i.e. Christian or Inspirational fiction).

Today she's spotlighting Julie Klassen's latest Regency, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall. I haven't read this one yet, but I've read Julie's previous books (The Lady of Milkweed Manor and The Apothecary's Daughter)and enjoyed them. Can't wait to get through some more of my current research so reading time is a little more freed up for that huge stack of novels I posted about last month!

Relz's spotlight of TMoFH just whet my appetite! If you haven't yet and you enjoy Inspirational/Christian fiction, do check out her site.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Writing Week: Feb 27 - March 2

I got two chapters finished this week, coming in at a total of 6500 words. This also ends a section of the book. Which is 21,000 words long. I originally thought it would be 13,000. Max.

I've got some trimming to do this weekend!

Researched this week:

~ Schenectady (always and forever until I write the last word of this book and maybe beyond that!)
~ Sir John Johnson
~ The Mohawk Valley during the Revolutionary War
~ Mid-18th century gowns and hats
~ scents for soap