Thursday, December 31, 2009

practice makes perfect

I've almost finished with the galleys and am thankful to have spent more time with Morrow and her menagerie of friends and enemies on the Red River in Kentucke. There are certain scenes I love and never get tired of rereading. They come alive for me and I feel I'm right there in the midst of it all. And then there are some spots where I am ho...hum. Some parts sing and some don't. Some need a bit more work and don't shine as brightly as I like. But I do think we improve in this writing game.

Since I wrote The Frontiersman's Daughter over a 10 year period (with a hiatus of 5 years smack in the middle, something I don't recommend), there are parts of the book that seem like they're written by 2 different people. The "before" and "after" Laura, so to speak. To be honest, the book's end is better than its beginning. But I was a different person at the end of that 10 year period than I was at the beginning. Neither the book or I are perfect, that's for sure, but improved:)

So I guess this just shows that the longer we write or do anything we grow. I've heard it said that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. Think about it! But I'm not sure I believe that about writing. I've whiled away more hours than that since childhood with pen and paper and I'm still not satisfied with what tumbles out of my head and heart. Even Francine Rivers (author of Redeeming Love, etc.) has said she still feels like an apprentice.

So...are you a perfectionist with anything? Cooking? Cleaning? Being holy? Writing? How do you handle the desire to be better than you are? I like to remember that there's only one perfect book. And only one Perfect Being. And He, thankfully, helps make us better than we are.

The Rock! His work is perfect... Deuteronomy 32:4

Saturday, December 26, 2009


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
Then the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all the people,
To make music in the heart...
And to radiate the Light of Christ every day.

-Howard Thurman

Monday, December 21, 2009

things i'm thankful for this christmas

Here's a short, personal list of things I'm thankful for this year:

*Honeybaked ham and cranberry bliss bars! I've been asked to make garlic-cheese grits for Christmas Day brunch at Grandma's house. No complaining about that:)

*Christmas Cards! I wasn't able to send many this year but it's such a joy to go to the mailbox and receive them - and some of them have been from you!

*A new book coming out next year! I never thought my writing dream would be fulfilled so I'm still pinching myself. Hallelujah and thank you, Jesus!

*Music! Listening to my son play Christmas music on his violin, even with squeaks, puts me in the Christmas spirit.

*Books beneath the tree! They may be my favorite Christmas gift to give and receive.

*Reading and writing friends! I've never had any before now and feel doubly blessed as I've prayed for that and so many of you have opened your hearts to me. I am so very thankful!

*The gift of salvation. Everything I have flows from His love for me. Everything. My wonderful husband, my boys, books, and each and every one of you.

*Yankee Candles. Actually, any candle will do.

*Snow. This time last year we had two feet on the ground and it even snowed Christmas morning. Now it's just very wet but what a sweet memory it made.

*Children who can't wait for Christmas Day. No wonder Jesus loves children so much and included them in His book. I'm sure He feels great joy when His earthly children get excited about His birthday. I know I get excited when my boys are excited:)

What about you? Can you lengthen my list? I'd love for you to!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

characters and other novelties (a previous post from 2008)

When writing a novel a writer should create living people;
people, not characters. A character is a caricature.
--Ernest Hemingway

Ernest and I don't agree on many things but I do like this quote. A good book should be filled with people who are so real that you feel joy when they feel joy and sadness when they feel sadness, among other things. I'm not sure how a writer makes the leap from coming up with a name and then a body and then the soul of a person. But I think good writing captures the soul of a character and somehow puts that on paper.

In The Frontiersman's Daughter the main character, or protagonist, is Lael (pronounced LAY-el). Bet you don't know one - it's an old-fashioned name and I'm not even sure where I came up with it. But I've been carrying Lael around in my head and heart for a long time. She is simply a composite of my childhood - all my old daydreams of those early Kentucky settlers.

When Lael's story was making the round of publishers last year, I finished the sequel to The Frontiersman's Daughter, thinking it would prove I wasn't a one book wonder. But something interesting happened as I worked on this story. I took Lael out of Kentucky and set her in Scotland, a place I've never been. This is always a danger if you haven't been there but if you research well enough you can get away with it. I really liked this story and felt it had high drama and passion and all the rest. But half-way through writing the book I started missing Lael. I had lost her voice. That's the only way to describe it. Lael in book 2 was someone else entirely and no matter what I did to make her Lael, she just wasn't. I concluded that Lael's story had been told and there would be no retelling it.

Thankfully, my publisher never asked to see it. If they had, I'm sure they would have told me I had lost Lael somewhere. Instead, the editors asked that I stay in Kentucky and write two more 18th-century novels there. Whew! So this non-Lael like book went into the drawer. Maybe at some point I'll get it out, blow the dust off, and find a name for this other character. I really like the story.

I guess this points to the mystery of writing fiction. You may think a writer is in control of eveything from the pen to the paper to what goes down on paper, but it's my experience that characters, if they're really real, have a life of their own. And that is one of the joys of writing fiction.

Friday, December 18, 2009

some books for you

I'm working on the galleys for Courting Morrow Little so this post will be short and sweet:). I did want to tell you that in celebration of the new year I'm going to hold a book-a-day-giveaway in January. Five books (not my own) will go to readers that week. All are inspirational fiction published in 2009. If you want to be in the drawing please leave a comment between now and then. I'll post which books will be given away soon.

So how are the galleys going, you might ask? Since I love the creative side of writing more than editing, I'm not a big galleys fan. But once I'm into it I lose myself in the story again and really enjoy it. Morrow is faring well, thankfully, and I'm blessed to work with a great editor at this stage who even leaves an occasional smiley face in the margin when I've overused a word or concocted some strange simile.

In the meantime my stack of need-to-read stuff grows! Books I have waiting: White Mountain Brides by Susan Page Davis, Just Jane by Nancy Moser, Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser, and How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser (can you tell I'm a Moser fan?), and some research books.

I've discovered a couple of new writerly sites this week and thought I'd share them:

Do you have a favorite blog, writing or otherwise? If it's your own, please feel free to comment and list it here. Or share the joy and tell us which ones especially bless you!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

the perfect gift

My youngest son, Paul, whom I love so very much, just taught me an important lesson. Recently his dad and I went shopping for Christmas gifts and before we left for town he asked if we might get him a nerf gun this year. Now any parent knows that a nerf gun, in the hands of two boys, doesn't last till New Years. At least not in our house. So when he asked for this I had the image of rolling down my car window and tossing nerf gun dollars out. It's the same to me.

Unbeknownst to Paul, his dad and I had planned on and purchased a present for him that we knew he would love far more and would last far longer. He's wanted this gift for a long time but never dreamed this would be his Christmas present this year. So he's been standing by the tree a bit sadly, eyeing gifts that don't remotely resemble a nerf gun. Every once in awhile he makes little noises that in case we've forgotten this very important gift there's still time...

And I so want to tell him that we have something that will be so much more fun if he will only wait a little longer. I want to reassure him that I've not forgotten but have just planned something even better, so much so that he'll be jumping for joy.

And suddenly I'm struck by how often I do this with my heavenly Father. I pray about all sorts of things and have an idea of when and how I'd like these prayers to be answered. I'm a lot like Paul standing at the tree, overlooking the gifts He's already given me, and hoping He's not forgotten. I wonder if He longs to reassure me, as I do Paul, that He isn't going to give me second best but has something so much better, so far superior to what I'm wanting in my smallness, that I'll be jumping for joy when the day comes.

If you're dealing with a delayed dream, I encourage you to remember Paul and his nerf gun. If you're longing to be published and that's His gift for you, He already sees your book on the shelf even though you can't. That's certainly the way it happened for me. A long delay, a dream that almost died, and then great joy that He'd not forgotten.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

Friday, December 11, 2009

a bestselling book

Have you ever considered just how amazing the Christmas story is from a novelist's perspective? I love when Scripture comes to life (it truly is living, active, and sword-like) and particular events leap off the page and touch your heart. Novelists spend a lot of time plotting and creating character motivations and story arcs and whatnot. So it shouldn't surprise us that the Master Storyteller came up with some very dramatic elements when crafting the tale of His son's entrance into the world.

Take Mary, for example, our female protagonist or heroine. Scholars think she was probably 14 or 15 years old. She was from a poor, conservative Jewish family. Girls that age tend to do a lot of dreaming about the future and I'm sure she was no different. She may have been attracted to a man in her village. It might not have been Joseph. Theirs was an arranged marriage, remember. Most certainly she was modest, devout, and obedient. Life was hard. She was probably the last girl the local gossips would have whispered about. And then...the inciting incident occurs. She's going to have a baby. Imagine her initial shock, the crumbling of her girlish dreams, her fear of telling her parents and the news leaking to her small circle.

And our hero? Joseph was older and more mature but this may have caused him more grief. He knew that people have a long memory concerning scandal. No doubt the villagers looked askance at him or pitied him for her unfaithfulness. Imagine his crushing suspicions about the girl he was pledged to marry. This was considered adultery under Mosaic law and carried the death penalty by stoning. His hopes for a respectable family and future turn to ashes. Being an honorable man, as our heroes have to be, he wanted to do the right thing. He was going to quietly put her aside.

Suddenly the drama and tension begin to skyrocket:) She tells him something that makes her look infinitely foolish - even crazy. She's still pure and is going to have God's son. What?! I can imagine Mary still trying to make sense of it all and poor Joseph struggling for words. Then imagine having some heavenly reinforcement in the form of a dream. Take her as your wife.

Finally they live happily-ever-after, right? No, there's still the long journey to Bethlehem to pay taxes at a very inopportune time. Imagine how tired Mary was, how embarrassed she must have been since there was no woman or midwife to attend her. Think how frustrated Joseph must have felt in failing to find a decent place for her to have a child not his own. Then imagine that incredible star and the wonder of the shepherds and the amazement of the Magi. All the makings of a bestselling book:) Which it is.

What part of the Christmas story has special meaning to you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

drive-thru christmas

I think I'm ready! There's still no Christmas tree in the house but we do have one on the deck which the wind keeps blowing over. And Wyatt bought a big log cabin gingerbread house for $2 at a festival. I've wrapped a couple of gifts which is my favorite thing to do at Christmas. And last but not least, I ordered a Honeybaked ham as I've dreamed of doing for years. It comes with a cheesecake, thankfully. Saves me from butchering a hog and all that churning to make dessert, as Lael would say:)

Last year at this time I received the galleys for The Frontiersman's Daughter - a sort of early Christmas present from my publisher:) For those of you who don't know and want to, the galleys are just the typeset version of the manuscript prior to its being turned into actual pages and sent to the printer. It's the author's last chance to make any significant changes.

I call last Christmas my drive-thru experience as I hardly noticed that it came or went with the galleys in my lap. At the Denver ACFW conference a couple of months ago a fellow author and friend of mine told me she was expecting galleys upon her return home. I bit my lip and didn't tell her my tale. When I heard from her a couple of days later she'd finished with the galleys in less time that it takes to sneeze! The only way I can understand this is to say she's smarter than I am:)

I haven't seen Courting Morrow Little since the end of July when I submitted it a few days before deadline. Since then I've had time to sift through the story in between research and The Locket to see how I might improve it. Last chance, after all! I read it over many times during the three weeks or so I'm given and make changes, etc. I should see the galleys any minute now as this is how the publication schedule falls for me.

So...ready, set, galleys:)

Monday, December 7, 2009

my hero - well, one of them...

Since there was such a flurry of historical googling over that last post, here's a picture of the man responsible for part of that fervor, George Rogers Clark. When I was at his home along the Ohio River in Kentucky I discovered there were no actual portraits done of him as a younger man. But artist John Buxton believes he might have looked like this. This painting was commissioned by the Clark County Historical Society of Springfield, Ohio and conveys Clark as he may have looked the summer of 1780 at 27 1/2 years of age.*

"His iron will, strong passions, audacious courage, and magnificent physique soon made him a leader among his frontier neighbors."

Aside from Daniel Boone and George Washington I can't think of a better hero. And I believe, had I been a colonial belle, he would have set my fan to fluttering:)

An interesting side note is that this George is the brother to the famous William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. No shortage of heroes in that family!

Do you have any heroes, past or present, imaginary or otherwise?


Friday, December 4, 2009

hero worship

I know I've gotten my hero just right if I've fallen in love with him by novel's end. Chances are if the author is smitten with their hero the reader will be, too. One hopes, anyway. Before Lael took Ian Justus away from me in TFD I was quite besotted. Scotsmen have always been my weakness. And then there's Morrow's paramour in Courting Morrow Little, who shall remain nameless as his very identity is a huge spoiler. It took me a good hundred pages to fall for my Irishman, Colonel McLinn, in The Locket, and then THUD... I'm not advocating hero worship. Well, almost:)

hero worship n (1774) 1: veneration of a hero 2: foolish or excessive adulation for an individual

Silly me but I was so happy to find this word comes to us straight from the 18th-century. And I thought again how blessed I am to have an editor and publisher who encourage me to write in the century I love. If I had to make the leap and write in other time periods I think I'd lose a lot of heart/passion. The 18th-century has always been my first love and I have lots of story ideas simmering.

But back to my Colonel McLinn who won't make his debut until summer of 2011... Someone asked me how writers come up with characters. Are they based on people we know? Actually, Colonel McLinn is based on someone I wish I'd known. When I was in Kentucky last fall doing research for The Locket, I visited a two hundred year old house whose owner was glaring at me from an oil painting over a bedroom mantle. I was struck by how embittered and sad he looked and I wanted to give him a happy ending instead of the tragedy he lived.

So my Irishman is actually made up of my two favorite 18th-century heroes. Can you guess who these men might be? One clue is that they're both named George. First names, not last. Each was unusually tall for that time period. And both had red hair. Enough said:)

Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, but rather the hero's heart. -Proverb

Who is a hero? He who conquers his urges. -The Talmud

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Life with boys is never dull. Yesterday, out of the blue, my youngest son told me I'm like a Twinkie because I'm soft and sweet:). His teenage brother, on the other hand, is like a Warhead (a type of candy) - sour and explosive. And his dad, he said, was like a burger...big and beefy. I was glad to be a Twinkie! What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. But it made me laugh. And sometimes I forget to laugh. I think that's why God gave me boys.

Sometimes I wish for a quiet, clean house with no popcorn under the sofa, no apple cider stains on the floor, no overflowing laundry room, no dents in the walls. I dream of coming into a still-clean house the day after and having it smell like something other than a locker room!

Some days I write two lines and am interrupted for the gazillionth time and I feel more like a warhead than a Twinkie. But then my son's sweet face pops up over my computer screen with some silly question or idea and I'm reminded that I'm a mom first and a writer second. Other days the house is quiet and I get so much done I am tired of words and ready to go do something uninspiring like wash dishes:) And I'm glad for any interruption at all.

I wonder if God gets tired of our inattention, messes, warhead behaviors, and all the rest? I've always grappled with the fact that He has feelings and is emotional. It seems so very human somehow. But I can't grasp infinite love and grace either.

So...are you a warhead or a Twinkie or a burger? Paul wants to know:)

From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:16

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

happy december

I don't know about you but I can't believe it's December already! This has been the busiest year of my life. Chock full of firsts. First book, first writer's conference, first Kentucky book fair and all the rest. It's been a year of tremendous change personally and otherwise. And here I am about to repeat everything again. Yet authors tell me the second book is no less a thrill. Maybe there's some truth in that as I remember holding my second son and it was just as wonderful as my first. But there's no comparing babies to books:) I'll take a baby anyday.

We're going to have a small Christmas this year. With all the needs around us it's easy to get caught up in the must-haves and we've decided to concentrate on the have-nots. My mom reminded me of my grandfather in turn-of-the-century Kentucky feeling especially blessed when he found an orange, some horehound candy, and nuts on Christmas morning. We've been hearing reports of children going hungry in Seattle. Seattle! One of the most affluent cities in the U.S. Home of Microsoft's Bill Gates and all the Boeing biggies. But I know there are needs everywhere, not just here.

I have done a little decorating but am expecting the galleys soon and then everything will return to the 18th-century in a big way. But I'm not complaining, mind you:) I have a terrible hankering to be in Colonial Williamsburg right now. Every December there's a contest there to determine the best wreath. Here are two. This second one is so charming I'd like to snag it for my front door and replace those flutes with little fiddles. Over Thanksgiving Randy went into the woods and cut down a Noble Fir for the deck. It's twinkling brightly with colored lights just beyond the French door. So that'll have to do.

Have a blessed start of December!