Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . Capability


I'm busy.


This is indisputable fact. I'm writing 6 books in 18 months, I homeschool my kids, I do much of the day-to-day running of WhiteFire Publishing, I design book covers and interior layouts, I cook, I (occasionally) clean, I knit, I'm pianist at my church, I'm a ballet mom, and I teach a class pretty much every semester at our homeschool association. There are days when I'm just so exhausted it's all I can do to think.

But it's funny, right? I look back at where I was, say, seven years ago. Only one of my kids needed to be taught. I was working on my first book that would be published by someone else. WhiteFire was only two or three authors other than me. I did no design work. Xoe had just started ballet, so it was only one night a week (now it's two). We didn't do Bible study yet at our church. I had no responsibilities in our homeschool group. My house was more of a mess than it is now, and we more often ate canned soup for dinner.

And I felt so overwhelmed. I'm talking, break down in tears because I felt like I couldn't do it all overwhelmed. My constant prayer was that God would expand my time. That He'd refresh me because I was so drained. That somehow He would do it all for me, because I didn't think I could.

That's a familiar refrain in the world. I can't tell you how many times I hear someone say, "Oh, I could never ______." Fill in the blank.

I could never homeschool.
I could never write a book.
I could never work from home.
I could never work outside the home.
I could never go into foreign missions.
I could never give that up.
I could never take that on.
I could never . . .

And it's true, you know? We can't just do everything. Especially not on our own. But with friends, with family, with our churches, and most importantly, with God, we can be equipped to do exactly what He calls us to do. No more...but no less.

But how often do we let our fears, insecurities, and laziness interfere with that call? How often do we give up on or not even attempt to do that thing God has whispered in our ear because we don't think we can?

Back when Xoe was in kindergarten, I was seriously considering giving up on this whole homeschool thing. I didn't think I could anymore. I couldn't write and teach and take care of a toddler all at the same time. That was that time of overwhelming, when it was all so much, so heavy, that I was just exhausted by it.

Around that time, we had a healing service at our church, led by a Spirit-filled couple visiting from another church in our association. I remember slipping into a pew at the back of the church--so I could slip out again with my toddler if necessary. There weren't a lot of people there--maybe 15 or 20. I didn't want to draw attention. But I knew I needed something. I wasn't sick, but I was tired. Still, I didn't want to take the time of these guests when there were people there so desperate for a healing touch and me...I was okay. I was fine. I was getting along.

But the husband of the couple came back and slid into the pew in front of me and turned to face me. I'll never forget what he said. "You don't need a healing. But you need...something. Right? Refreshing?"

I'm not one for tears, but they filled my eyes at that moment, and I nodded. "I feel so overwhelmed," I said.

So he prayed for me. He prayed that God would shore me up, that He'd be my strength, that He'd breathe new life into my spirit and refresh me. He sat there for probably ten minutes and talked to me about putting on that Spiritual armor every day--and told me that sometimes wearing it isn't so we can be on the offensive, but on the defensive. That sometimes he imagines curling up into that armor and hiding in it, as if it's a turtle shell.

Because when we hide in Him, He takes care of it all.

That evening, something shifted. Maybe I didn't have a physical illness that needed to be healed, but my spirit needed it. And my spirit received it.

Never, in the intervening seven years, have I ever again felt like I did back then. Oh, I get tired. Exhausted. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. But only physically and mentally. Never spiritually. Thanks to that shift, I kept on homeschooling...and man. I know my kids would have been fine wherever they got their education, but I can't even count all the amazing moments we would have missed out on had I given it up when it really wasn't the time for me to step aside from it!

I didn't feel capable. And maybe I wasn't. But He was. He is.

With God fighting our battles for us, we can do whatever He asks. It isn't easy, but it isn't supposed to be. The thing is, it's possible. We become capable, in Him, of doing the things we are not capable of doing by ourselves.

I really can't tell you what changed that day in that back pew of my church. I can just tell you that the things that exhausted me then are but a portion of my daily tasks now. We get used to burdens until they don't feel like burdens anymore--that's part of it. The weight that it took all our effort to lift when we first started our training becomes easy over time if we keep working our muscles, right? The same goes in life. In our tasks. In our callings. In our spiritual lives.

I'm not saying busy is the best state to always be in. And I'm not saying there aren't still plenty of things that I have to say "No" to or delegate to someone else. I'm certainly no Superwoman.

But we're never asked to do the things He calls us to alone. We're just asked to step up, be willing, and follow in His footsteps.

Do you ever struggle with feeling capable of doing what you need or want to do?


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Poll!


I thought I'd take a break from series historical matters today, LOL, and instead bring to you a fun poll!

WhiteFire Publishing is launching a line of books for younger readers, as I announced last summer. We've now selected our launching titles, sent out contracts, and are selecting illustrators where appropriate... All very exciting stuff!

But one item yet remains.

Naming the line!


We'd like to choose something that'll sound great for that vast array of ages--not too young for the YA line, but still appealing to kids too.

When considering ideas, we liked something that hinted at either the white or the fire in the main line...but we're also in the process of acquiring another imprint, so we were also toying with names that would tie in with those. These options do those things, but we want to make sure they evoke the right images and ideas in readers' minds too! (For instance, WhiteAsh might make you think of ashes...whereas we'd be meaning the tree. Would a tree logo help ground the "correct" idea or not?)

If you have a second, please vote! And if you happen to have a young reader in your family, we'd love their opinions too!


Monday, April 16, 2018

Word of the Week - Hat Trick


Some families are football families. Baseball families. Basketball families.

We are a hockey family. And since the playoff just began and we're cheering our Penguins on, I thought I'd pause to look at one of the hockey terms. (Okay, so it was a trending word on www.etymonline.com, which is where I actually got the idea, LOL. Still!)

When I first started watching hockey with my husband, it was a constant case of, "What does that mean? Why are they doing that?" I knew none of the rules. Even now, twelve years later, I still occasionally have to ask for clarification or reasoning.

One of the early terms I needed defined was hat trick. Simple definition: when a single player scores three points in a game. In hockey, when a player gets a hat trick, the fans celebrate it by throwing their hats onto the ice. (One night, this happened during Free Hat Night, when every fan had been given a souvenir ball cap. Oh. My. Gracious. The ice was black with them!)

But where did this come from?

As it turns out, the phrase originated in the 1870s and was used in cricket for a player who took three wickets on three consecutive deliveries. The why isn't entirely clear. Some say that he'd be given a hat by his club, commemorating the feat. Some say he got to pass that hat around for congratulatory donations. Some say it's surely influenced by the magician's trick of pulling something out of his hat, which is recorded for the first time in the same few years. Probably a little bit of all of these.

By 1909, the phrase had been borrowed by hockey, for the feat mentioned above, and it's been a term in the sport ever since!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . Creator


This past weekend I just began my rotation teaching the kids at my church (being a small church, we alternate who's in with them so that the same person doesn't have the responsibility all the time). I decided to start a 36-week course aimed at tweens and teens (our kids range from 9-13), and it goes through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each in a 12-week course that focuses on a lot of tenets of faith, as they fall under the different headings. 

This first week, the focus was on God the Father as Creator.

Now, this is something the kids have studied so many times that they kinda start to groan when you say that's the topic of the day, LOL. They know Genesis. They've got it this way, that way, and the next way too. My kids have had homeschool classes on it. It's been covered by teacher after teacher at church. But this was a different take on it.

This was focused on why they should care that God is the Creator. What it really means for them. And for those who don't profess to faith. 

As I was preparing the lesson, an analogy struck me that I was pretty darn excited about, as it seems really perfect for this video-gaming generation. So I figured I'd lay it out here.

God is Creator. Even people who aren't Christians, people who don't really know what they believe, generally grant this. Obviously atheists don't, but I daresay if you go up to most people on the street and say, "Hey, do you think there's a Being who created the universe?" they'd say, "Yeah, probably. Sure."

So with that as a premise, we move into our video game analogy--and with a video game, there's obviously no debate about if, right? Obviously there's a creator.

Well, a month or two ago, my 10-year-old, video-game-happy son called me in to the living room. "Mama, you've got to see this! Watch! It's a video of the creator of the game playing this level. He does it perfectly."

It was true--and a lot of fun to watch. Because the game creator knew all the tricks, obviously. Every hidden door. Every power-up. He could get every coin, kill every boss, hit every ledge just right. He not only got the maximum number of points the level would allow, he did it in a time way faster than we ever could, skipping half those coins.

Because he knew that game with the perfect, intimate knowledge that only a creator can have.

Now, let's say this video game was serious business. Fun, yes, but maybe you'd entered a competition. You were at one of those big gaming conventions, and you had one of the seats. There was a big prize at stake. Huge money, maybe. The person with the highest score at the end of the day would win. Serious stuff, not just a play for fun in your living room sort of thing. High stakes. (Kinda like life.)

Then let's say that the creator showed up at the convention and announced to all the players, "Hey, I'm having a seminar at 10:00. Everyone's welcome. I'm going to show you guys all the tricks, all the hidden doors, what to watch out for, and how to get the highest score possible."


You'd be an idiot not to go, right? Because he's the creator. He knows it all. And he's offering to share that knowledge.

But not everyone goes. Some because they think they know better than him. Some because they say it won't be as fun if they do. Some because it'll cramp their style. Maybe some even doubt that this guy is really the creator--probably just some phony trying to get in their heads and psych them out.

But the people that go--they come away with some amazing knowledge on how to play the game, don't they? Maybe it'll take a little practice to figure it all out. Maybe sometimes, when they try that difficult maneuver he showed them, they mess up. Maybe sometimes they doubt they can really do it. But the creator ends up on the convention floor, at the competition. He's there, whispering advice and instructions along the way. He's invested. He wants people to succeed, and to have fun doing it.

I'm sure you see the analogy. If life, this world, is the video game, then God is the ultimate creator. He knows all the ins-and-outs. Where every boss hides, the secrets to bringing them down. He knows the secret doors and power-ups. He can, and did, play this game perfectly, as Jesus. And He offers His knowledge, His guidance, to everyone.

But not everyone cares. Not everyone wants to listen. It'll hamper their style, and it sure won't be as much fun, right?

Um...I don't know about you, but I don't find failing at a video game much fun. I find it frustrating. I'd rather know how to do something then keep banging my head against the pixelated wall. Same goes in life. I like the guidance, thank you. I like knowing that the Creator has my back and is there whispering in my ear, "This way. Don't forget about that right there. Now you want to pause. Now it's time to go."

If you're going to grant the Creator...why would you not listen to Him? At least, if your goal is to succeed. You'd listen to him on the game convention floor, right?

So let's listen to Him in life too. Common sense. Especially when the stakes are so much higher than a few thousand dollars.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Cover Design ~ Amongst the Roses by Meghan Gorecki


I have a blast designing book covers for all different genres--and sometimes I'll have particular fun doing one in a style I've never attempted before. But then there's my comfort zone...and for me, that's historical covers.

When Meghan Gorecki contacted me about designing the cover for her Civil War novel, I knew this would be a "comfort zone" cover, which made me smile. I'd critiqued the first couple chapters for her already and also knew the synopsis, so I had a bit of a feel for it before going on. That's always nice. And of course, Meghan had some ideas.

1.) Must have roses. "Somewhere, anywhere," she said. 😊
2.) Must have heroine only
3.) She liked sepia tones, mauve, dark red, browns, maybe a splash of navy
4.) She absolutely adored this cover for Joanne Bischof's upcoming novel (which I also love, and which my book club will be reading as soon as it comes out!)

https://joannebischof.com/books/sons-of-blackbird-mountain/

Some other elements she mentioned were the script/letter overlay (as letters are an important part of the story), a Pennsylvania farm, maybe a Civil War battlefield...

My first attempt included something else she'd mentioned, but which she decided would, in fact, be a spoiler, so I won't even mention it or show you that first cover. 😉 Suffice it to say that though it was a no-go, we both fell in love with the coloring, which gave me direction for what we did eventually go with. Which began with this...


I have no idea where this picture is actually from, but living in a state that borders with Pennsylvania, I can verify that this could be a PA farm. Or WV farm. Or a MD farm. Or any other number of farms in the mid-Atlantic. 😉 The rolling mountain in the background, the green grass, abundant trees...yep. A perfect background. I did have to do some resizing, though, and actually stretch the grass and sky both, to end up with the needed format...


So then it was time to go in search of a heroine. There aren't a ton of stock photos that have a genuine hoopskirt dress, but I liked the colors and positions of this girl...


The dress wasn't wide enough, and the face and hair didn't fit the description of the heroine, but those can, of course, be changed. Let's start with the new head. I liked the expression on this girl's face, and the body position was the same, so that would work.


Putting this head on the first body/dress and widening the skirt, I ended up with this...


Not a bad start! Next, of course, came the roses. I played with a few different options. First I thought maybe I'd do a trellis...

But that ended up obscuring too much of the background, and it was hard to get all the edges to look neat and tidy. So I ended up going with this shot that was in the color scheme I wanted.


Aren't they pretty? I made them the foreground and ended up with this.


Of course, the coloring of the three different images doesn't exactly match in this, does it? It looks like a mash-up. Looks "Photoshopped." Isn't natural. So I added a filter.


Much better! Isn't it amazing how a photo filter over the different layers can draw them together? This one is Nashville, part of the Instant Hipster Photoshop Action pack.

So this is our basic image. There are, of course, still a few crucial elements missing, and some tweaking too. For starters, this girl's hair is too dark, so I did some lightening. This can be a tricky step, actually. Darkening is easier, and making it red is the easiest of all, LOL. But with some detailed changes to the curves, brightness, levels, saturation, and coloring, I ended up with a result Meghan and I were both happy with.


Next came that text overlay, up in the sky. Had I just plopped it in there in a normal fashion, it would have looked like this:



That wouldn't do, of course. I changed the layer blend mode to Overlay, however, and got this.


As an added bonus, this even brightened the sky, which I loved!

So now the image part is finished. It's time to turn to the title and series name, etc. First, I added some fade layers so that the words would stand out.


This actually has two different fade layers. A cream one more in the center, where the title would go (currently where my logo is) and a teal layer on the bottom, for behind the author name. So plugging that important text in there...


The normal serif type here is Oldstyle, which has a bit of a typewriter look. I used that for both "Amongst the" and "Meghan M. Gorecki." We tried out a few different scripts before we found the right one, and we decided on Marcella Script.

The only thing left was the series! The series Title is Keystone Legacy, and I knew she wanted a keystone incorporated into it, so I found one with stylized elements on the side, made it gold, and put the name in there.


So adding that one, we have the final front cover!


And here's the full cover too.





The War Between the States shakes Margaret Bryant out of her comfortable upper-class life when her father enlists in the Army of the Potomac. Despite being safely ensconced above the Mason-Dixon Line in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Margaret finds her strength tested by opposition from familiar faces and Confederate threats. Will she let a young man from a lesser station into her heart even as war rages ever nearer to the homefront?

Restless Connor Doyle sees the war as a way to escape from his family’s farm and his identity as a poor Irishman’s son. His brother, Adam, torn between duty to country and his family, enlists alongside Connor. Adam dares to hope in a future with Margaret when he begins a courtship correspondence from the war front. The two brothers make a vow to protect one another at all costs, but when faced with death and destruction from all sides—will they be able to uphold it?

The three bloodiest days in America’s history brings these three together at Gettysburg and tragedy’s cruelty threatens to tear two hearts apart—and bring two unlikely allies together.

If you follow the link I have on the title above, you'll see that the Kindle version releases tomorrow and the paperback is already available. 😁

I hope you enjoyed the peek into the cover design process on this one! What's your favorite part of the cover?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Word of the Week - Mannequin


I looked this one up, wanting to use it in a book set in 1917...only to find a history I knew nothing about!

So mannequin has been around since 1902, but it wasn't a form used to display clothes. Or rather, not a non-living one. When mannequin first appeared, it was the term used for a fashion model! So those well-formed young ladies who modelled clothes were the mannequins, not the dress-forms used in display windows. That meaning didn't come along until 1939!

That said, the word did sometimes mean "artificial man" before 1902, apparently especially in the translation of Hugo. This because it's directly from French.

Interesting to note that we also have the word manikin, from the Dutch for "little man," which was specifically a jointed figure used by artists. So the little 4-inch tall artist's model I got my daughter for Christmas is a manikin. The meanings have blended over the years, but they were once two distinct things from two different languages. Who knew?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . Lord of the Nooks and Crannies


In my church's Wednesday night Bible study, we've been reading through Romans, taking it just a few verses at a time and really digging deep, beneath the easy and accepted answers to try to grasp the subtleties of what Paul is saying. Most recently, we've been in chapter 7, where Paul is talking about how we battle with sin.

Using the present tense, he talks about his own struggles to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing. This isn't just the battle or the sin from before the Damascus Road experience--this is now. I think all too often people use this as an excuse. "Look, even Paul still struggled with sin, so surely it's not surprising that I do!"

But it's important to ask what sins he's talking about. Is he still struggling with persecuting Christians? I don't think so. With legalism? Paul's letters certainly never indicated that this is something he deals with--in fact, we see him in Acts calling out others on it.

So should we be still struggling with our Big Sins from before we accepted Christ? Or rather, should we be okay with still struggling with those, just accepting it as part of humanity? That has never sat right with me.

And on Good Friday last week, the sermon brought this up again in my thoughts. We had a guest speaker, a retired pastor who is a regular attendee at our church. As he spoke about the work of the Cross and how the crucified Christ worked His salvation miracle for all our sins, he touched again on how those sins change over the years.

How the closer we grow to our perfect God, the more imperfections we can see in ourselves. We're not struggling with the same old sins, repeating them over and again. We're becoming ever mindful of new levels we need to reach.

Much as I hate cleaning, this is a perfect analogy. I could use any number of examples--property after a tornado, a house after a flood, a child's messy room, a table on which you've been kneading dough. The same principles apply to all.

When you begin cleaning, you start with the Big Stuff. The trees and branches; the debris and destroyed furniture; the entire toy box worth of contents on the floor; the mounds of flour and bits of crusty dough.

In being cleansed from sin, these are the obvious things. The murder and adultery and idolatry. This is where God is saying, "Yeah, we'll worry later about whether you pray in every moment you should. Right now, let's just make sure you're not still frequenting the prostitutes at the temple in Corinth, okay?" I'm not saying clearing this is easy. It's not. It's hard work, and if you've been mired in these big, noticeable sins for a long time, breaking free of them is work. Manual labor style, exhausting work. But there's no question of whether you need to do it after you come to Christ, so you buckle down and get to it.

But once the big stuff is cleared out, after you take a breather, thinking, "Wow, I did good work! I cleaned up a lot of my life! Let me just take a peek at what I've done..." you go back and look. And do you know what you see?

All the twigs still scattered around your property. The mud on your floor. The bits of paper and trash in your kid's room. The oval of flour on the table that just won't brush off.

Maybe in your spiritual life, this is the loving your neighbor and loving God first. Still important things, right? Your yard or house or room or table sure don't look clean with them there. Similarly, your spiritual life is obviously not right if you say you've accepted Christ but can't spare a kind word for anyone around. So you set to work on those too.

And once you finish this round, it might look pretty good, right? If you don't look too closely, it's neat and tidy.

But we're not finished. There are still leaves in the yard. The room needs scrubbed. The floor needs to be vacuumed. The table wiped down, maybe even sprayed with something. And it doesn't end there, either. Because the wind will blow again, footprints will be tracked in, new toys dropped, fingerprints or new food will land on that clean table.

Cleaning up our souls is a process too--a never-ending one. Because as we continue to live and encounter new situations, new clutter or dirt lands on us, right? It's not that we should be continually working on those first things--it's that the cleaner we get, the more nit-picky we get. Those tiny flaws that weren't even visible under the big problems--the nooks and crannies of our spirits--need our attention once the bigger stuff is cleared away.

But I love that our God is so big and yet so detail-oriented. The God of the cyclone is also the God of the whisper. The Lord who forgives us for the Big Sins also pours out His mercy on those nooks and crannies.
Because He wants us to be Holy, as He is holy.

He doesn't want us to be content with clean enough. He wants our souls and spirits and hearts to be pure. Pristine. Like His.

Are we too content to stop after the first or second round, or let new clutter undo the work we've done before? What crannies inside us need His attention today?