Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . Preserving the Sacred in Historical Fiction

For the past few weeks...or perhaps months...I've had this realization swirling through my mind. One that explains why I like some historical fiction better than others. One that most of the world (or at least the mainstream world) doesn't seem to share.

My thoughts on this started when I read a bestselling ABA historical, The Alice Network, a few months ago. I'd been on the wait-list on Overdrive for months--so long that I'd forgotten I'd requested it, or why, or who recommended it to me by the time it actually arrived on my Kindle, LOL. But I read it, and overall I really enjoyed it. The writing is phenomenal, and the story was gripping--a dual story line, one about a female spy for England in WWI occupied France (hence why it was recommended to me), and the other just after WWII, following a young woman as she goes in search of her missing French cousin. It's been a while since I've read anything outside the Christian market, so there was a wee bit of culture shock to suddenly have bedroom scenes and bad language in front of me, LOL. But that didn't really get to me (I mean, I do watch TV, so that's not exactly shocking to my senses, much as I don't like it). It wasn't the historical character's rather modern take on sexuality--that actually had an explanation that built the character and was necessary for her development.

What bothered me was a relatively small plot point (and in no way ruins the whole book, which was fabulous): the fact that the author took an actual historical figure and turned him into an adulterer--excusing it by describing his wife as half crazy and self-obsessed. This isn't new in mainstream historical fiction--this is why I couldn't stand to watch Turn after the first season--but it bothers me. For so many reasons, it bothers me. Not just in this instance, but as a symptom of society's views today.

First of all, it goes against my personal code for writing historical novels (not that I hold others to my standard, but it's what got my attention about it first). I determined long ago the kind of historical fiction I wanted to write, and it obeys a simple mantra that I developed: Facts are sacred, motivation is up for grabs.

Which is to say, if something is recorded as happening, then it happened. Period. I will not mess with fact. But as for why things happen, why people make the choices they do...even if history gives us a reason, who's to say the writer of that history really knew what was going on in the person's heart or mind? The why is always open for interpretation in my book. And in my books. ๐Ÿ˜‰

So I get a little twitchy when other historical writers play fast and loose with facts. But I can imagine the author of this book claiming that's exactly what she was doing--she was explaining the facts with this motivation. That this fellow was in love with her fictional character. Which is great...except that it means a historical figure was turned into an adulterer. By my definition, this changes his fact. Because it changes a person's entire moral fiber. It's one thing to create a fictional mistress for a known womanizer. It's quite another to take someone recorded as a man of upright character and decide he'd be more interesting if he had an affair. If it were me, I'd have no problem writing him as falling in love with my character--motivation--but I wouldn't have changed his fact. He never would have acted on it, and his nobility would have had the same effect on the heroine that his physical love did, to drive her onward.

With all the insistence that writers not defame historical figures (because let's face it, we never know when descendants might sue), I'm not sure how and why this particular defamation is okay. But in today's society, it seems to be. And that is what ultimately bothers me. Not that an author would do it, but that no one cares. I'm not just upset on behalf of the bygone people (though can you imagine if someone wrote YOU this way in 90 years??), but because it speaks to what our culture doesn't even consider bad anymore. Apparently it doesn't bother most of today's readers to think that a man cheats on his wife, especially if his wife isn't exactly likable.

That hurts my heart. And takes me back to my title. So much of the world today cares little for the sacred. And by that, I mean matters of faith and God and the Church, yes, but also those moral covenants we make with one another. When I speak of preserving the sacred in fiction, I want it to include faith, to include facts, but also to include that understanding of bonds, of covenants, of things larger than ourselves or our happiness.

It used to be that a person's reputation was everything. Today, it seems that being infamous is just as desirable as being famous. That notoriety has eclipsed respect. We've gone from making heroes of our villains to making villains of our heroes, and we don't even notice that we've done it. Our definitions have changed.

But I think the questions still need to be asked: What gives us the right to redefine what they believed, those who came before us? To change the type of people they were? We don't have to agree with it--with their stands, with their beliefs, with their facts. But all too often today, people want to change it. To turn ordinary, low-level authority military men into adulterers. To turn godly men who happened to fight for the Confederacy into villains. To strip Christians in history of the very things they stood for and not see the problem with it...because we don't value those things anymore.

But if we do that...who's to say our own beliefs--whether we think the sacred or the self more important--won't be rewritten after we have gone?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Cover Design ~ An Unexpeted Legacy

A couple weeks ago, I shared a guest post from Amy Anguish about the difficulty of coming up with a title for her novel, An Unexpected Legacy (originally called For the Love of Smoothies). Today I thought I'd take you behind the scenes of the cover design process for the book, from when it was smoothie-focused to what we ended up with!

Amy is also generously offering a GIVEAWAY of her book to one lucky winner, so be sure to read all the way to the bottom for the entry form!

When we first began work on this cover, Amy and her publisher, Sandi, told me they wanted a couple sitting at a table with smoothies, looking at a photo album. Fluttering down there would be a ripped photo.

In this first version, I hadn't yet found a photo for the fluttering bit, so there's just a blank white piece of paper falling.

But this wasn't it. Sandi suggested we try one with the emphasis being on the smoothies, and with the font maybe written like a spilled smoothie. So I tried this. In here, we do have a ripped photo, as well as dog tags, as the hero had been in the military.

But this wasn't it either. None of us really liked that couple from the back. So for take 3, we decided to try out a couple holding hands on a table, smoothies at their arm, the ripped photo visible.

But this still wasn't the vibe they wanted. After taking some time to think and reconsider, Sandi let me know that she was trying to talk Amy into changing the title (as you can read about in the previous post), and that if we wanted a more serious image, the title needed to correspond. Part of the issue we were having with these versions was that it felt too light and fun for the story. I'm sure this is partially because of my font selection, which suited the title but apparently not the tone of the book itself.

Eventually, Sandi came back to me with a new idea, a new concept, and a new title. An Unexpected Legacy, she said. And let's try an autumnal look, with a couple viewed through a window. She also wanted something with a hint of the mystery aspect, the idea that the heroine's aunt is trying to keep them apart. I suggested a hand holding back a curtain. As long as it didn't look too creepy, LOL, she said that was promising.

Starting from there, I found, first, a window.

And a couple to be outside it.

Putting those together and adjusting the coloring/lighting on the window to look right, I had this.

I did lengthen his pants--they were shorts in the original photo, but a bit of smudging got those longer. And we didn't want her pointing, so I also lowered her arm.

Next came the curtain and hand. I found this photo on Shutterstock...

...and selected the hand and curtain, plopped them on top of the working image thus far, and adjusted the colors.

In this one, I also added a burst of light there where the sun was.

This, I thought, was a pretty good base. We have our main elements--couple, window, hand pulling back curtain--so now it was just a matter of getting the full look.

For starters, for the autumnal look, I wanted some deeper reds. So I added the Sutro filter.

I loved the depth and the tones that added, so then it was a simple matter of the finishing touches. At this point, I put the (new) title and author name on.

This was at about 90% in my opinion. But that last 10% is key. So to take it up another few degrees, I added two things. First, a fun little flourish behind the title, for a hint of the original whimsy.

And then light rays coming from that sun, because we all know how those gorgeous beams look, coming through a window in the fall. This is a very subtle change, but it adds something to the overall.

I still wasn't quite satisfied though. That upper left corner felt too empty. So I decided to add some autumn leaves.

Much better! These are using the Color Burn blending mode, which gives it that particular shading. Happy enough to show Sandi and Amy, I sent this version to them. Sandi asked if there could be a single falling leaf somewhere, which I thought was perfect. So I added that.

And here it is! This ended up being the final front cover, but Amy did still want to see it with her original title, so I made one with the same fonts but the old words.

Seeing the two side by side helped her decide on the new title, I think. =) But I promised that we could incorporate the smoothies and dogtags on the back. Using this image of the smoothies...

...and these dog tags...

...with this bokeh to add the same light and coloring as the front...

...gave me this.

Toss the words on the back, and voila!

So here's the full cover.

What do you think? Do you like the direction we ended up going in? The new title?

Interested in owning a paperback of this book? If so, you can enter the giveaway below!


Please enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Giveaway ends 2/27/18 11:59PST. US mailing addresses only. Void where prohibited.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Word of the Week - Scrapbook

A commonplace book, circa mid-1600s.
Photo via Beinecke Flickr Laboratory
This special request comes from Bev Duell-Moore. =) And hilariously, as soon she asked me to feature it, I did a quick search...which came in mighty handy just a few days later, when I needed a scrapbook in the historical line of my current story! So thanks, Bev. LOL

There isn't a whole lot of description on this word's history. It's quite simply scrap + book.  But you might not realize how old this concept is! Originally written with a hyphen, scrap-book (as a noun) dates all the way back to the 1820s. But even then, it was just a new word for a very old concept.

As early as the 1400s, people were making scrapbooks...and calling them commonplace books. These were books where they compiled recipes, quotations, letters, patterns, poems...any little thing they wanted to keep in a safe place for easy reference.

Vintage scrapbook (late 19th century) currently in
The Women's Museum in Dallas, TX - photo via Wikipedia
As the years wore on, this idea went in new directions. People would create scrapbooks to memorialize certain periods of their life, especially college. It became a popular alternative to journaling, because it included more than words, even in the age before photographs became easy to acquire and include.

So when did scrapbooking move from this centuries-old hobby to what it is today? That move is credited to Marielen Wadley Christensen who, in the 1980s, began creating family albums that were very stylized and put in protective sheets of plastic. In 1981 she published a how-to book on doing this, and the modern scrapbook was born. Today, of course, you can go into any craft or art store and find gorgeous supplies for this purpose.

Student's scrapbook, circa 1906, from Smith College.
Photo via Wikipedia
Do you do much/any scrapbooking? I've never been bitten by that particular bug, but I do appreciate looking at the beautiful books my sister has created!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cover Reveal ~ An Hour Unspent + GIVEAWAY!

Today is a very special day!

Not JUST because it is Valentine's Day...Although that is a pretty grand reason to celebrate.
Today, we are celebrating the cover reveal for An Hour Unspent, book 3 in my Shadows Over England series.

I am so grateful to the entire team at Bethany House for the dedication and thought that they have put into every cover in this series. An Hour Unspent was no exception...and this cover truly made me giddy when I first saw it...Ok, it STILL makes me giddy.

First...A little about the book...

Once London’s top thief, Barclay Pearce has turned his back on his life of crime and now uses his skills for a nation at war. But not until he rescues a clockmaker’s daughter from a mugging does he begin to wonder what his future might hold.

Evelina Manning has constantly fought for independence but she certainly never meant for it to inspire her fiancรฉ to end the engagement and enlist in the army. When the intriguing man who saved her returns to the Manning residence to study clockwork repair with her father, she can’t help being interested. But she soon learns that nothing with Barclay Pearce is as simple as it seems.

As 1915 England plunges ever deeper into war, the work of an ingenious clockmaker may give England an unbeatable military edge—and Germany realizes it as well. Evelina’s father soon finds his whole family in danger—and it may just take a reformed thief to steal the time they need to escape it. 

Are you intrigued yet? If you have read the first two books in the series, you will know that Barclay and his "family" are a bit unconventional and fiercely loyal. I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to introduce them to you.

Now, are you ready? 

...Drum roll please....

...I give you....

...The cover...


An Hour Unspent

Keep an eye on the website for more pre-order options as they become available!

I absolutely love that inside-the-clock view! When my editor told me they'd be doing that, I was super excited, and I adore how it turned out. So unique! Such an interesting perspective! And featuring the daughter of my fictional clockmaker who tends to the clock in Big Ben...perfect. =)

I can not wait for you to read Barclay's story, which will be releasing in September! In the mean time, how about a little GIVEAWAY to tide you over until then?

I am giving away the FIRST two books in the series to ONE lucky winner. Please enter the giveaway via the Rafflecopter form below. Giveaway will end 2/21/18 at 11:59pm EST. Open to U.S. mailing addresses only. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I want to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Word of the Week - Autograph

Upon special request, today we're going to look into the word autograph . . . which is fitting, since there are just a couple days left in this month's sale of autographed copies of The Reluctant Duchess! ;-)

I didn't give it too much thought when this request came in, but as soon as I sat down today and decided to feature it, I realized I knew where this word came from without even having to look it up. Though I still looked it up, just to be sure, LOL.

The Ancient Greeks wrote using the phoenetic writing system. The writing system used in Ancient Greece is reflected in the modern day writing system - #greek #language of the #Macedonians - #Macedonia Greek dialects - inscription discusses and event in #thessaloniki , Macedonia northern Greece
The word came to English in 1791 as "a person's signature." It was borrowed from the French, which was taken from the Latin, which was borrowed directly from the Greek. There are two parts of this word: auto, which means "self" in Greek, and graph, from the Greek grapho, which means "to write." Originally it was used in Greek to mean "written by one's own hand." This was also the first meaning to come into English, in 1640--it meant a manuscript one wrote oneself.

As far as the verb form goes, by the early 1800s, it had evolved out the noun to mean that one wrote something in one's own hand. "To sign one's name" didn't come about until 1837! Pretty late, eh? And yet the roots of the word are about as old as they can get.

And given that I've been making my kids learn Greek for the last several years and grapho was one of the first verbs we learned, I really should have known that one from the start, LOL.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . The Collective

Last Thursday, my family used some Christmas money to attend a hockey game in Pittsburgh--something we've been wanting to do for years. Six years ago, hubby and Xoe went to one while I stayed with Rowyn in the hotel room (because he wasn't quite 4 and had a hard time staying up that late, LOL), but our darling son never forgot that he didn't get to go have fun with Papa and Xoe, so eventually I came up with this plan to put Christmas money toward the tickets. ๐Ÿ˜

Photo by Alex Korolkoff on Unsplash
Now, I'm not a huge sports fan in general, but after watching hundreds of hockey games with David over the years, I certainly know how the game works and enjoy it. I mean, not enough to put my book or knitting down, most of the time, but I listen and obligingly look up when he directs me to a particularly brilliant play. ;-) So even though there's no announcers giving you the play-by-play while you're watching it live (I was shocked at how QUIET it was!), I could follow along.

We won, which was fun. But something I enjoyed even more was the collective nature of being in that audience. The community. Let me see if I can explain my thoughts.

I've been to football games, pro baseball games, that sort of thing, so I'm no stranger to the unanimous cheering and all that, but it was different in the hockey arena. Every time there was a shot on the goal and it missed, there was a collective groan/gasp that went through the entire arena. Twenty thousand "Ugggghhhhh"s is quite a thing! And when there was a score, twenty thousand fans surged to their feet. No one was more concerned with the food or beer (though those Dunkin Donuts were calling my name...) during the periods. Everyone was riveted to the game--because unlike football or baseball, you can't look away for a minute, because you literally never know when the next scoring opportunity will come. 

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash
As I pondered these collective reactions, it reminded me anew that we--humanity--weren't built to be alone. We're created to live in societies, to be members of communities, to thrive on experiences shared by others. I'm not an extrovert--but there's no denying how much I appreciate those hours spent with my church family, my actual family, my book club, my homeschool group. These are my people, and I need them.

Whenever I think about these things, this article springs to mind. I daresay I've linked to it before, but it bears repeating. It's on the rise of glass mirrors in Europe and how that changed the entire structure of civilization--mindsets became more about "me" once people could see themselves clearly, and less about "community." It used to be the case that the worse punishment imaginable was to be excommunicated or exiled. Now, if one community or group tosses you out, it's relatively easy to just move to another and find a new place, not just because of ease of travel, but because we've become a culture that teaches "It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of you." When that used to be the only thing that mattered.

It's especially interesting to consider the positives and negatives of this change in the church. On the one hand, it has a direct correlation to the rise of the Protestant emphasis on personal relationships with God. I deem that good. But at the same time, it corresponds to a direct decrease in the value put on community.

But it still matters. And whether we see it most in a hockey arena or when our hands are all lifted in corporate worship, community remains vital to humanity. Sometimes I need a reminder of that--that it isn't about me and what I have to do, but about us, and what we can achieve together.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Landing on "Right" with Amy Anguish

Today, please welcome guest author Amy Anguish to the blog! Amy's here to talk about the, ahem, joy of renaming her novel, published by Tulpen Publishing. I had the pleasure of designing the cover for this book, which you'll see below. But for now, heeeeeeeeere's Amy!

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Didn’t Shakespeare make it sound so nice? The thing is, once an author has given a name to her work, it’s hard to consider changing it. Even if it makes sense.

When I started writing An Unexpected Legacy in 2011, I titled it For the Love of Smoothies. All I knew was that the boy and girl would meet at a smoothie shop and that would be the mutual love that would keep them coming back together through any or all trials. The more I thought about it, the more I knew they were going to have some mutual history in their family that would need to be worked through before their own relationship could work. Other than that, I really didn’t know where all the story would take me. I set out to write a romance, period.

By the end of the process, I had a rough draft that included two intertwined stories, one the main story of my original boy and girl, and one from the past. I won’t tell much more now because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. But let’s suffice it to say that I was a little surprised when, toward the end of the editing process this spring, my editor suggested that my story was more than a simple romance. It’s a Romantic Suspense or Cozy Mystery. A mystery!? I don’t even read mysteries most of the time! How on earth did I pull that off? That’s what ran through my head.

Then, she recommended that I change the title. My working title sounded too fun and flirty and silly, almost, for a book that had as much depth and intrigue as mine evidently did. Don’t get me wrong. I was flattered that she thought those things about my story. I was blown away by the thought of changing something that had been my story’s name for almost six years. And I was more than a bit bumfuzzled as to what to change the title to. 

We threw names back and forth, playing with various words that included “Legacy,” “History,” “Surprise,” “Family,” and “Trouble.” I didn’t want it to sound like just any other book that people would pick up. And I hated the thought of giving up the fun title I had originally come up with. But the more we talked (and polled her Facebook friends), the more it was evident that it really did need to change. Finally, late one night, after being up in the wee hours with my almost-one-year-old, I came up with “An Unexpected History.” I’m married to a history teacher, so it sounded okay to me. My editor changed it to “Legacy” because evidently some people think history is boring. Who knew? Even though I still hated the thought of giving up my original title, this was the first one we had come up with that I was comfortable with.

We sent the new title to the amazingly talented Roseanna who had already been working with about three or four different ideas we had sent her way for possible cover art. Once she had this title and the last idea, she hammered out the beautiful cover that graces my book today. When I saw it all together, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. After all, this is my first published book, the work of six years of writing and thinking about, editing and praying and talking over. And there was this perfect cover that you could see on any great book at a store. But this one had MY NAME on it. And really, isn’t that the most important name anyway?

Roseanna here, jumping in to say that we did work the smoothie theme in...on the back.๐Ÿ˜‰

An Unexpected Legacy

Smoothies brought them together, but will the past tear them apart?

When Chad Manning introduces himself to Jessica Garcia at her favorite smoothie shop, it's like he stepped out of one of her romance novels. But as she tentatively walks into a relationship with this man of her dreams, secrets from their past threaten to shatter their already fragile bond.  Chad and Jessica must struggle to figure out if their relationship has a chance or if there is nothing between them but a love of smoothies.

Amy Anguish grew up a preacher’s kid, and in spite of having lived in seven different states that are all south of the Mason Dixon line, she is not a football fan. Currently, she resides in Tennessee with her husband, daughter, and son, and usually a cat or two. Amy graduated with a degree in English from Freed-Hardeman University and hopes in all her creative endeavors to glorify God, but especially in her writing. She wants her stories to show that while Christians face real struggles, it can still work out for good.