Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snowy Days and Contentment

These snowy January days remind me of a favorite poem by Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I share it here along with a few favorite winter scenes I love.

We live next to my parents on a dead end dirt road. I often think of this poem in the winter when I take time to do a favorite thing--take a walk to mom's for tea, in the dark, on a snowy night. Sounds are muffled and insulated, lights are transformed into twinkling stars with fuzzy halos. Snowflakes fall on my nose and eyelashes. They make me smile again even though I struggle with this winter season.

January Scene in our Woods

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

By Robert Frost
New Hampshire
1923

There are moments in life when it seems time is transcended, even suspended, and peace feels tangible and visceral. These moments are like plot points in the big story--moments when you know you are in a story that's going somewhere important. Like plot points on a graph that form a line, moving in a certain direction. Momentum, from a power beyond the tedium of everyday life. It's a reassurance that the minutia in life is okay--it's just the line between the points. When I experience these woods on a snowy evening, I want to stay there and stay in the comfort of the knowing.

But alas, I have miles to go before I sleep.
Sigh. Contented sigh.

Just don't miss the snowy evenings. Take time to know them. Sometimes you make time for them. Sometimes they creep up on you pleasantly like the stillness in the woods, in the dark, as the flakes fall softly down.
Sigh. Contented sigh.





Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview with Jody Hedlund

I'm happy to tell you all that Jody Hedlund joins my blog today for an interview about her latest release, The Doctor's Lady (2011). Plus we'll get a little idea about her next release, Unending Devotion set to release in September of this year (2012). And.....drumroll please.....there will be a FREE drawing for a book give away of The Doctor's Lady. Details to follow.....



So, go fill your coffee mug, cover up with a nice throw and tuck your feet underneath it until you're snugly warm while we hear about what inspired Jody to write this wonderful tale I just finished. No spoilers though for those who haven't read it yet!



Jody Hedlund is an award-winning author of inspirational historical romances, including the best-selling historical, The Preacher's Bride. She received a bachelor's degree from Taylor University and a master's from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Midland, Michigan, with her husband and five busy children.

1. Jody, how did you come across the historical journals that sparked your interest in this story?

Because I homeschool my children, I do a LOT of reading to them. Part of that reading includes "living history" books about real people. When we were reading about the settling of the western part of the United States, I pulled out a children's book about Narcissa Whitman and read it to my children.

Of course, in reading the book, I was fascinated by Narcissa's story and wanted to delve deeper into all of the "what ifs." I presented the idea to my publisher and they were interested in it as well.

2. Did you get the chance to do any on sight research, or have you ever been to any of the places along Eli and Priscilla's journey?

Although I suggested taking a trip in a covered wagon to re-enact the journey west, my family didn't go for it. *Sigh* I can't understand why! It would have been so fun to be hot and sweaty and walk for hundreds of miles with very little to eat!

No seriously, I wasn't able to do on sight research for this trip. Instead I relied upon Narcissa's diary as well as other firsthand records of pioneers who had traveled the route.

3. How on earth do you carve out time to research and write when you home school 5 children? I mean, I'm picturing 5 well-behaved, perfect children, sitting at desks lined in your dining room or living room, quietly doing their assignments while you are banging away on your keyboard! How do you find the balance?

It's definitely not easy. I feel like I have two very full time jobs! But like any other writer trying to balance dual careers or multiple responsibilities, I've had to look for ways to make it work. I try to keep school time and my writing time separate. That way I can focus on my children while we're doing school. Then when we're done in the afternoon, they're ready for a break from me, and I'm ready to write. My husband also pitches in so I get a little extra writing time when he's teaching the kids.

4. What was your favorite part about writing this novel? Hardest part?

I loved being able to bring Narcissa Whitman to life. This heroic woman has often been ignored and at times even disparaged. In reality, she exuded incredible courage to attempt the journey west--a trip many proclaimed foolishly dangerous. Because of her willingness to brave the unknown, she led the way for the many women who would follow in her footsteps in what later would become known as the Oregon Trail.

I struggled the most during the editing phase. After my Bethany House editors read the book, they asked me to make major changes on some things they didn't like--a few things that were too realistic and slightly depressing. The rewriting is always hard for me, but once I'm done I'm always grateful for the suggestions because I know they make my book better.

5. What advice would you give to budding historical fiction writers without agents or contracts?

Write a couple books first and unleash your creativity. Then start reading fiction how-to books. Study techniques, practice them, and keep writing. Read a lot of historical fiction too. However, don't just read for pleasure. Instead make sure to analyze what works, what grips you, what's selling, and how you can fit into the current publishing climate but still offer something new.

6. What hints can you bait your faithful readers with about your next book?

My next book is called Unending Devotion and it releases in September of this year (2012). I'm really excited about this story because it's set in my home state of Michigan. It takes place during the 1880's at a time in history when the lumber era was at its height. Although the story isn't inspired by a true person the way my first two books have been, I do include several real people, particularly a real villain by the name of James Carr, who was notorious in central Michigan for his violence and for introducing white slavery into the state.

The heroine of the story is a young woman, Lily Young, who is looking for her sister who's caught up into the degradation of lumber camp life. While Lily searches for her missing sister, she fights against the evil that runs rampant around her, and she fights not to lose her heart to the lumber baron who turns a blind eye to the lawlessness of the lumber business.

7. What brings you the most joy about writing?

As a writer, I love telling stories. I especially like the feeling that comes as I near the end of the book when everything looks hopeless, the characters are in big trouble, and somehow I'm able to wrap up the book in a satisfying way. I call it the first-draft love affair!  I fall absolutely and madly in love with the story and think it's the best thing I've ever written.

As a published author, I love hearing from readers. I'm always thrilled to get emails or hand-written notes from readers telling me how much my story touched them.

You can find Jody online at http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/ at her blog. She can also be found on Facebook at Author Jody Hedlund, or on her website www.jodyhedlund.com


So, dear blog fans, to enter the drawing for a chance to win a free copy of The Doctor's Lady, just make a comment, include your email in the comment. In one week, the winner will receive an email contact in order to mail the book to you!

I hope you all enjoyed meeting Jody. I know you will enjoy the journey she takes you on with Eli and Priscilla.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Career-Minded-Closet-Romantic

Are you one?

I am.

I was thrilled to read Rachel Kent's blog post today at Books & Such about a new movie coming out, Austenland. It's based on a 30-something who is obsessed with Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice and sets out to find her own Mr. Darcy. I was pleasantly surprised that Rachel described Jane Austen fans as "career-minded-closet-romantics"!
Read her post at http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/coming-soon-to-theaters-austenland/

That description fits me and I believe many other women who love a good drama, great love story, or a cute chick flick. So why do you suppose this is true? Why do career-minded women feel the need to be hidden in a closet about their romantic inclinations and preferences?

Well, for one, feelings and imaginations are private (and there's something to be said about keeping some things appropriately private). 


And work is work, and dreams are dreams. 


And when we are at work, we are supposed to be applying our minds and skills right? I mean, no one wants me thinking about Mr. Darcy when I'm suturing up a laceration, right!?

But mainly, I think that career-driven women in today's society pride themselves in their more logical aspects and gifts. They like to believe they can solve problems, organize their work projects, and accomplish meaningful work without appearing sappy or starry-eyed. And in their work worlds, women have had to compete with men for these job spots--men who are logical, intelligent, and savvy. It seems perfectly acceptable for a businessman to droll out the mouth about his hobbies outside of work--golf, fishing, hunting, sports--and maybe the walls of his office are even splattered with pictures and portraits of those adventures. But are women less likely to show their softer side at work? I know I certainly don't have my favorite book covers or movie posters plastered all over my personal office space at work--although I have a space reserved for that on my home office wall!!

Do we think that somehow we will be viewed differently? Weaker? Less intelligent? More vulnerable if we admit that we have a yen for romantic stories---let alone that we might actually write them? Gasp! Sigh. Several of my coworkers know I like to write, but why do I feel slightly embarrassed to explain that I write romance? At least the Historical Romance descriptor seems a bit more legitimate right? Oh how silly. Why does it matter?

Well, mainly, it matters to me.

I want my characters to be intelligent women who struggle with the same things that real Thinking-Closet-Romantics struggle with. I believe that is why Jane Austen is so loved. Her ability to write wit showed that though Elizabeth Bennett of Pride & Prejudice is completely blind to her love for Mr. Darcy, it's not for lack of intelligence.

Intelligence and Romance are not incompatible. I don't separate them any more than I do Logic and Science from Faith. Don't you think that makes for a more interesting story, whether it's your personal story or a story of fiction?

I do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pieces of History: What Truth Inspires Your Fiction?

I've been thinking a lot about what inspires me to even want to tackle fiction writing.

What inspires you?
--to write?
--to read?
--to research?

More than just a desire to gain a new perspective, I think it's pieces of history that spark my curiosity and make me ask the questions. For instance, I bought an antique soapstone foot warmer.



I love to set it on our wood stove until it's toasty warm, then I take it to my office and rest my feet on it while I write. What about this piece of history? How old is it? Who used it? Did a young lady use it in her carriage or sleigh in the cold midwestern winters? Is soapstone native around here? Was it handcrafted from local natural resources or ordered from afar? What 19th century gowns draped the chilly legs of the fair maidens who rested their patten leather shoes upon it?

And that's only the beginning. With a little push from the reality of history, it doesn't take much for the imagination to go wild! 

Recently my mother was sent a family heirloom, a quilt that is 100 years old. The relative who sent it knew that my mother has researched the family history and wanted it to go to someone who would cherish it and care for it well. She researched on the web how to wash an antique quilt, and it held up beautifully.


I researched on the internet what kind of pattern it is. It seems to be a unique variation of the "Monkey Wrench" quilt pattern. It was hand pieced of cotton with cotton batting between the layers. The stitches are exquisitely tiny. My Grandma Emma would have smiled quietly, bent over, and proudly run her fingers over these tiny stitches, admiring the fine craft of the woman's hands who'd spent hours over this quilt.


So why didn't this quilt just stay locked up in some granddaughter's hope chest? 

To find the answer, my daughter, my mother, and I packed it up, and took a road trip to see some cousins, Rufus and Thelma Martin. Thelma has a whole room of her home for her genealogy library, most of which is her collection of family history of our Mennonite family in Elkhart County, Indiana, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Rufus is my mother's second cousin. This trip reminds me not only of the time I stepped into yesteryear at my Great Aunt Mattie's, it is treasured because I got to tell Rufus  a treasured memory of his brother, Jason Martin, who prayed over me when I was 14 years old that the Holy Spirit would enter my heart and annoint my life. As I watched him tell my daughter how he handcrafted this hutch, I recalled the same gentle spirit of love and conviction that could reach to the younger generation without seeming stuffy or too old fashioned.




As we looked through the genealogy we found that the woman who made the quilt, married my great great grandfather, John W. Martin--but she had no children of her own. So the quilt was handed down to her step children, and the siblings of the woman who made it lived far away from her. So she wouldn't have given it to her nieces or nephews. We see her in the 1900 Indiana Census, with eight children still living at home, now ages 8 to 20. I wonder who slept beneath this quilt?

I wonder about the woman who quilted it, and how it would have been to not have children of her own, yet become the step mother to John's nine children, ages 1 to 15. They married in 1893--the same year his first wife, Susannah, died. And though it's wonderful to have this piece of history, it's more wonderful to remember this gentle loving spirit that I see in Rufus, I knew in Jason and in my Grandpa John. If my Great Great Grandfather John W. Martin was anything like them, I can see why Catherine L. Weaver married him and became the mother of his nine children. And I can imagine that the love they shared beneath this quilt was one that God Himself breathed his grace upon. They were married until her death in 1916, twenty-three years. Certainly she found a way to let God's love and grace flow to these motherless children, or I'm certain the generations that followed would have held bitterness closer than love, and brokenness closer than healing.

I labor over my fiction, much like Catherine labored over the tiny stitches of her quilt. I don't want my stories to be locked in a hope chest somewhere, never pulled out or cherished, or passed on. I want to find the truth behind the history, the story behind the symbols left behind--that show us how God works in the lives of those He loves.

I wonder how she would have told her true story?
What symbols of God's faithfulness will you leave behind for the coming generations?
Will they know your story?
Will they know the Truth behind it?