Friday, September 27, 2013

Repetition Counts. Repetition Counts. Repetition Counts.



I had to vent.

I've just spent the last four days doing hardly anything but sending out query letters, and after that many times of proof-reading the stupid thing, I think it has to be the worst-written piece of... for lack of a better word (well, there ARE more descriptive words which I will forego here)... TRASH that I've ever seen.


At any rate, 45 queries are floating around out there in cyberspace. Three have already been rejected that I know of - I'm sure several more have landed in someone's cyber slush-pile.

Can you pray on pins and needles? 'Cause if you can, that's what I'm doing - praying that at least ONE out of those 45 people will be interested in representing my work.

Oh, and that they'll be a good match personality-wise, too. Author/Agent relationships can get pretty dicey if the personalities aren't compatible. Think e-harmony for the publication business.

Oh, and that if they DO ask for more of my work than just my query letter, which they will examine heartily for months, that they won't send it back after 6 months of sitting in their inbox and refuse it.

Oh, and that if they DO decide, phenomenon of all phenomenons, that they want to accept it, that they won't submit to six publishers, none of whom accept, then drop it altogether.

Sigh. I really need to stop stressing. And go do something besides look at my laptop. Is it normal for the words to be swimming around on the screen?

Okay, my eyes are crossing. I need to go to bed and dream sweetly of, "Dear Mr./Ms. So-and-so, They've existed in the world since the beginning of time. Born with the ability..."


Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Difference Between a Two-Letter Word and A Three-Letter Word

Sometimes, life comes at me with bigger questions than I'm prepared to handle.

For instance:

What do you say when your son asks you: "Mommy, is God bigger than giants?"

Of course, from a structural standpoint, since God is not actually standing in front of me with measurable height, weight, and mass, I can't say, "Why yes, as a matter of fact, son, God is bigger than giants."

So I hem and haw and come up with the half-understood explanation that "God made giants, so it makes sense that He'd be bigger than them."

My oldest daughter pipes up. "But if He lives inside your heart, how can He be big?"

That's about the point where I glance skyward and think, A little help here, God?

Sometimes, those huge questions can mean your life or your death.

The still-unfolding situation of the mall-shooting in Kenya has got me thinking seriously about where I stand in my faith. As the story goes, the shooters have asked each person standing on the other end of their rifle whether or not they are Muslim. If the answer is yes, they are free to go. If not, they die.

The one major question that has rankled in my brain since I read the first headline is this: Would I have the guts? I'd like to think so. After all, I've been a Christian since the tender age of four, and while I haven't always been obedient or faithful or even a very willing follower of Christ, I like to think my journey has always been in a forward motion, never complacent.

Other questions rise. 

What if I held my two-year-old daughter in my arms at the end of that rifle? Would that change my answer?

What if my husband was waiting for me at home with three young children who were about to become motherless depending on my answer?

All it would take would be one tiny, little, three-letter word - yes - and my life would be spared.

My life would be spared . . . but could I live with that? Could I walk out of that mall knowing that with that three-letter word, I had in effect denied everything I had built my life on?

I'd like to think that I would have the courage, but in truth, I don't know. Hard times. Hard questions. I guess I won't know the answer until I'm actually there.

Friday, September 13, 2013

When Looks Aren't Everything

Medievalgirl is a British Medieval History graduate, book lover and blogger. Her site, Bookish Medievalist, is dedicated to Christian Historical Fiction and contains reviews, opinions and articles on reading, books, history and any other related subjects. Click this link to check out her blog. She's been kind enough to guest blog for me today. Enjoy reading!

When Looks Aren’t Everything…

Not so long ago this history Graduate learned of something known as ‘the Look of History’. What is it? Well it seems to be something popular with filmmakers and audience concerning historical authenticity. This likely means having the right period costumes, sets, buildings, armour or weapons so that the dramatic offering looks right for to the time period in question. 

Thus a movie set in Western Europe during the 1100s would probably feature knights wearing chain mail, covered with a surcoat, and bearing and impressive looking sword, perhaps throw in a dramatic and suitably imposing castle or two, some dimly lit rooms illumined only by fire or torchlight, and epic battle scenes with a suitable number of mounted warriors or the odd peasant rustic in the duller garb of his class tilling a field surrounded by wattle and daub huts.  

Historical movies may indeed include visually spectacular settings, and where non-visual media such as novels are concerned ‘The Look of History’ may also come down to period details, for which the appropriate terms or description could be used. Now I for one have no problem with period details and terms in and of themselves, but sometimes they are not of themselves enough to make for a convincing or (dare I use the term) accurate depiction of the past. 

As a fan of a Medieval Christian Fantasy series stated ‘I might call this period fiction, as there are castles and servants’. Are we indeed inclined to believe that a setting which ‘looks’ right is an accurate representation of the past? 

It would seem then that, as the old saying goes ‘appearances can be deceptive’ and historical details which make a setting appear authentic can be merely superficial if little or no attention is paid to the norms, mores, customs, attitudes, values, beliefs, sensibilities, expectations, and past societies and their people. In this case of the series above, for instance, it seemed that many of characters’ attitudes and values were more of our time than theirs , the secondary female protagonist appeared to more like an embodiment of militant feminist ideology than a real person, Medieval or otherwise, and the dialogue peppered with modern terms, phrases and Americanisms. Practically anyone it seems can research a particular period and learn about its fashion, food, and style of architecture, but it is I believe not so easy to actually gain an understanding of the deeper aspects of past epochs, especially if they are very different from what we are familiar with today. 

Take arranged marriage as another example. In the modern Western world we have something of an aversion to this practice but for our medieval aristocratic forbears it could be the norm. For us the notion of a young girl being made to marry a horrible man that she hates for his money, land or political convenience is one that seems abhorrent but how might it have seemed to people ‘back then’ in light of their social expectations, priorities, and notions of duty? 

Or how many modern movies set during the time of the Crusades feature a major character with religious doubts agonising over the notion of killing in the name of God, or at all, or espouses tolerant multiculturalism, and the baddies be intolerant ‘fanatics’? How often might the attitude towards religion of characters in movies set in the pre-modern era resemble those of modern secularists and sceptics? How many Medieval movies feature heavily made up women sporting loose flowing, shimmering locks (or styles which can only be created using modern products). One interesting look is wearing a circlet or headband, which may have been designed to keep a veil in place- on top of loose bare hair. It might look nice, but perhaps is not a reflection of reality as “Broadly speaking; only a woman of very poor breeding or a prostitute did nothing with her hair and even peasant women made an effort to appear modest and decent.”1

To use the term coined by British Historian and novelist Alison Weir many historical novels and movies seem to be populated by ‘modern people in fancy dress’ who look the part, but might be thoroughly of our time rather than their own where their worldview, attitudes, behaviour and outlook are concerned. Now don’t get me wrong, I sometimes do enjoy such movies, but the imposition of modern standards and ideals onto the past is generally one of my pet hates in fiction. 

Yet I am not a writer, at least not of fiction, and whilst the historian in me may rally against such as the above, or be left cringing at medieval people saying something like ‘I think it’s okay for you to go out with that cute guy’, writers may find it more difficult to strike a balance between the needs and expectations of their audience and historical accuracy, and even their own beliefs. 

Speaking of her Crusading period novel The Road from the West: Book One of the Chronicles of Tancred author Rosanne E Lortz said: 

While writing the Chronicles of Tancred, I try to write about religion as if I were an eleventh century Norman adhering to the rites and rule of the Church of Rome. In some ways the fact that I am a twenty-first century American Protestant helps me in that task; in other ways it hinders me.

But when a scruffy drunkard has a vision of St. Andrew informing the Crusaders where the Holy Lance is buried, it's not my place to make my protagonist distrust him simply because I, the author, am dubious of visions, don't embrace the Roman Catholic view of sainthood, and don't believe relics have special powers. Instead, I must put myself in Tancred's worn-out boots.

Some aspects of the past may indeed be unpopular, unpalatable, controversial or even downright offensive to modern sensibilities, or those of a certain cultural background or ideological position, but does this mean they should be ignored or replaced? Perhaps not, I for one believe that learning to appreciate or accept the differences in ideology and belief between ourselves and our medieval forbears, and perhaps trying to come to terms with why they believed the things they did may help to greatly enhance our understanding of this period. 

This is not to suggest that understanding the past on its terms means we have to agree with, condone or accept the beliefs held by our ancestors, but perhaps we should refrain from complaining or condemning those who held them because they do not line up with modern liberal Western ideals. Of course the, statues and requirements of God are absolute, eternal and unquestionable, transcending the bounds of time, fashion and human society so we have every right to judge the events and peoples of the past according to those, but some aspects of our society and worldview, even though we may hold that as sacrosanct are not absolute.

So dressing a modern European or American, complete with his modern liberal outlook in a cloak and tunic, putting him on a horse and giving him a sword does not make him ‘Medieval’, and whilst it may serve to make the past ‘relevant’ or present a sanitized version of it more in tune with modern sensibilities, does it truly teach us anything?  

Perhaps it would instead be a more valuable, rewarding, and enlightening or indeed challenging experience to lay aside those modern preconceptions which are subjective, step outside our comfort zones and explore the past as it was, not as we would have it. A past in which it may not have considered sexist and repressive, but perfectly reasonable for women to stay at home for much of their lives to raise children, or take economic and practical, instead of just romantic considerations in mind when choosing their spouse.

1 Rosalie Gilbert, ‘Medieval Hairstyles’, Rosalie’s Medieval Women, Accessed 2nd September 2013,

2 Rosanne E Lortz, ‘The Alien Past, The Difficulties of Writing about Religion’, Monday August 20 2012, Official Author Website: Rosanne E Lortz, Accessed 31st August 2013.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

One Clear Tuesday Morning

It's crazy how every day passes, and a million moments fly by, and three days later, you have no idea what you were thinking or doing at such-and-such a time. It's not Alzheimers, it's just life.

And then, there are those moments that are seared into your memory with a branding iron, leaving permanent scars that will never fade. I don't like to use the word "scars" because my wedding day is one such moment, the birth of my children another. But it's true - I will never forget the moment my husband slid the ring on the  third finger of my left hand . . . and it got stuck because my knuckle was too wide. He was too embarrassed to try to keep shoving it on, so he just left it, and I had to finish pushing it on myself.

Or when each of my children was born. The first screaming wail of life as they pushed their way into the world was a heart-stopping moment, one that I will never un-remember. The rush of emotion, the joy of new life, the exhaustion after days of labor (four days, people, four days for our oldest) are written in indelible ink on my faulty memory pages.

Twelve years ago, at this very moment, I sat in the admissions office at Eastern Mennonite University in a back room where I had a work-study job, stuffing prospective student folders with information. The radio was on in the cubicle outside the door, and I remember thinking that was a little strange . . . we didn't usually have the radio on in the mornings.

I finished my package of folders and went out to get a tissue, and my boss turned around in her office chair. The look of pain on her face was one of the first bits of scar tissue that stamped itself on my memory from that terrible day. "Did you hear about that?" she asked, nodding toward the radio.

"No, what?"

"A plane just crashed into a tower in New York City." She sighed heavily. "All those poor people."

Little did we know.

I began filing some paperwork, and the reports on the radio grew more and more disturbing. Suddenly, work didn't seem so important. Suddenly, every person in the admissions office was standing around the radio. I glanced at my watch. My shift had ended. I grabbed my bag and ran to the nearest dorm where a TV was on in the lobby.

There are no words for what went through my mind as I saw the smoking tower. The first one had already fallen. The newscaster's voice was filled with heaviness as he narrated the events.

I remember he was in mid-sentence when the second tower collapsed in its own cloud of rubble. He just stopped talking, and the silence said more than words could have ever conveyed.

I only had one class that day. I dragged myself to it, but it was a pointless effort. No one could concentrate. No one could think of anything to say. We just stared at each other with pain mirrored in our eyes.

The chapel service that day was packed. On a normal day, seven or eight pews in the huge auditorium would have been filled. That morning, every row was filled, even the balcony. People stood in the aisles and along the walls. It's ironic, isn't it, that when we are confronted with death, with the end of life, suddenly God becomes a huge factor in our thought processes?

For the rest of the day, I sat in the campus center where a huge screen had been set up. I watched the news all day, allowing myself to suffer in spirit along with those who were suffering physically. I cried along with the ones on the ground in NYC. I felt as helpless as those who stood on the streets of NYC with shock written across their blackened faces.

Fifty years from now, if I live that long, these moments will still be seared on my consciousness. And each year, when September 11th rolls around, I'll revisit the pain. I'll once again ask God, why? Why? And once again, I'll gather the remnants of my faith about me, and slowly, but surely, allow God to stitch them back together.

Was God surprised? No.
Was God happy about it? Absolutely not.
Could God have stopped it? Yes.
Did He? No.
Did He cause it? No, no, no!
What did cause it? Sin.
Was He there the whole time? Oh, yes.
Did He hold the dying ones in His hands? Completely.

I don't pretend to understand. But I know this, God is good. Absolutely good. I may have moments of anger, confusion, frustration, other emotions that have no words, but my faith that God is bigger than this carries me through.

Today, I'm praying for the families that are one or two or three short a person because of that day. In the pain that this day brings, I pray that they will find the peace that comes from being in God's hands.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Unclaimed Legacy Trilogy Raffle Deal!!!

My good author friend, Deborah Heal, is setting up a GREAT deal for her Unclaimed Legacy trilogy! Buy a copy of one of her books for under a dollar and you get entered into a drawing to win the WHOLE trilogy, signed by the author, along with a mug! Can't beat that! Check out the details below, and take your chance to get some awesome books! 
-- Tamara Shoemaker

A Giveaway Featuring Unclaimed Legacy by Deborah Heal

Here and now are the perfect place and time to get your copy of Unclaimed Legacy.


Now? Because it's only 99 cents for Kindle (for the month of September only). Here? Because buying it enters you in a giveaway of the complete Time and Again trilogy (personally signed by the author) AND a pretty mug for your morning coffee. Hint: You might want to keep the mug and Kindle book for yourself and give the signed copies of the trilogy as a gift.

The Rafflecopter giveaway entry form is below, but first let me tell you about Unclaimed Legacy. 

Those who have read Time and Again  know that Abby Thomas is a college student on a summer service project with 11-year-old Merri. And they know that the summer is not going the way Abby had expected—but in a good way. For one thing, she meets a very nice guy named John Roberts. And for another, she discovers a strange computer program called Beautiful House that lets her fast-forward and rewind life. Not her own, of course, but those of the people who lived in Merri’s old house.

And now Beautiful House comes in handy when Abby, John, and Merri agree to help the "Old Dears" next door with their family tree. Except Abby and John learn more about one of the ladies’ ancestors than they ever wanted to know. Convicted in 1871 of murder and arson, Reuben Buchanan is a blight on the family’s reputation. But was he really guilty? Abby and John must get inside the mind of a murderer to find out.

And while they’re rummaging around in the Old Dears’ family history, they also find Nathan Buchanan, a heroic relative connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition—and a legacy waiting to be reclaimed. But the most important discovery they make is that God’s promise to bless a thousand generations is true.

"In this sequel to Time and Again Deborah Heal has taken pieces of real life history and woven them [into] a fantastic story geared to keep the reader entertained and on the edge of their seat… I adored every single bit of this. It has the perfect blend of history and action-packed suspense to keep young adults glued to the pages… I think she has mastered a home run here. This one easily rates a 5 out of 5 stars for me…and I hope it will work its way to the top of the best seller lists for young adults.”

-- Pirate2240 "Kat" Amazon Reviewer

Connect with Deborah

The Clue of the Unclaimed Legacy

by Deborah Heal

The blurb above doesn’t say a lot about it, but Unclaimed Legacy features my heroes Lewis and Clark. I’ve always been fascinated by them, partly because I knew the explorers spent the winter of 1803 at Hartford, Illinois, near where I grew up in Woodburn.

They chose that site for the  camp they called Camp River Dubois, because it was near the mouth of the Missouri River, which they would ascend the next spring. The captains spent the winter laying in supplies and training their men. I decided it would be fun to let Abby “time-surf” back to see Camp River Dubois. . .

Continue reading HERE to get more clues about Unclaimed Legacy.

As the blurb says, sometimes when Abby and John are “time-surfing” they learn more than they want to know about people from the past--like Bertram White a violent husband. Read my companion article about him HERE.

Read a free chapter of Unclaimed Legacy  HERE)

Now, enter the contest to get your Kindle copy of Unclaimed Legacy for 99 cents and a chance to win the complete trilogy in paperback, personally signed by the author. Oh, and a mug.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Violently Resist

As a writer, I've always felt that I had a knack for putting onto paper thoughts that are hard to express.

It has to be written, though; I stink as a speaker of those thoughts. Just ask my husband. If, say, he and I would (hypothetically, of course) ever fight (and of course, this never happens), I would get so frustrated, not so much at him, but at myself, because I. can. not. spit. out. what. I. mean. to. say. 

So usually (in the event that such a fight should ever occur, which of course, is a ridiculous notion), he will go back to the bedroom an hour or two later, and there on his pillow will be a notebook with four or five pages of hand-written thought processes that I've spent the last space of time writing, because that's how I communicate best.

Sadly, as a result, I rarely get the fun of quick, witty retorts, unless by quick and witty, you mean hand-written and an hour or two delayed. By then, I can come up with a list of fifteen to twenty responses that would have been perfect if only I had thought of it when my husband had first uttered his side of it.

But sometimes, even when writing, I can't find the words that I want to use, that encapsulate everything I think or feel. Romans 8 in the Bible talks about how the Spirit intercedes for us with "groans that words cannot express."

This morning, on my way to church, I had a rare moment of complete alone time. My kids were all sick with one thing or another, and since I was on the worship team, I had to be at church, so my husband stayed at home with the kids. I honestly don't remember the last time I've had with just God and me, together, alone, and quiet without a background of screaming/laughing/crying/whining/yelling/giggling accompaniment.

All I could hear on the way to church this morning was the sound of the truck motor and the whoosh of trucks as they passed me on the highway.

And I had a moment-that-words-cannot-express. It was overwhelming, this break of quietness in my too-busy, too-loud, too-cluttered life as a mother/writer, where alone time just doesn't happen. I found myself praying, and listening, and crying, and basking in the presence of God. 

I discovered that I have spent so much time trying, so hard, to make it through the busy times, just putting one foot in front of the other, that I had distanced myself in my relationship with God.

I discovered that I had been through periods of doubt, where that tiny harmful voice whispers, What if this really is all there is? What if God doesn't exist?

I discovered that I have let myself become overwhelmed with life in general, that I've forgotten how to live. How ironic is that?

And I discovered that in spite of all the insecurities, all the doubts, all the fear of the future, I have faith that is stronger. I discovered that God not only sat and listened to me complain and whine, even doubt His very existence, but that He loved me through it, held me securely, reminded me of His faithfulness.

Sometimes, faith is a battle. It is not always allowing God to work in and through you, trusting that He fulfills His purpose in your life (though that is certainly a part of it). At times, faith means facing the doubts that come our way from the adversary; not just facing them, but resisting them.

Our pastor today spoke on Ephesians 6, that whole section about putting on the armor of God. He said that the Greek word Paul used when he said to "stand firm, then," was the same word that was used in the old testament when armies came together to "violently resist" each other.

So when doubt comes my way, or insecurities, or fear, I will violently resist. I will buckle on the belt of truth, slide my torso right into the breastplate of righteousness, get out my running shoes to be ready to take the gospel of peace. I'm gonna take up the shield of faith, which which I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. That helmet of salvation will stay firmly planted on my head, and the sword of the Spirit will be unsheathed at all times. 

Because I am violently resisting.