Category: WaterBrook

When the past and present collide

ThiefofGLoryI’ve long been a fan of fiction that dovetails a historical story with a contemporary framework. I like reading books with this kind of construction and I like writing them.  When I was asked to read an advance copy of my friend Sigmund Brouwer’s THIEF OF GLORY, and was told that it was a WWII story framed by the current day, I said yes immediately. I’m a fan of Sigmund’s style, have been since his BROKEN ANGEL a few years back. It wasn’t hard to come up with glowing words for Thief of Glory. This one was unputdownable on so many levels.  Here’s just a bit about the book:

Jeremiah Prins was the 12-year-old son of a school headmaster in the Dutch East Indies when Holland declared war on the Japanese in 1941. In retaliation, the Japanese army invaded, and Jeremiah and his family were placed in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp; a hell on earth as all war camps are. After the war he finds himself in California, where he struggles with lingering anger and anguish from his experiences and the decisions he made.

In the present day, a now-elderly Jeremiah tries to make sense of his life by journaling all that his children do not know about his past, intending to leave his writings as an apology after he is gone. An online encounter puts Jeremiah in touch with his true love from the war years, Laura, and when they meet again, long-buried secrets are unearthed that will surprise and shock you, and ultimately endear this wounded soul to you.

Before reading Thief of Glory, I had no idea what the war was like for the Dutch residents living in what had been Dutch-occupied Indonesia. The novel was eye-opening to say the least. As with other books I’ve read with young protagonists dealing with the harsh realities of adults at war (The Book Thief, Sarah’s Key, Diary of A Young Girl, Stones from the River) this one yanked fiercely on my mother-heart and left me astonished at what war expects of the children swept up into its maelstrom.

The book won’t be released until mid-August but I suggest you put it on your To Be Bought list and then most definitely on your To Be Read pile. You will be moved, appalled, changed.


The place where two rivers meet

BurningSkyYou probably know by now I am a fierce devotee to historical fiction – it’s the perfect backdrop to explore timeless themes. So I am happy to welcome Lori Benton to the blog today to talk about her debut BURNING SKY, a novel of the American frontier. The best part is, I have a copy of her book to give away, so do please read to the end so that you can get in on that.

Before we start, here’s just a little teaser to get you primed for Lori’s wonderfully woven story:

“I remember the borders of our land, though I have been gone from them nearly half the moons of my life. But who there will remember me? What I have seen, what I have done, it has changed me.

I am the place where two rivers meet, silted with upheaval and loss.

Yet memory of our land is a clear stream. I shall know it as a mother knows the faces of her children. It may be I will find me there.”

Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage–the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

SUSAN: I always ask my writer friends where the idea for their novel originated because I know sometimes the seed of a story can come from an unlikely place.  From where did the idea for Burning Sky spring?

LoriBentonLORI: Sometimes, this far removed from that moment, the original kernel or idea that inspired a story is buried under too many layers of plotting and research and day to day writing, but with Burning Sky I do retain the memory. There were two images that intruded upon me, rather out of the blue, that I consider catalysts for Willa Obenchain’s story. The first was of an old woman living in a ramshackle cabin in a clearing bounded by ridges, alone and isolated. I wondered who she was and why she seemed so sad. I knew her name was Willa.

The second image was of a young woman, taller than most women of her time and strong, striding across a mountain with a heavy basket on her back and a heavier burden in her soul. I sensed she was coming home after a long time away. I also knew these were the same woman and that the first image would be Willa’s fate… unless someone intervened. From that point the story grew as I began to ask the dozens of what ifs that come with story-weaving, and did my research into the time and place, once I’d decided exactly when that was.

SUSAN: I can tell from reading this book that your research was extensive. How did you approach the research component? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

LORI: Because I live on the west coast, I approach my initial research via books and websites, and friends and acquaintances I have who live back east. But I also have memories to tap. I spent the first half of my life on the east coast and have visited states from New York to Florida. I’m familiar with the eastern woodlands from the coast to the mountains, and still remember what a humid summer day feels like, or a dark rolling thunderstorm, or a twilight dancing with lightning bugs, though I don’t get to experience those things where I live now (thunderstorms are rare and always make me nostalgic). And there’s always Youtube and Google Earth, to help with visuals of a specific place.

The more I’ve learned about the 18th century New York frontier, before and after the Revolutionary War, the more intrigued I’ve become. I’d say my biggest surprise (confining such to the research that directly impacted the writing of Burning Sky) was how devastating the War was on the land and people of the Mohawk Valley and New York frontier, how far back east that frontier was pushed due to raids from the British and pro-British Indians, and how long it took for the largely abandoned farms and communities to recover. The landscape Willa Obenchain and Neil MacGregor enter at the start of the book was one of burned homesteads and straggling-back refugees, some of them as scarred by violence as their farms had been. It would be some years before the Mohawk Valley became again the thriving bread basket of the region that it formerly had been.

SUSAN: You describe a shade of blue in one of your descriptive sentences as the shade of ”trade beads,” which I thought was delicious! Do you spend a great deal of time looking for just the right way to describe something or does that come pretty easy to you?

LORI: When I write description, the most important thing to me is to take into account whose point of view I’m writing from. If Neil had been describing that shade of blue, instead of Willa, he would likely have picked a vivid flower to compare it to. But Willa is coming from a place where trade beads were common things. She no doubt sewed them onto clothing and other articles. It’s a description she wouldn’t have to reach far for. Knowing this required extensive research into her culture and setting, so that had to come first (though I continue researching right up through the editing phase of a manuscript). I strive to give each point-of-view character a distinctive narrative voice. Description (what each character uniquely notices and the language they use to describe it) is a huge part of that. The better I know my characters in the first draft, the easier those character-specific descriptions come, but often it’s in one of dozens of later passes over a scene that I finally hit upon the right phrase.

SUSAN: When you are asked to share what Burning Sky is about in a nutshell, how do you answer?

BSRTblurbLORI: Never the same way twice, it seems. But in a nutshell, Burning Sky is about finding the courage to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God after experiencing devastating loss—enough to risk living and loving again.

SUSAN: What do you want readers to take away from this book when they are finished?

LORI: I want readers to hold these characters in their hearts for a very long time to come, because I love them so myself. I also hope with all my heart that readers feel strengthened in their faith in a God who has a plan for their eternal good, who entered this fallen world with all its grief and trouble to carry out that plan, in the form of His Son Jesus. Through Him we inherit blessings now, and even more eternally.

SUSAN: What did you take away from the writing of it?

LORI: A passion for telling more stories set on the 18th century New York frontier. I feel I’ve only touched the tip of this iceberg.

SUSAN: What’s next on the horizon for you?

LORI: Another novel releasing from WaterBrook Press, next spring (2014). The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is set in western North Carolina (present day Tennessee) against the backdrop of that region’s bid for separate statehood in the mid-1780s. In brief: With a murdering stepfather and a spurned suitor in pursuit, Tamsen Littlejohn bargained for hardship, rough-living, even mortal danger in her Overmountain flight to freedom with young frontiersman Jesse Bird. But falling in love? That was never part of the plan.

Susan, here! Thanks for being my guest, Lori. And now for a giveaway! Just leave a comment here before Thursday, August 15 at midnight Pacific and you’re in the drawing. I will announce the winner a week from today so please stay tuned. It’s a great book, folks. (If you want to read the first two chapters, which are delicious, by the way, click right here:

Echoes of the past

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” – Leonardo da Vinci

With my Italian Renaissance-inspired THE GIRL IN THE GLASS set to release in mid-September, when I found out Divine Rivalry was being staged at the Old Globe Theater here in San Diego, I knew I had to see it.  I spent month after month researching for this book, which is set in Florence, in both the current day and the mid 1500s. So my interest was definitely piqued.

With a cast of just four men, this play takes you to “16th-century Florence, where two of the world’s greatest artists, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, face off in a painting competition orchestrated by political mastermind Niccolò Machiavelli. This contest forms the backdrop for an even greater battle as the leading minds of the Renaissance clash over political gain, personal riches and the immortality of art.”

I suppose if you aren’t a devotee of history and utterly captivated by the genius of the masters of the Italian Renaissance you might’ve been a little lost, perhaps bored, by the story itself, but you couldn’t have missed the almost child-like desire on the part of both DaVinci and Michelangelo to be the best, to be known as the best, to leave behind the absolute best.
The first time I saw Florence, I was was left dumbstruck by the audacious beauty created by the greatest collection of artists to have lived at any one time. The remarkable thing is, the statues, the paintings, the frescoes are silent (although in my book I have a character who can hear a voice inside the canvases and marble) and yet they were created in this maelstrom of politics, religion, and personal advancement. You don’t see that when you gaze at the David or gape at the majesty of the Duomo, or get teary over the beauty of Da Vinci’s Annunciation or Botticelli’s Primavera, thank goodness. You don’t see the rivalry, you only see the magnificence.
I think in the end Da Vinci and Michelangelo got their wish. They left their best, even if the times they lived in weren’t the best, nor were they.
It’s nice to think that our best efforts outlive us, and despite us.

If you live in or near San Diego, and you love history, I recommend you see it. The cast members are wonderfully gifted, and the actor who played Da Vinci, utterly convincing.

Follow the leader

The contest I have been teasing you about is at last here. Today the Follow the Ring contest begins on Facebook.

To celebrate the blending of historical and contemporary in my latest book Lady in Waiting, WaterBrook Multnomah, my wonderful publisher, is hosting a first-time ever exclusive Facebook contest! In Lady in Waiting, Jane Lindsay discovers an antique ring that takes her on a journey to learn more about the history of the ring and who it might have belonged to.
The grand prize is a very cool blend of old and new, just like the story. I am actually a little envious!! You could win . . .

The eReader of your choice (iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc.) – i want the iPad. . .

An antique prayer book (I showed you this cool volume!)

An antique rosary (I showed you this, too!)

A copy of Lady in Waiting, White Picket Fences and The Shape of Mercy

Copies of each author’s book(s)

And much more! (Lady Grey tea, a cool little sewing kit, and sweet stuff!)

Five other winners will receive copies of my books as well as all the participating author’s books. Nice consolation prizes, yes?

Four other fantastic, beloved authors (Cindy Woodsmall, Mary DeMuth, Rachel Hauck and Jane Kirkpatrick) will host the Facebook contest one day this week. All you have to do to win is find the correct post on each of these authors’ Facebook pages and comment on each day’s post sometime this week and you’ll be entered to win! Easy, right? Here’s where the ring will be this week:

Monday – Susan Meissner’s Facebook Friend Page

Tuesday – Cindy Woodsmall’s Facebook Fan Page

Wednesday – Mary DeMuth’s Facebook Fan Page

Thursday – Rachel Hauck’s Facebook Fan Page

Friday – Jane Kirkpatrick’s Facebook Fan Page

If you miss a few days? Not to worry! Even if you come in a little late, you can still go to these pages to find the post and comment before the end of the week. My publisher will draw a name at the end of the week – someone who has commented on each day’s post.

Let the hunt commence!

The wait is over

So it’s been just about a week since the release of Lady in Waiting and I am hoping, of course, that people will find her worth the wait. So far, so good!

I loved writing this book for lots of little reasons, the primary one being I have long been fascinated by Lady Jane Grey – who shows up in this contemporary story of mine. She was a young girl who was queen of England at the age of 16 for a mere nine days. And while she had so many things decided for her, as did most girls of noble birth back then, she will always be, to me, someone who in the end chose her ultimate destiny as surely as her parents and relatives chose everything else. Hers is a remarkable story. I have always wanted to find a way to dovetail it with a current-day tale. Hopefully, I pulled it off.
If you are loving this cover as much as I do (WaterBrook produced a simply stunning cover for this book), you will want to know that there is a contest going on over at SheReads to give away the ring that WaterBrook’s art department used to create this cover. Isn’t that a great idea? And that’s not all. WaterBrook and SheReads are also giving away a prayer journal, bookmark and copies of the book. If this interests you, don’t delay. Head over to SheReads and post a comment. That will enter you in the drawing. The contest ends on Sept. 15.
SheReads is a ministry of Proverbs 31, which is a simply wonderful organization to encourage and uplift women of faith. They have chosen Lady in Waiting as their book selection for the month of September and this contest is part of that wonderful honor. There is also a link on the SheReads page to a devotional I wrote for Proverbs 31 on the theme of waiting – or actually, on the theme of not waiting! More like, on the theme of getting up out of your chair when it’s time to get busy.
Hope you get a chance to read this one. I’d love to hear what you think.
I will be teaching at the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Indianapolis on Friday, so I may post from there and I may not. We’ll see how the day plays itself out. I will be teaching two workshops there and also attending the awards dinner for the Carol Awards. White Picket Fences is up for Book of The Year in the Long Contemporary category, though I am in such fantastic company with the other nominations, I am not planning to practice the acceptance speech! Here’s the full list. You can listen to the live-feed of the awards ceremony on the ACFW site.
Have a great week . . .

The book with no pages

A while back, when e-books were the newest electronic thing and authors like me were squirming because e-books don’t look like books or feel like books or a smell like books, we didn’t quite know what to make of them. And when people asked us how we felt about them, all we could do is shrug our shoulders and offer a creased brow of concern.

How are you supposed to feel about something you aren’t quite sure is good or bad for you career-wise? And if you decide it’s bad, what is the use of hanging onto that negative attitude when you can do nothing to stop that thing from happening?

Someone asked me this very question a couple days ago when I announced on Facebook that The Shape of Mercy in e-book format is a featured 99-cent download for the month of June. Truth be told, I have neither good vibes or bad vibes about e-books. I cannot make someone who loves e-books buy my bound book. People who love e-books want books in e-book form. If my books aren’t in that format, they will likely never read anything written by me and I will have lost an entire segment of readers.

The scary thing is, that segment of readers – readers of e-books – is growing all the time. I must embrace that notion or be content with reaching only certain kinds of readers, not every kind. That doesn’t seem like a great idea. When books began to show up on tape and then CD, did we not think this was an innovation that would gain for us new “readers?”

Someday I would like to own a Kindle. I truly would. I am in the middle of writing a novel with a Civil War thread and I have more than a dozen research books lying around. The thought of having all those books inside a device I can fit in my purse is invigorating, from a research standpoint. Will I still buy other books on paper? To my dying day.

Every new advance that replaces – to a large extent – something old creates devotees of the older thing who refuse to budge. Not budging makes them happy and they usually harm no one. There are probably a few people out there who refuse to write a novel on a computer, they use their typewriter. And then perhaps there are even fewer people out there who refuse to use a typewriter and instead write on a legal pad with a fountain pen. And maybe there are fewer still who write with a quill on parchment. And maybe there is one person out there who insists on writing his story on the wall of his cave. Who knows?

I am okay with the e-book revolution. I will always love the “real” thing better, not because a story is better told on paper but because books with pages are part of my lifetime experience on the planet. I like them. I love them. I like having them near me after I’ve read them, and I like that their lovely, colorful spines whisper hello to me each time I pass one of the many bookcases in my house.

But if you want my book in e-book fashion, well, you can have it. . .Please do.