CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


In a blog interview this year, I was asked what inspired me as a writer. Several things came to mind: music, being with other writers, listening to God’s voice. As I rethink what I said in that interview, I have to say that my love affair with books—my lifelong attachment to reading is what inspired me to begin writing in the first place and sustains me now on my writing journey. I love words and entering the lives of characters in other times and places. Books have formed my outlook and changed my life.

This year has been no different. However, for the first time that I can remember, I have given myself permission to quit reading a book if I’m not captivated by the second or third chapter. There are just too many great books waiting to be read.

Like many others at this time of year, I’m looking back at my reading list and choosing which books I liked the best in 2008. None stood out as much as Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants did last year, so I’m listing my favorites in the order in which I read them.

My Name is Russell Fink (Michael Synder) – a fun, quirky read that made me laugh one minute and cry the next. I’ll be looking for more books from this debut author.

Magic Time (Doug Marlette) – A serious read about a trial in the 1990s that stems from the tumultuous Freedom March days of the sixties. This book came out in 2007, the second novel of Mr. Marlette, who is better known for his Pulitzer-winning career as a political cartoonist and the creator of the Kudzu comic strip. I had the privilege of hearing the author speak a couple of years ago. Sadly, he died in an automobile accident soon after the release of Magic Time. Highly recommended book.

Trouble the Water (Nicole Seitz) – lovely Southern fiction about the special bond of two sisters. Anything with the Gullah culture intrigues me.

Painted Dresses (Patricia Hickman) – Another Southern fiction, this one a road trip, again about sisters.

Made In The USA (Billie Letts) – Billie is a local (Tulsa) author, who’s gained best seller status, and this may be one of her best. It’s quirky, gritty, and redemptive. Billie does a great job with young protagonists who’ve been dealt a rotten hand in life.

The Shape of Mercy (Susan Meissner) – One of my favorite books this year by one of my all-time favorite authors. This book takes place in the present and in Colonial America during the Salem witch trials. Beautiful, thought-provoking writing that made me think about defending the innocent and my own prejudices.

A Constant Heart (Siri Mitchell) – Historicals are seldom what I pick up, but this one was mesmerizing and gave me a whole new perspective about Queen Elizabeth’s court in the 1600s. Wonderful writing with an unusual love story.

An Irishwoman’s Tale (Patti Lacy) – Based on a true story, this is the life story of a young girl born in Ireland and ripped from her mother’s arms to be sent to America at age five. Lovely writing from this debut author.

Rain Song (Alice Wisler) – Another debut author with a southern voice. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) This one has a Japanese connection which made it fun.

I read a LOT of good books this year, but these are the ones I find myself thinking about, wondering how the characters are doing, and if I might bump into one of them at the grocery story. THAT’s what a good book is, in my opinion – one that lives on in my head . . . and my heart.

I’d love to hear from you. What were your favorite reads in 2008? Anything I should add to my 2009 list? I’ll be posting that in the next week or so. In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and yours.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Christmas has come and gone. We had good weather, safe travels, and only one person became ill and had to delay spending Christmas with the family, so overall it was all good. As usual, pictures tell the story much better than I could, so enjoy some of my favorite holiday shots.
My dad (where we celebrated Christmas Eve), my nephew Jonathan, and grandson Nash
Allison read the Christmas story in Luke

The kiddos - Andy, Amy, James, & Allison

Part of our exotic menu - Wild Alaskan Adventure

Grandson Drake (who made the food labels) with my sisters

The oldest & youngest of our family. Two lovely ladies!

Our princess, who it turns out likes soccer balls and cell phones better than dolls.

Allison with the twins and our niece, Avery
We've been blessed with wonderful parents, siblings, a houseful of kids and grandkids, and time to spend making memories with them.
Beginning this week, I'll be returning to my regularly scheduled posts about books and writing. First up will be my list of favorite books in 2008 - see you then.
In the meantime, what was your best Christmas memory this year? Don't be shy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008



The mad rush is quickly winding down. The shopping is done, the gifts wrapped, the baked goods packed up. All we have to do is load the car and head out west where our family is waiting for the annual Christmas Eve gathering. Christmas Eve is the only tradition that has remained somewhat the same for as long as I can remember. As a child, we went to Granny's (on my dad's side). She had yummy frosted cookies with shiny icing and detailed features on the Santas and snowmen. If we weren't sick from all the cookies, there was also rich, creamy rice pudding served with warm custard sauce. And when I was a teenager, Granny had an aluminum tree with a motorized light that turned to change the tree's color from blue to green to red.

Along the way, the location changed to Mother and Daddy's house, but we still had a meal, our family gift exchange, and reading of the joyous birth of our Savior from the second chapter of Luke. One of the children has the honor of reading the beloved story, and it's become a right of passage of sorts to be old enough to read without stumbling over the words. The last two years, our grandson, Drake, has done the honors. I'm not sure who will read this year, but perhaps Allison, our new daughter-in-law who's attending our Christmas Eve for the first time.

A few years ago, my dad put a new twist in the celebration. He serves an exotic meat of some kind, so over the years, we've dined on peacock, emu, alligator, moose, Yak. There are a few others which I've forgotten (perhaps on purpose). This year is the Wild Alaskan Adventure with caribou, reindeer, smoked salmon, musk ox - we found an online place to order a sampler from our northernmost state. It should be interesting. Oh . . . we always have a ham, too, for a backup entree.

The excitement is building. In less than twenty-four hours, we will have dined, loved, celebrated, and ripped open a mountain of gifts. We are so blessed to have this family - four generations coming together - all because two thousand years ago, a baby came and changed our world forever. Blessed be the name. Jesus. Jesus.

May your Christmas be joy-filled as you remember and celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.
Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

JINGLE BELLS . . . Tuba Style

Drake (my first born grandson) is one of two tuba players in his school's Sixth Grade Beginner Band, and the FIRST tuba player in our family. He goes to a small school (although not that small compared to their neighboring rural towns) so the Christmas concert is a combined effort of beginners, junior high, high school, and the jazz band. Before we left, Drake gave us a preview of the three songs he would be performing: Jingle Bells, Up On The Housetop, and Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

He takes a deep breath, positions his hand on the keys . . . or are they called valves? Then the boomp, boomp, boomps come out of the concert tuba. Rich. Punctuated. So much fun. Now I knew what to listen for when the band appeared on stage. It's really quite amazing that less than four months ago, most of these kids had never held an instrument, let alone played a song. Now, they sat erect in front of their music stands, their feet tapping out the beats as they counted quarter notes, half notes, rests, and played their hearts out. Beautiful.

One of the fun things about the concert was hearing the progression of difficulty levels as the higher grades performed their numbers. My favorite, after the beginners of course, was the jazz band. Drake liked it, too, and has his sights set on playing with the jazz group one day. I like that.
We rounded out the afternoon with authentic Mexican food at a new restaurant and playing some cut-throat games of Sorry! and Trouble that my younger grandson, Nash, delights in. I had to leave in the early evening and journey on to visit with my dad for a day. 'Twas a nice break from my writing routine and spending time with family is always time well spent.
So, O'er the fields we go, laughing all the way!

Hope you're all getting ready for some lovely times with your families over the holidays. I can hardly wait.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This meme comes originally from Angela Hunt. I snagged it from Robin Lee Hatcher. Directions: Put an asterisk next to the things you have done in your life, and then feel free to pass it on in your blog! Also feel free to add a couple at the end, if you like.

*1. Started your own blog
*2. Slept under the stars
*3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
*5. Watched a meteor shower
*6. Given more than you can afford to charity
*7. Been to Disneyworld (and Disney World)
*8. Climbed a mountain
*9. Held a praying mantis
*10. Sang a solo (sadly, yes)
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
*14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
*16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
*18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
*21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
*23. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
*24. Built a snow fort
*25. Held a lamb
*26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
*29. Seen a total eclipse
*30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
*35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
*37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
*45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
*46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
*52. Kissed in the rain
*53. Played in the mud
*54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
*63. Got flowers for no reason
*64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving 66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
*67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
*69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
*70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
*72. Pieced a quilt
*73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired/laid off from a job
*76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London (no, but saw the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London)
*77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
*79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
*82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
*84. Had your picture in the newspaper
*85. Read the entire Bible
*86. Visited the White House (outside only)
*87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
*88. Had chickenpox
*89. Saved someone's life
90. Sat on a jury
*91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
*93. Lost a loved one
*94. Had a baby
*95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
*98. Owned a cell phone
*99. Been stung by a bee
100. Seen Mount Rushmore in person
*101. Learned to play an instrument
102. Kissed the Blarney Stone
103. Ridden a camel
*104. Walked on the Columbian Icefields in Canada

Thursday, December 11, 2008


We all have family stories and legends that have been passed down. Will your children or grandchildren know what they are? My dear friend and fellow writer, M. Carolyn Steele, has penned the ultimate guide to teach the novice or veteran writer how to preserve those stories for future generations. Not just recording the facts, but taking an event or memory and applying fiction techniques to bring the story to life. She gives invaluable lessons on how and where to research to give authenticity to your stories.

From the publisher:
For those who yearn to put meat on the bones of long-ago ancestors and make them live again to tell their stories, M. Carolyn Steele's helpful book, Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations, will lead genealogists from the beginning steps of crafting a story through the final step of publishing it for family enjoyment.

Carolyn is also an award winning historical novelist whose passion is the Civil War era and Indian lore. Whether she's writing about her Alaskan ancestors or the Indian removal of the early 1800s, Carolyn makes the characters and scenes dance with life. She's a frequent speaker for genealogical and historical societies and teaches classes on Preserving Family Legends. To contact her to speak to your group or for more information, please visit her website. She also tells a fascinating story about how she became a writer.
Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations would make a great gift for the genealogist or story teller in your family or you might like one for yourself to jumpstart your own creative bent for crafting your family's legends. You can order the book here or here.


This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Engaging Father Christmas
FaithWords (October 30, 2008)
Robin Jones Gunn

REVIEW OF THE BOOK: If you love British settings as I do, you will enjoy this delightful novella. From the performance of A Christmas Carol to the quaint coffee shop run by Miranda's boyfriend's family, you feel the spirit of Christmas. Ian, her boyfriend, has several surprises, but secrets from the past and an unexpected illness put a damper on their Christmas. The story is light-hearted with a lovely message about the importance of relationships. It kept me "engaged" till the very last page. It may be just the thing to get you in the spirit of Christmas as well.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California and has lived in all kinds of interesting places, including Reno and Hawai’i.

She and her husband currently live near Portland, Oregon and have been married for 30 years. They spent their first 22 years of marriage working together in youth ministry, and enjoying life with their son and daughter who are now both grown.

As a frequent speaker at local and international events, one of Robin’s favorite topics is how God is the Relentless Lover and we are His first love. She delights in telling stories of how God uses fiction to change lives.

Robin is the recipient of the Christy Award, the Mt. Hermon Pacesetter Award, the Sherwood E. Wirt Award and is a Gold Medallion Finalist. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Media Associates International and the Board of Directors for Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers’ Guild.


Miranda Carson can't wait to return to England for Christmas and to be with her boyfriend, Ian. She has spent a lifetime yearning for a place to call home, and she's sure Carlton Heath will be it, especially when a hinted-at engagement ring slips into the conversation.

But Miranda's high hopes for a jolly Christmas with the small circle of people she has come to love are toppled when Ian's father is hospitalized and the matriarch of the Whitcombe family withholds her blessing from Miranda. Questions run rampant in Miranda's mind about whether she really belongs in this cheery corner of the world. Then, when her true identity threatens all her relationships in unanticipated ways, Miranda is certain all is lost.

And yet...maybe Father Christmas has special gifts in store for her after all.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Engaging Father Christmas, go HERE

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Sense of Place, Part 4 – AN IRISHWOMAN'S TALE by Patti Lacy

Did you ever dream of going to Ireland? Of visiting the wild cliffs above a foamy sea? Sipping tea in a thatched cottage? I have. And what a delight to take this vicarious trip to the Emerald Isle through the pages of An Irishwoman’s Tale by debut author, Patti Lacy.

As I’ve been doing for several weeks, I’m talking about the lagniappe (something extra) that a rich setting brings to a book. Characters are what makes us care, and plots make our hearts race, but oh, how lush settings plant our feet and feed our wanderlust.

An Irishwoman’s Tale is a framed story, told to a friend. Mary Freeman’s earliest memories haunt her—being ripped from her mother in Ireland and sent to Chicago as a young girl. There she grew up in a complicated home, and now cares for an aging mother, trying to balance her contemporary life with a good husband and two daughters. If only the memories didn’t get in the way.

What drew me in and fascinated me about this book:
  • Mary’s ordinary world—family, tennis at the club, a seemingly happy woman you might meet at the market or in church on Sunday. But she cares for an aging mother in the throes of Alzheimer’s whose rants are laced with an Irish brogue. You feel almost at once a connection to Ireland.
  • Irish roots. Details here of Mary’s early childhood. Poverty. Harsh, bitter words. Well drawn characters that would be out of place anywhere else. You feel the mist in the air as Mary walks the cobbled paths and finds herself on the rocky cliffs high above the ocean. A little too much description in places, but there is a real sense of being in County Clare, of inhaling the dung in the barnyard, and viewing the simple, impoverished life of the Irish—not only in the past, but in the present as well. It’s a land that has not progressed with the rest of the world in the wilds where Mary was born.
  • Spiritual reawakening. The heart can be a place, especially when it’s churning with turmoil, and I thought of Mary’s heart as a metaphor for her past. Until the past is resolved, her heart can’t be at rest. This is played out in a dramatic scene high on the cliffs where you could almost imagine Mary touching heaven. It is here she comes to grips with her past and her Savior. Very heartfelt moment.

    This is an ambitious book for a first-time author, and Patti has partnered a gripping story with a setting that is breathless. You can read more about Patti Lacy here and the book here.

    Next week we’ll travel back in time to the first Queen Elizabeth’s court. And the best part is you don’t have to wear a corset or carry a fan to be immersed in this vivid setting.

    Your turn. What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled? Please share with all of us here at the Café.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Tis the season! I wish I were one of those early shoppers who had all my gifts purchased, wrapped, and under the tree by the day after Thanksgiving, but I'm not. As a matter of fact, I don't even have a list made yet, so if you're out there and still want to get your request in to me, it's not too late.

I like to think that I'm a more in-the-moment kinda person. We had a great Thanksgiving with three of our four sons, two daughters-in-law, five of the grandkids, and Max's mom and sister, Connie. Lovely day. Instead of the kitchen marathon, we ordered a dinner from the local grocery, heated it up, added a few favorite side dishes, and enjoyed time with one another. What a blessing.

So, before the Thanksgiving weekend slips away, here are a few pics from our day.

Allison & the twins

The Fab Five

Mimi, Drake, & Jorgen

Check out the matching animal print outfits!

The newlyweds

Connie & Max with Mom

Nash & Jorgen

I got the Christmas tree decorated and the Nativity scenes in place today, so tomorrow it's back to work. I'm very excited about a new writing project. Also, would love to hear what project you're working on. Just don't tell me that you have your Christmas shopping done. La-la-la-la! I don't want to hear it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Sense of Place, Part 3. THE SHAPE OF MERCY by Susan Meissner

Knowing that everyone is busy with Thanksgiving plans, I'm posting this a bit early in keeping with the discussion about sense of place. Here we go.

I’ve been a fan of Susan Meissner’s fiction for some time. I met her at the ACFW conference in 2007 when I had an author critique session with her. She’s wise and smart, very focused both in her teaching and her writing, and a joy to visit with. I’m nervous about commenting on her latest book because she is, in my opinion, one of the finest writers today. And I’m certainly not qualified to speak about the deeper truths her fiction imparts.

Therefore, I’m going to stick with the plan, and tell you what I love about the sense of place in Susan’s latest book, THE SHAPE OF MERCY.

As I hinted at in my last post of this series, the settings are on opposite shores of America—California for the main character, college student Lauren Durough, and a village near Salem, Massachusetts for Mercy Hayworth, a young woman convicted in the Salem witch trials.

Two plots intertwine more than 300 years apart. I couldn’t imagine how Susan would accomplish this feat without having a character travel back in time. She did it, though, and both Lauren’s world and Mercy’s pulsed with urgency. I slipped easily from one world to the next because of Susan’s meticulous writing.

What worked for me and kept me turning the pages:
  • The contrast of Lauren’s privileged modern day existence and that of Mercy’s meager colonial days. Mercy’s story unfolds from the pages of her diary, which is described as “the color of toast in some places and in others, the color of wet ashes. The ink . . . was so faint it looked as if I could blow it away if I leaned over it and merely exhaled.” The pages are described as whispers, too delicate to bear the weight of my (Lauren’s) fingers. In one short paragraph, the reader knows that whatever is found in this diary is hallowed. You can’t help but long to know what those words are and what Mercy’s story is.
  • Mercy’s words. Her plain, everyday language with specific details of life in the Village, her dying father, and the increasing hysteria about witches in their midst, pull you in by their simplicity. I felt as if I were there as a first-hand witness. Mercy’s words are set off by italics to signal the reader that you are once again in Mercy’s world. Details are minimal, but the tension grows with each entry as you fear what is coming.
  • Lauren transcribes the diary in the library of Abigail, her employer – a daunting woman who lives a life of solitude in a massive Tudor home on the west coast. Lauren’s first visit to the library gives a clear picture not only of the room, but also what her relationship with the older woman will be like. The shelves are lined with books, but others are stacked throughout the library. In Susan’s words, “The rest were loose, unfettered, as if poised to attack. . . towers of pages stacked like scaffolding . . . I minded my ankles as if the books closest to me might nip at my feet.” This visual planted me firmly in Lauren’s world as she did her work.
  • Contrasting the two worlds physically is only part of what I liked about this book. As Mercy finds herself accused in the late 1600s, Lauren examines her own life, and finds her twenty-first century values shaken. Her own journey unfolds with that of Mercy, and she finds in Abigail, not only a job opportunity, but an avenue of change that will affect both their lives.

The Shape of Mercy satisfies in so many ways – the rich writing, the storytelling, and giving pause for reflection. The very cool thing that Susan has done is set up a blog so that the characters live beyond the life of the book. Ever wondered what happened after the last page? You can find out here. You can read more about Susan Meissner here or order the book here.

For the next two weeks, we’ll be traveling across the Atlantic and looking at two books I think you’ll find fascinating. Hope you’ll join me in the journey.

Now, it’s your turn. What are you reading that has a setting holding you hostage? Please, do tell.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A blogging friend asked me some questions

Today, I'm answering questions about being a writer on The Koala Bear Writer blog. This delightful blogger lives in Canada and whether you read my comments over there or not, you will certainly enjoy her thought-provoking posts and musings about her daily life.

The Sense of Place, Part 2. RAIN SONG by Alice J. Wisler

As promised, I’m going to share some of my observations about recent books I’ve read, and why they have the lagniappe (something extra) quality that endears them to me. If you missed the first post that explains what I’m talking about, you can read it here.

I’m starting with one of the most recent books I read, RAIN SONG by Alice J. Wisler. Published by Bethany House (2008).

Stories set in the South rank high on my list of favorites, and this one delivers. Alice Wisler created a number of unique characters for Rain Song, including a sage grandmother who’s clever and lovable, an uncle who wears coveralls and a Pepsi t-shirt every day of the week, and a young niece that will make you laugh and cry. The story is set in Mount Olive, North Carolina, and the book features Nicole Michelin, who has lived with her grandmother since age two following her mother’s untimely death in Japan. So right off, we have the contrast of North Carolina and the mystery of what happened in Japan, and for the rest of the book, Nicole herself has one foot in each world.

What works about this and built the story world (sense of place) for me:
  • The southern details. The voices of Mount Olive’s characters, with names that are distinctively southern. Their affinity for sweet tea and pineapple chutney. Family reunions. The Southern Truths that Ducee, Nicole’s grandmother, has built a life around. You can almost feel the sweltering heat and taste the chutney (served on soda crackers with a recipe at the end of the book).
  • The Japanese connection. Nicole is afraid of Japan and what happened there, but her greatest treasure is a Japanese doll named Sazae. She also loves fish and writes columns about koi and other water feature topics on her Pretty Fishy website. Which is how she begins her correspondence with Harrison Michaels in Japan. Through his emails, Japan became alive for me, the reader, and I wanted desperately for Nicole to go there and meet him.

    An aside here: Halfway through the book, I visited Alice’s ShoutLife page and told her I couldn’t wait to see what happened in Japan. I won’t tell you here, because that’s part of the charm of this book.
  • The blending of the two worlds. The author doesn’t do this through flashbacks or lumbering description, but rather an economy of words that weaves the two settings together. When Nicole has ginger tea with her grandmother, you feel a touch of Japan. The doll, Sazae, also metaphorically spans the waters that separate the two cultures.

    Rain Song is a lovely read and the debut novel for Alice Wisler. You can read more about her and the novel here.

    Next up, a story that spans not only two cultures from opposite shores of America, but is also separated by more than 300 years. I hope you’ll stop by next Wednesday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Celebration Worth Noting

Last spring, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer during routine mammography. To say we were shocked and devastated goes without saying. The latest technology, pinpoint accuracy in locating the nodes closest to the tumor, microcellular examination of tissue, and a bevy of amazing doctors became a part of Donna’s life in this most unexpected interruption.

She had surgery, a course of chemo, went wig shopping, and got a Mohawk haircut to put a little funky spin and humor into the grueling process. I went for her last chemo the early part of September. And now, two weeks ago, Donna finished the last of 30 radiation treatments. The staff at the cancer center celebrated the final treatment with a special gift, and I wanted to share it with you for a couple of reasons.

Breast cancer is curable with early detection. The path to the cure is not always easy, but for all of us, and Donna in particular, we have learned to cherish each other more, to be thankful for small things, and to love with abandon. Our faith has grown and our joy is greater because of the journey.

The gift Donna received – these five charms that came in a small drawstring pouch with the following note:


A heart, to remind you that you are loved.
An acorn, for your continued strength.
A peace sign, for trust in the future.
An angel to watch over you.
The world, because you make it a better place.

To all who stop by the cafe, my wish is for you to be well, and lest I sound like a broken record, don’t forget to schedule a mammogram if you’ve not had one in the past year. Your family and friends will thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Sense of Place (Part 1)

I admit that I’m drawn to character driven novels vs. plot-driven ones, although I love a good mystery or suspense for a change of pace. In my own writing, I tend to come up with characters and a premise before I create plots, but the plot comes out in the actual writing.

Lately, though, I’ve been pondering (which can be a dangerous thing) why even certain character driven novels fail to make a connection with me. I’m an average reader (one book per week usually) and read a variety of genres, but so many books I wade through are laborious and leave me feeling as if an ingredient is missing. They may have intriguing or quirky characters and an interesting premise, but just don’t deliver the a-ha that I love in a novel. I want to give readers the best possible experience so I’ve begun picking apart what works and what doesn’t.

Fortunately, in the past couple of months, I have read several books that have delivered that bit of lagniappe, which a local newspaper columnist here calls “that little something extra.” A bonus. A gift.

This is a dimension, I believe, that comes from the heart and intense effort of the writer and cannot be learned through the study of craft books (which you all know I’m an advocate of). And what I’ve tried to decipher is, what makes certain books stand out and soar above the others?

I think I’ve found the answer. Or at least part of it. It’s the sense of place. Being grounded in a world that is alive and magical (although not a fantasy world for me) and rings with authenticity.

The sense of place is not one that is listed in the five senses that authors must use to engage the reader, but sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch—when done right—provide that sixth sense—the sense of place. I’m not talking about long paragraphs of description or flowery language, but precise details, dialogue, and actions that support the characters and their dilemmas. I’m unable to imagine the stories in any place other than where the authors set them because they’ve made the settings (and sense of place) so strong that they’ve become another character in the story.

So, each Wednesday for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some thoughts about these books. Not reviews, per se, but what gave these novels a sense of place and why I can’t get them out of my head.

Curious about what novels I’m talking about? Check in next week, and I’ll have the first one ready for your tasting and reading pleasure here at the Café.

Monday, November 10, 2008


My dad is my hero. Someone who's always ready with another story or good advice. Although he didn't go to college, me made certain my sisters and I did. And along the way, he instilled in me a strong work ethic, a love of God, and the value of “keeping my nose clean and to the grindstone.” He also taught me some universal truths like: Don’t pick up a live mouse by the tail and you can “shoot the moon” in a game of pitch with only an ace and a deuce—providing it’s the first hand of a new game. My first published article was about my dad, and I have it on my website if you’d like to read it.

The other thing my dad did for me was serve our country in Korea when I was an infant. He was drafted into the Army in the post WW II era, but he never saw any action. He came home, married my mother, and started a family. When the Korean War broke out, he was called up from the reserves. An inveterate storyteller, who has charmed family and friends for generations, my dad rarely speaks of his time in Korea. I know he witnessed the ravages of war in a way that most of us can only imagine and that perhaps it brought back too many painful memories.

One evening, though, about 2 ½ years ago, my writing friend, Charles (Chuck) Sasser, told me about a book he was writing called God in the Foxholes. He was collecting stories of American veterans from all eras, but was particularly interested in those of WW II and Korean soldiers since so many of them were no longer alive. Long story short, Chuck’s book released this week in time for Veteran’s Day, and it is wonderful

My dad’s story is in there, with a picture of him in his Army uniform. I had heard only snatches of the story and came away with tear-filled eyes and an even greater appreciation for what my dad and so many others have done to make this country a safe place to live, work, and raise my children.

To you, Daddy, thanks. You are loved.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


CONGRATULATIONS to Doreen, who is the winner of Patti Lacy's wonderful Irish story, AN IRISHWOMAN'S TALE. Thanks, Doreen and all the others who stopped by the cafe and entered the drawing. Watch for more giveaways in the future.

And a special thanks to Patti Lacy for sharing this haunting, yet heartwarming story with the world.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It's been an amazing, complicated political season, and many things about the future of our nation hang in the balance. I've heard the debates, studied the issues, and prayed about my vote. Never have I felt so strongly that we need to heed the voice of God when he appeared to Solomon by night and spoke these words. " . . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

We need God more than ever. We live in the most fantastic nation on earth. We have untold freedom, opportunity, and the right to choose who will lead our nation in what will surely be troubled days ahead. However you vote, do not deny yourself this right to be heard. And rest in the assurance that whatever the outcome, those elected are there by the sovereign plan of God. A God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine.

Vote. Pray. Give thanks.

God bless America.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review and Book Drawing for AN IRISHWOMAN'S TALE


An Irishwoman’s Tale by Patti Lacy (see blog entry below) is based on a true story. The fact and fiction are woven together to tell Mary Freeman’s story—a delightful and sometimes haunting tale of her being torn from her mother’s bosom in a dingy Irish cottage and sent to live with a couple in Chicago.

Mary’s lifelong yearnings are to have a best friend and to understand why her mother let her be sent away. Living with a new mother who is distant and cold and a philandering father of prominent social stature who buries himself in the bottle, Mary’s bears her longings alone, unable to trust herself or others. Paul Freeman, a gentle, hardworking man gently guides and encourages her, both in their marriage and in the difficult relationship with her adoptive parents. But it isn’t until Mary opens her heart to Sally, a new acquaintance at the tennis club, that Mary really begins her journey to learning who she is.

The settings are evocative with detail and voice that put the reader in the wilds of Ireland, an American home where love is not expressed, a parochial school classroom, a farm in Indiana, and Mary’s own tortured heart. The prose is achingly lovely, and while the ending is satisfying and complete, there were times I wanted to know more about Sally, the friend, who gives unselfishly of her time and her presence to travel Mary’s road with her. In Sally, Mary does find the friend she’s always wanted and through Sally’s insistence, a trip to Ireland to unravel her past.

Friendship. The unseen grace of God. Deliverance. And hope.

An excellent read that I will be dwelling on for a long time.

Leave a comment on this post before noon on Friday, November 7. In the post, tell me your all-time favorite setting for a book and your contact information.

Thanks, and may the luck of the Irish be wi’ ye!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ah . . . Do You Remember These?

Does anyone remember the Statler Brothers? Max and I loved this group in the 70s and 80s, so much, in fact, that we own all their CDs and have seen them onstage in four different states. In 1983, we planned our entire vacation around going to their annual 4th of July celebration in their hometown—Staunton, VA.

The Statlers retired a few years ago, and I’ve missed them—their unapologetic love of God, country, and families, the four-part harmony, and story songs that became their signature “voice.” They clowned around, sang about times gone by, and pierced my heart with achingly beautiful love songs.

Andy, our oldest son, was indoctrinated with their “gospel” music from an early age and announced that he liked Grandma Pat’s church because they sang Statler Brothers’ songs. The song that day? “How Great Thou Art.”

It was Andy who found this video and sent it my way. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We all need a break once in a while. So today I’m taking a short breather from my novel revisions to bring you some pictures of what we did last weekend.

It was fall break for the school kiddos, so Max and I were recruited . . . er, volunteered to watch Scott and Denice’s three kids. Lovely weekend for all of us. Scott and Denice got a break from their busy lives of working, chasing kids, and handing out hugs to get away for their tenth anniversary (You know you're old when your children are celebrating double digit anniversaries!). The twins got a break from Kindergarten. And we got a break from our stilted routine.

Some of the things we did: Took the gang to Pumpkin Town (pics below), painted the pumpkins we purchased, took trips to the park (Max did this on Saturday and then had to follow up on Sunday with an encore trip), read books, brought Chinese in one night and pizza another.

All of the kids enjoyed the new book I got recently from Andy McGuire—Rainy Day Games. Such a fun book from a great author and editor at Moody Publishers (although Harvest House did the book).

For a few days, our lives were suspended, but investing time with our grandchildren was just the right break for all of us. Hope that you and yours take time to paint a pumpkin or swing from the monkey bars this month. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Have You Seen The Afictionado E-Zine?

I've told you about the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference I went to last month. Not all of you could swing it this year, either due to cost, distance, or other obligations. Now, though, you can have the conference in a nutshell - and for free!

Check out this month's AFICTIONADO E - ZINE. This monthly online magazine is always full of fun stuff and great information, but once again, the e-zine editors, Michael Ehret and Kristin Bliss have put together a conference extravaganza - a short article about EVERY session, workshop, and late night session from the 2009 Conference. So, it's like a mini-conference all in one place.

I was fortunate this year to be part of the conference "editorial staff", and I invite you to check out the articles I worte: YA Palooza, Writing For Teens here and CBA vs. ABA here. Grab a mug of your favorite fall latte or cocoa and click over there now, but a note of caution. Once you're there, you'll want to stay a while. There are sooooo many great, informative articles. Expect to be encouraged and inspired to get back in the writing groove or take your writing career to a new level.

I'm off now to finish reading all the great entries.

Monday, October 13, 2008


We have attended more weddings this year than we have total in the last five years. Love must be in the air, and it is so encouraging to see young couples in love, their feet on the ground, and their heads in the clouds.
Weekend before last, my nephew, Robbie, married his sweetheart, Kylee, in a beautiful, just-before-sunset, outdoor wedding. They will both soon graduate from college and are adorable together. I thought you would enjoy these pictures.

Kylee and Robbie - With This Ring

My sister, Marsha, with two of her boys, Jonathan on the left, and Robbie, the groom with the pink boutonniere. The wedding colors were chocolate and this yummy shade of pink. Just a perfect evening - a lovely Texas twilight, a host of family and friends, and a celebration. The reception was starlit with a million twinkle lights, a great dinner buffet and an evening of dancing. There's just something about a wedding in Texas - all those tapping feet and the warm hospitality of Kylee's family. Thanks for including us - we loved it!

God's riches blessings to you, Kylee and Robbie.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guest Blogging Today at Seekerville

I'm guest blogging today at Seekerville.

Drop by and see what I've been up to with my recent novel revisions.

See you next week!

Monday, September 29, 2008


For the past few months, I’ve spent nearly every writing moment finishing my Genesis entry which was fortunate enough to final in the 2008 ACFW contest. My preliminary scores were good—two very good and one so-so, but it propelled me into action. Top priority—finish the thing in time for the conference. I made it, pinging out at 72,000 words. Then the awards ceremony, and truthfully, I thought it could go either way. I wanted to win (the competitor in me), but if I didn’t, then I could live with that (not my time, other entries were better written or more compelling to the judges).

But, I did win. Gloriously. Took my bow. Brought home the trophy (okay, it was a plaque, but beautiful nonetheless) and basked in the victory. For almost a week.


Big breath.

I got my scores from the finals judge. Let’s just say, I have work to do.

Two things come immediately to mind:
1) Getting the opinions of two editors is extremely valuable. They gave of their time to read my entry (and four others) and rated my writing on twenty different points. This is a tremendous spectrum of information that I can use once I’ve brushed myself off and picked up my manuscript for revisions.

2) Winning is not the ultimate goal in a contest. Becoming a better writer is. I’ve put my work out there to be evaluated by others, subjected myself to the critical eye of fellow writers, and yes, even editors. Their opinions matter if I’m going to improve my craft.

And just in case you’re wondering, I had a Café Americano with my Humble Pie. I’ve printed off my manuscript and dug into the rewrites. I’ll let you know how it goes.

On another note, I’ve been tagged to write Seven Random Things about myself. I recall doing this a few months ago, so I guess it’s come around again. As usual, I’m not tagging anyone, but if you’d like to keep this thing going around the world and don’t want the wrath of the wrinkle fairy to assault you in your dreams, you can pick it up and run with it.

Seven Random Things About Me:
1) I saw Mama Mia (the movie) this summer—Loved it! Love the music. Love the drama.
2) I do not like cantaloupe.
3) Or squash.
4) My favorite color is animal print, but I am also partial to red.
5) I have delivered kittens, puppies, and human babies. Human mamas yell louder.
6) I have seen kittens, puppies, and humans take their last breath. They’ve all made me cry.
7) My Redeemer lives. And that makes my heart soar!

Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Conference and Book Signing Pics

The pictures tell more than I ever could about the conference. I hope you catch the excitement!

The gals from "Seekerville"
(front) Cheryl Wyatt, Myra Johnson, Julie Lessman, & Janet Dean
(back) Debbie Guisti, Margaret Daley (who infiltrated the group), Mary Connealy, & Camy Tang
The Three Musketeers - My online buddies
Erica Vetsch, Kaye Dacus, & Georgiana Daniels

Author Panel at the Mall of America Booksigning
Angela Hunt (Conference Keynote Speaker), Karen Ball, James Scott Bell, and Brandilyn Collins
My friend and author, Michelle Sutton
Mike Ehert (Editor of Afictionado) and fab author, Susan Meissner

Myra and Rhonda Gibson at booksigning

I am so proud! Here is Denice at the booksigning. The cows and pencils were a big hit.
Sarah Anne Sumpolec is on the right.

Me with Cara Putnam, who should be named Wonder Woman. She organized the 120 person booksigning, had a baby four months ago, and had two books published last year. She is amazing and so much fun!

Authors Tosca Lee and John Olson
John also taught the Advanced Fiction Writing class. Wow!

Vickie McDonough and Myra Johnson at booksigning

The fantastic Mary Connealy (Book of the Year Winner) with me

My two favorite Susans - Great authors and fun friends
Susan Meissner and Susan Page Davis at the awards banquet

Me with my agent, Sandra Bishop. She's smart and funny and loves coffee. Who knew?

Chip MacGregor who looks fine in a kilt and is one of the nicest guys around.

Fellow WIN members, Therese Stenzel and Gina Conroy at the banquet

WIN friends at the banquet - Myra Johnson, Vickie McDonough, & Therese Stenzel

Denice, Me, Margaret Daley, and Myra at the banquet

Cindy & Steven Hunt, Matt Jones, and Kenny at the awards banquet

Myra, Denice, and I on our best behavior.