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.

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.