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.