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, May 31, 2009

CAFE SPECIAL OF THE WEEK - Green Tea Smoothies

The characters in The Shape of Mercy live on where the book ended through the delightful blog Susan has created for Lauren, Abigail, Clarissa, Mercy, and Esperanza. Sometimes it’s hard to believe these people aren’t real. So for today’s café special, you’re in for a treat—Green Tea Smoothies from the kitchen of Esperanza, Abilgail’s trusty housekeeper. In keeping with the fun, you’ll hear the recipe from Esperanza herself. Thanks, Susan, for permission to share this.

Green Tea Smoothies

Okay, so Lauren tells me you want the recipe for green tea smoothies. First, these weren't my idea. Why you'd want to mess with berries and bananas and ice cream - the only decent ingredients for a smoothie - is beyond me. I only fiddled with this concoction because the girls wanted them. If you ask me, I think they look like a potion mixed in the laboratory of a mad scientist.


This is enough for two to three people depending on how big a glass you are using.

First brew some green tea. Don't get the cheap stuff. Get a nice package of green tea, by the bag, if you must and brew some and let it cool. Don't cool it by adding ice cubes. Let it cool on its own. You put ice cubes in hot brewed tea, and you will dilute it to uselessness.

Then add the following to your blender:

* 1 cup ice and crush it
* 1/2 banana - or just toss the whole thing in there.
* 1 peach, pitted and cut into chunks
* 1/4 tsp of ground ginger - I just shake it. Guessing here.
* 1 tblsp of honey or one good squirt
* 1/2 cup vanilla frozen yogurt

Blend all this together and then add:

* 1 cup of cooled green tea

Blend just until uniform. Pour into tall glasses. If you have fresh mint. Put a couple leaves on top. It improves the look.

These are actually good for you. I'll give you that.

Carla here: With summer breathing down our necks, this might be just the "cooler" you've been looking for. And don't forget . . . if you haven't left a comment to have a chance to win The Shape of Mercy, you can do that here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Encore Review of THE SHAPE OF MERCY by Susan Meissner plus a chance to win the book!

Today I’m happy to share with you an encore review that I did of Susan Meissner’s lovely novel, The Shape of Mercy. An extra bonus this time—you have a chance to win a signed-by-the-author copy of a Limited Edition Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of the book. It’s gorgeous, folks!

To enter the contest please leave a comment on this post with your contact information before noon next Friday (June 5). If you’ve been itching to get your hands on this book, now’s your chance.

One last note before the review: The Shape of Mercy was named to Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2008 and the ECPA's Fiction Book of the Year for 2009. Well done, Susan!

The Shape of Mercy is set 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. 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, a hint of romance, 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 also read more about Susan Meissner here.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ROSE HOUSE by Tina Ann Forkner up on CFBA with REVIEW

MY REVIEW: It's my pleasure today to introduce a fellow Oklahoman and writing friend, Tina Ann Forker. In a follow up novel to Ruby Among Us, Tina takes the reader back to the Sonoma Valley area with Rose House. The setting, this time, though, is contemporary and what a lovely journey it is. Two sisters, the sole survivors of a childhood tragedy, have grown apart. Denial, betrayal and the inability to forgive have hardened their hearts and stolen the joy they once shared.

The writing is lush, yet serene. You can almost smell the roses and feel their thorns as the magnificent blooms scramble across Rose House, the source of inspiration and healing for many who’ve witnessed its beauty and walked the breathtaking grounds of the Frances-DiCamillo Vineyard. The story drew me in and held me captive from the start as Lillian Diamon was also drawn to the Rose House following the mysterious accident which took the life of her husband and two small children. When she discovers her private pain and grief have been captured by an unknown artist, she returns time and again, hoping to find out who painted the masterpiece. Haunting at times, the story winds through the picturesque countryside as Lillian weaves her way into the lives of those in the tiny town of La Rosaleda.

Finding beauty from the beasts within us resonates through this story, and I found the ending to be unexpected, but lovely. You don’t want to miss it.

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Rose House
WaterBrook Press (May 5, 2009)
Tina Ann Forkner

Tina Ann Forkner writes contemporary fiction that challenges and inspires. She grew up in Oklahoma and graduated with honors from CSU Sacramento before settling in Wyoming. She lives with her husband, their three bright children and their dog and stays busy serving on the Laramie County Library Foundation Board of Directors. She is the author of Ruby Among Us, her debut novel, and Rose House, which recently released from Waterbrook Press/Random House.


A vivid story of a private grief, a secret painting, and one woman’s search for hope

Still mourning the loss of her family in a tragic accident, Lillian Diamon finds herself drawn back to the Rose House, a quiet cottage where four years earlier she had poured out her anguish among its fragrant blossoms.

She returns to the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the Sonoma Valley in search of something she can’t quite name. But then Lillian stumbles onto an unexpected discovery: displayed in the La Rosaleda Gallery is a painting that captures every detail of her most private moment of misery, from the sorrow etched across her face to the sandals on her feet.

What kind of artist would dare to intrude on such a personal scene, and how did he happen to witness Lillian’s pain? As the mystery surrounding the portrait becomes entangled with the accident that claimed the lives of her husband and children, Lillian is forced to rethink her assumptions about what really happened that day.

A captivating novel rich with detail, Rose House explores how the brushstrokes of pain can illuminate the true beauty of life.

If you would like to read an excerpt from Rose House, go HERE

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Last week, Patti Lacy commented, “This is a café? Where are the grits?” Well, I don’t do grits, but it got me thinking . . . why not have a special of the week? My initial vision of my blog was to provide a place to gather and enjoy a cuppa something while learning about new books and the writing path—sort of a comfy spot to visit with friends. I cherish all your visits and comments, and now I want to give you another reason to stop by the Café.

So this week is the debut of the “Special of the Week.” I have a two-fold purpose in mind:

1. Give you a peek at my to-die-for favorites.

2. Let you, my readers, be an active part of the Café by sending me your good eats. If you’re a reader, tell me a sentence or two about what you like to read or a favorite book you’ve read recently and send me a recipe (Photos of you and the recipe are welcome). If you’re a writer, here’s you chance to plug your work in progress or recent and/or upcoming book release. Maybe you’re inspired by a certain food or have a recipe from your book you’d like to share. Again, photos of you and your book totally welcome. Please leave a comment with your contact information if you've got a recipe to share. Thanks!

Now, on to this week’s special—Snickerdoodles! My original recipe had this catchy little heading: Fun to make! Fun to sniff! Fun to eat!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix thoroughly:
1 cup shortening
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs

Sift together and add to creamed mixture.
2 ¾ cups sifted flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. soda
½ tsp. salt

Roll dough into small balls. Roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture and bake 8 – 10 minutes. The tops will crinkle and flatten as they cook.

I made up a double batch of these recently and took them to my friend Carolyn Steele’s book signing of her almost new book, Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations. And it warmed the cockles of my heart to see these melt-in-your-mouth cookies disappearing from the plate almost as fast as Carolyn’s books flew into the hands of the folks who came to her signing. Thanks, Carolyn, for letting me share this fun day with you.

By the way, you can order Carolyn's book here or here.
It’s your turn—send me your tempting recipes. I know you want to.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I met Patti Lacy on the run at the Minneapolis ACFW conference. In our five minute encounter, I knew I’d met a writer who sizzled with life, embracing it with joy and wonder. Soon after I read her debut novel, An Irishwoman’s Tale, and saw that same quality in her writing. She writes with abandon—exuberant prose with a magnetism aimed straight at the reader.

Patti’s second novel, What The Bayou Saw, is another compelling, page-turning read that recalls a tumultuous past, this time for Sally Stevens, a college professor. When one of her students, a gifted African-American girl, is brutally beaten, old memories that Sally has kept hidden for thirty years are stirred. As the layers are peeled back, Sally discovers not only the misdeeds of others, but also a blackness in her own soul that stemmed from an incident with her childhood friend, Ella.

Deeply honest, the prose sometimes stings with gritty reality about the prejudices of the South—from the swamps of Sally’s childhood to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Ultimately, it’s a story of faith, the sometimes twisty road to forgiveness, and God’s grace. The cost is great, but it is the sacrifice Sally must make if she is to preserve her marriage and her own integrity. I think you’ll be delighted with the detours in the scenery, as Sally and Ella wrap themselves around your heart.

Patti Lacy is a gifted storyteller, with a knack for drawing rich settings that linger long after the last page.

You can find out more about Patti here or order What The Bayou Saw here. Highly recommended!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I come from a long line of PC users. My youngest son cut his teeth sitting on his dad’s lap in front of a TRS-80. We’ve wandered through a number of different incarnations since then, each one smaller, faster, and smarter. Nowadays, we each have our own PC laptops. Mine has been a trustworthy companion and friend for four years.

A while back, though, I began talking about making a change, building my case for why I wanted to get a MacBook the next time around. Eyebrows shot up. Murmurings about going to the dark side rumbled. I held my ground, citing my reasons. Macs aren’t as prone to viruses. They are faster, giving instant gratification when you click from one app to another. If I have to learn a new system (aka the dreaded Vista), why not put my time into learning the Mac? It’s highly recommended by other writers. Did I mention no viruses? I didn’t push the envelope on this, but waited patiently, letting the idea soak in.

Then, on a recent weekend, my hubby said, “Wanna go to the mall and pick out your new Mac?” I had my shoes on and my purse dangling from my arm before he’d had time to blink.

So now I’m driving a Mac. Or at least I have a learner’s permit. It wasn’t the “snap” everyone said. When we brought it home, I managed to unpack it from its lovely designer packaging and find the power cord. Filled out the owner registration and connected to the Internet. Then, I had no idea what to do next. It looked like I’d stumbled into a foreign market and nothing on the shelves looked even remotely familiar.

Being the loyal love that he is, Max came to the rescue. He downloaded a tool to capture all my data from my sad-faced, rejected laptop, and somehow through a series of magical tricks and two glasses of wine got everything in its proper place—all my documents, my emails, my contacts, my calendars. Hallelujah!

Some things I’ve discovered. There’s a dashboard. I know I saw it once, and I betcha I could locate it again if someone told me I needed to. There’s a dock where all the things I need are nicely parked, ready for a test drive. Soon we’ll be cruising along, shifting gears, taking little side trips into places I’ve never been or even knew I wanted to go. Hairpin turns ahead? No worries. I’m driving a Mac. A zippy little thing that I hope will take my writing to new heights.

The only problem I see is that without FreeCell and Spider Solitaire as the muse I used to rely on (ahem), I now have no excuse for not writing.

And that is a very good thing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Today the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) announced the 2009 Genesis Finalists. This annual contest for unpublished authors is gaining more recognition each year and is a contest that's very close to my heart. The past two years I've been fortunate enough (thrilled and humbled) to final and then win my category. It's a nerve-wracking, exhilarating learning experience, but when I looked back over the past couple of years' finalists, I saw many names who've now been published or are contracted. Nice, huh?? The category winners will be announced at the ACFW conference in Denver this coming September.

So here they are: The 2009 Genesis Finalists:


Sharon Ball
David W. Fry
Jennifer Griffith
Ane Mulligan
Patty Slack


Cathy Bryant
Kathleen Haynes
Lisa Jordan
Christy LaShea Smith
Eileen Astels Watson


Nancy Herriman
D'Ann Mateer
Christina Miller
Sandi Rog
Christine Schmidtke

HISTORICAL ROMANCE (six finalist entries due to a tie, but one is a
double finalist):

Jody Hedlund (double finalist with two entries)
Lisa Richardson
Connie Stevens
Gina Welborn
Lacy Williams


David Fry
Anne Greene
Dineen Miller
Lynda Schab
Alan Schleimer


Mary F. Allen
Wenda Dottridge
Danica Favorite-McDonald
Kelly Ann Riley
Janet Warren


Valerie Comer
Megan Ebba
David Fry
Suzanne Krein
Lisa Tuttle


Cathleen Armstrong
Marie Wells Coutu
Candee Fick
Julie Garmon
Ashely Weis


Kasey L. Heinly
Gretchen Hoffman
Susan Miura
Diana Sharples (double finalist with two entries)

Congrats one and all!

Here are some numbers for you to ponder:
  • This year, the Genesis had a whopping 454 entries.
  • That's a 43% increase from last year.
  • Each of the 454 entries was given to three judges
  • That translates to 1,362 entries to send back to entrants.
Camy Tang (the Genesis Coordinator) and her crew have done a phenomenol job. Next time you see her, you might tell her thanks. Also, if you recognize any names on this list, sent them a sweet note, okay?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

READER HOOK PRODUCTIONS - Introducing Matt Koumalats

One thing I enjoy about the OWFI conference is the opportunity to explore topics I’ve been curious about or learn something new to add to my arsenal of technology (which sadly I need a LOT of help with). Such was my hope when I attended Matt Koumalat’s session on “New Media to Promote Your Work.”

Matt is Jodi Thomas’s son and has started a business where he produces book trailers and other video presentations for his READER HOOK PRODUCTIONS company. Nice situation for his mom—trading home-cooked meals for book trailers :-) Like his mom, though, Matt was the consummate professional.

Some facts for writers to think about:

  • 154 million people watched online videos in 2008.
  • 73% of US Internet users viewed video online in February 2008.
  • 70% of Internet users under age 30 view interactive video.
  • 43% of the online population watch favorite TV shows on the Internet.

    I don’t know about you, but this was startling to me . . . and a call that I need to be more aware of the impact this type of media will have on my future as an author. Just when I’m getting used to books being downloaded to be read, I realize that to get the word out about such books, I must be aware of attracting potential readers. Hence, the overnight popularity of book trailers.

    I’m not sure what my publisher would like to see in this format, but after hearing Matt speak, I wouldn’t hesitate to let him produce a book trailer for me. He is knowledgeable in obtaining photo, video, and music rights (which can be fraught with implications if not done properly). He gathers information about your book to get just the right feel and auditions speakers for the trailers with voice overs. The variety of book trailers he showed were sharp, intriguing, leaving a lasting image in my mind. Very impressive, Matt!

    The session concluded with some writing tips for bloggers. Some may not be new to you, but they’re all good advice.
  • Blog regularly and often.
  • Make your blog personal.
  • Link like crazy.
  • Less is often more. 250 words is enough (oops! This is longer than that.)
  • Come up with snappy headlines.
  • Write with passion.
  • Use bullet point lists.
  • Edit blogs for typos and misspelled words.

    That’s it for now. Hope it gave you something to think about. You can check out Matt’s work here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The first writers’ group that I belonged to back in my writing infancy days was the Panhandle Professional Writers in Amarillo, Texas. It was there I tried my fledgling wings and first heard of romance writer Jodi Thomas. In the ensuing years, Jodi has been on numerous bestseller lists, won three Rita awards, been inducted in the RWA Hall of fame and spread her wings too—into the genre of women’s fiction.

The room was packed at the OWFI conference (see my previous post) when Jodi spoke on women’s fiction. Since that’s my chosen genre, I paid particular attention. She shared some interesting facts about and distinctions of women’s fiction.
  • Women’s fiction, which is often called mainstream fiction, is one of the fastest growing genres—a $28 billion per year market.
  • The appeal of women’s fiction is based on the premise that women bond strong and hard.
  • It makes the reader laugh and cry, often on the same page, and tugs at the heartstrings.
  • It explores depth in relationships that can’t be shown in romance
  • The woman is the star of the story—The way she changes IS the story.
  • Not always contemporary. Can often be in a slightly different time period.

    Some writing tips for women’s fiction:

  • Research: Always try to walk the land where the story is set. Interview locals. Visit shops where interesting gossip and social issues may give your story a new twist.
  • Read and ANALYZE many types of women’s fiction to find your niche.
  • Think of yourself as an explorer. Step out and learn new things. Develop a hunger for “the story.”

    Jodi’s recent releases in this genre are Twisted Creek and Rewriting Monday. They’re worth checking out.

One of the opportunities at the OWFI conference is the “Take a speaker to lunch” feature. A couple of my fellow Tulsa Night Writers and I invited Jodi and the Amarillo attendees to meet us. At a table for nine, we had the opportunity to learn more about Jodi Thomas. What a treat! She’s very gracious and willing to share her experiences and expertise. Thanks, Jodi, for a delightful lunch. Also waving to my Amarillo buddies—Phyllis Miranda and Natalie Bright. Seeing them all and hearing them talk my language makes me homesick for Texas.

Next up, I’ll be sharing about a session presented by another Texan with very close ties to Jodi Thomas. Hope you’ll stop back by and join me.

Out of curiosity—are any of you readers of women’s fiction? What authors do you like? Can’t wait to hear your answers.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I’m just back from the annual OWFI (Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc.) conference. As always I ate too much, stayed up too late, and basked in the company of four hundred other people who understand the concept of creating characters on paper who somehow are braver, more handsome, kinder or even more vindictive that the real people in our lives. This is what we do, what makes the blood course through our veins, and sends ripples racing up and down our spines. Going to conferences is one of the best perks of being a writer.

I always enjoy the sessions, the rich learning environment, and the people. Now I don’t know whether it’s just me or if I’m on the lookout more than the average conference attendee, but invariably I’m overwhelmed by surprises that pop up—unexpected connections, meeting new people who become instant soul mates, or hearing a writing concept that instantly clicks and propels me into a new direction in my writing.

This year held all that and more. Tess Gerritsen gave the keynote address on Friday night. Lovely, wonderful lady who shared her writing dream, her road to success, and her wisdom for what makes a great story. After her book signing that evening, several of us had the chance to talk with her up close and personal as we waited for the elevator. Graciously, she answered our questions and seemed in no hurry to dash off to her room. .

The following morning at breakfast, Tess also “happened” to come and sit with three of four of us at breakfast. Having talked to her the night before, it was like greeting one of the girls—our new friend. We found out about her fascination with the lightning and the horrendous rain we had in the middle of the night, how she frets and worries about her own kids the way we all do, and that she likes cantaloupe for breakfast. Just a genuine, delightful time. One of the nicest surprises from the conference.

A few facts about Tess Gerritsen:

  • She wanted to write from the age of 7, but was encouraged as others from her culture (Chinese) to pursue a scientific career. She became a doctor.
  • She pursued her writing passion by penning her first romantic thriller while on maternity leave with her first child.
  • After eight published novels in the romance genre, she had an idea for a totally different story—a medical thriller about the kidnapping and killing of innocent children whose organs were then harvested for the wealthy who skirted the conventional transplant channels. This book, Harvest, catapulted her to the NYT Bestseller List and with successive novels, has established her as one of the most beloved medical suspense novelists today.
  • Her best advice for writers: Find an idea that punches you in the gut and won’t let you go until you write that book.

    Wow! And amen to that.

    In the next couple of weeks, I’ll share some other providential meetings I had at the conference and some of the gems I picked up in workshops. Anyone out there a fan of medical suspense? Trust me on this—Tess Gerritsen is a master storyteller.