Congratulations to Susanne Dietze and Gina Welborn on the release of The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection from Barbour Publishing. It's Susanne's debut!

Congratulations to Julianna Deering aka DeAnna Julie Dodson for Murder at the Mikado being an INSPY award finalist.

Congratulations to Anita Mae Draper! Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, published in A Cup of Christmas Cheer, Volume 4 is a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Romantic Cartographer

My husband is a collector. He is or has collected pretty much anything I can think up. From bottle caps to erasers, ball caps, coins, stamps, to copies of Robinson Crusoe. I could go on. I’ll say it again, my husband is a collector. I am not.

He has one collection that I actually enjoy though. Maps. There’s something about antique maps that draws me in. I like to read the names of towns and trace the sinuous path of rivers and roads, and well… imagine.  

The oldest known maps are clay tablets from Babylon, believed to have been created around 2300 B.C. Some historians even claim that there are cave drawings that are maps from much earlier. Greek and Roman map makers were well aware that the world was a sphere and their maps reflected their knowledge. During the Middle Ages European maps took a distinctly odd turn, literally. T-O maps began to be created which showed an exaggeratedly large Jerusalem as the center and east was oriented toward the top of the map.

During the Age of Exploration, map making made great strides forward. It was during this time that compass lines began to be added to maps and globes were created.

Maps and globes were incredibly valuable. The country that controlled the knowledge of the trade routes had a decisive advantage. And that advantage extended from bringing home incredible wealth to the nation in control of the maps to military and diplomatic power. Because of this navigational charts and maps were soon given the status of state secrets. And by extension, cartographers became secret service agents, able to lead their countries to new lands to colonize.

The more the European powers came into competition, the more highly prized accurate information and charts became.

For example, the Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal divided the world in half. And the two countries agreed to claim new discoveries only in their half. Spain took the western hemisphere and Portugal the eastern.

But there’s some evidence that Portugal’s King John II may have put one over on good old Ferdinand and Isabella. The originally proposed line was a little further west of the one that was finally agreed upon, and what might not have seemed very significant in writing would have made a huge difference if a picture had been available. You see, Pedro Alvarez Cabral is officially credited with discovering Brazil in 1500, ostensibly during another attempt to reach India via a westerly route. He promptly claimed the newly discovered land for Portugal since that bump out of the South American continent lay well within the negotiated territory. It’s believed by some historians that Portuguese ships discovered the coast of Brazil much earlier however, and that John II knowingly had the line moved in order to gain more land.

The discovery of Australia is attributed to Captain Cook, but there’s also some evidence that the Portuguese knew of the continent and kept the information a secret.

With so much at stake it’s no wonder that spies were soon dispatched to one another’s capitals to try to buy or steal those incredibly valuable maps. Lisbon in particular was inundated by secret agents.
Anybody else’s head spinning with story possibilities? What? No one else is envisioning a map sewn into a heroine’s skirt, midnight escapes and swashbuckling adventure on land and sea? Oh. Well I’ll go into my corner now and content myself with daydreaming.

Maps are more prosaic. Mere tools to get us from point a to point b. There’s no romance or intrigue in a GPS system. But when I look at my husband’s collection of (mostly fake) antique maps I can still smell a whiff of the spice islands and all the adventure of the Age of Discovery.

Do you like maps too? Any map related stories to share?

Is anyone in your life a collector? Is it you? What do you/they collect?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Freud and Jung and the Internet

Would these guys have fun with social media...or what?  I do manage to stay away from the worst of it and happily make my way through TheBookOfFace looking for photos of baby humans and animals (specifically my grandchildren). Twitter has its attraction—more so since photos automatically show up. And then there’s Pinterest. That basically rounds out my distractions. That’s enough, right?

What amazes me is the depths you can dig in a world wider than I ever imagined. Just the other day, I found myself checking a list of the "last meals of famous serial killers". Fascinating. Well worth those two minutes I lost to it.  People are weird. Makes you feel like at least you 'belong', right?

Admit it, you'd like to know, too.  "Some requests go a little overboard: In that Texas case, convicted white supremacist murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer put in his order for two chicken-fried steaks, one pound of barbecued meat, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a meat-lover's pizza, three fajitas, an omelette, a bowl of okra, one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream, some peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and three root beers — and the request was granted."  Worst part is that I totally respect his choices, and, hey what flavor was the ice cream?

My obsession with hand-held device word games died out (as my Inkwell “words with friends”  will attest.)  I think it coincided with my newer obsession with Pinterest. You name it, there’s a board or fifty devoted to it.  I’m sure that Crafts Made With Ear Wax is on there somewhere. Go ahead. Look it up. I did.

I’m so glad I don’t have a smart phone yet.  And I’m a terrible texter. I have to put my virtual foot down somewhere, right?
To prove I live on the edge...while I'm driving, I am totally cut off from cyberspace and even the radio announcers. Spooky, huh. 

So, what's your favorite electronic have-to-be-connected, time-wasting hobby? 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Broken Umbrellas - Awesome Nonfiction!

By Dina Sleiman

Perhaps the best part of being an editor is getting to read books that change your life as a part of your job. Broken Umbrellas is one of those books. As I was editing this book for WhiteFire, it blessed me so much and I was talking about it with such passion and excitement, that my book club decided to read it the moment it released. This beautifully written nonfiction book will minister hope and healing to anyone who has areas of brokenness in their live, which--let's face it--is pretty much all of us. But why don't you take a peek for yourself:

It snowed the day of my grandson's funeral. Pure grace blanketing dirty mounds of earth. Through my tears, my gaze fell on a sagging blue umbrella suspended over the head of a woman grieving our tiny loss with us. New tears sprang from within me, from depths I didn t know existed. Not from the loss of my precious one, but from this old umbrella, broken and twisted, yet hovering and flapping above this woman. It offered no protection at all from the wetness dropping from the sky, yet she clung to it. Broken and unsheltered. Could anything symbolize my heart and all humanity better than this crippled umbrella? And then she did something that tore me apart. 
She moved her brokenness in an attempt to protect the man beside her.
We are all surrounded by brokenness, around us and inside us from divorce, from abuse, from loss. We try to relate and serve, to love and protect...but how can we, when we ourselves are broken? We still end up exposed to life s storms. We still end up covered in snow. And we wonder why. 
In this transparent and honest look into humanity's deepest hurts, hope for our relationships comes through the ultimate Relationship with the Lord. Join author Emma Broch Stuart as she travels that snowy road of pain toward the ultimate healing only God can offer.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Color Me Challenged

by Susanne Dietze

One of my friends posts photos of her accomplishments on her Facebook page...nothing new there, right? We all do it, or have friends who do. But these photos caught my attention because they were of coloring book pages she'd filled in with colored pencils.

I hadn't heard of Adult Coloring Books. Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but it's a Real Thing. A Big Thing. Johanna Basford's Secret Garden, published in 2013, has sold 1.4 million copies and is an Amazon bestseller.
Amazon purchase link

The last time I colored a picture (with colored pencils or crayons, between the lines) was at church, helping kids with a project. I remember many, many hours coloring with my kids, and a looong adventure spent coloring a complicated American Girl poster with my daughter.

But me, coloring, all by myself, for myself? Umm... Nope. Can't remember anything once I was out of school.

Basford's second book, Enchanted Forest, is pretty popular, too. It has over 300 Five-Star reviews on Amazon.
Amazon purchase link
Basford hand-draws each page, which is far too complicated for young hands. The pictures look beautiful, I admit. But spending time coloring one? Me? Maybe you're thinking something similar. I'm too busy. If I'm going to indulge in something creative, it has to pay off...

Uh-oh. I think I'm getting the point.

Basford isn't alone in creating coloring pages for grown-ups. Lucy Mucklow and Angela Porter offer an entire Color Me Series.

Amazon purchase link
Here's the back cover copy:

Our lives become busier with each passing day, and as technology escalates, so does our access to work, obligations, and stress. Constant stimulation and expectation have left us burnt out and distanced from the present moment. "Now" has become something that happens online, not in the space and time that we physically occupy. Color Me Calm is a guided coloring book designed for harried adults. Art therapist Lacy Mucklow and artist Angela Porter offer up 100 coloring templates all designed to help you get coloring and get relaxed.

I don't know if I'll hop on the coloring bandwagon, but I am challenged by its intention. When was the last time I did something creative just to be creative? Not for my career (writing books). Not to give as a gift or complement my new release (beading bookmarks with my daughter for giveaways for my book).

I honestly don't remember, because even though I didn't realize I was doing it, I've judged creativity without "purpose" as something I'm too pridefully-busy to do. And as you might have guessed, I'm stressed out. Fretting. Sad about a few things.

Stress and sadness are part of life, but God has given us many ways to cope while we shelter under His arms. One of them is trusting Him enough to rest.

In resting, we let Him do the work. We trust Him enough that we can let go and let Him handle things while we take a break. He made us to need sleep, after all. So why do we often look at fatigue and rest as a weakness?

Coloring might go along with that idea. Letting something go. Creating just to create. Not for show. Not for anyone else's eyes. Just to feel the paper give way to our pencil, to hear the swish of strokes while the color of our choosing fills the space between the lines.

Blood pressure goes down. Heart rate, down. Rest.

I think I still have a Spiderman coloring book around here somewhere...


Look for The Most Eligible Bachelor on Amazon!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Two Great Novellas: Love's Reward and Baker's Dozen

by C.J. Chase
Years ago, a fellow writer and I were comparing the types of main characters we often default to--as writers and as readers. She divided the romance character world into two types: the larger-than-life heroes vs. the regular guy heroes. Regular guy heroes seem to dominate Christian romantic fiction. These are by and large the kind of guy most of us meet in our day-to-day lives--the small town sheriff, the cowboy, the preacher. The larger-than-life hero is the alpha male. You're most apt to find him on secular romance bookshelves: the ubiquitous dukes, billionaires, and SEALs. He excels in his chosen field and exudes power and charisma. However, he often has a ruthless streak, which is probably why we see fewer of him in inspirational stories.

Of course, we all know that some regular guys are Class A jerks and some successful businessmen and military leaders seek to emulate Christ in both their private and public lives. So what's a discerning Christian romance reader to do if she enjoys stories about a handsome, rich, powerful man laid low by his love for God and a good woman? Get her hands on the The Most Eligible Bachelor anthology. Two of our own Inkwell bloggers contributed to the collection, and last week, we celebrated their releases with some yummy…desserts

In Susanne Dietze’s “Love’s Reward,” architect Daniel Blair needs to focus his time and attention developing a set of plans for the final round of the International Architecture Prize. But his too-driven friend-turned-competitor has designed the perfect distraction. He’s placed a bounty on Daniel’s head, er, heart, with a $1,000 prize going to the woman who manages to end his bachelorhood. Now unmarried women from all over turn-of-the-century San Francisco are delivering baked goods to Daniel’s apartment, leaving notes at his office, and accosting him in the street. In desperation, Daniel turns to his long-time friend Josie Price to act as his human shield. If the other women think his heart is already spoken for, perhaps they will find another target for the attentions. Poor Daniel. His heart really is already entangled…but will Josie ever see him as more than a friend?

Gina Welborn uses the ever-popular state of Texas as the setting for “Baker’s Dozen.” Duke Baker is a successful Fort Worth businessman, a loving father to a five-year-old daughter, and a grieving widower of two years who still wears his wedding band. He doesn’t think himself ready to marry again, but his daughter really needs a mother, so he goes along with his father’s scheme to introduce him to twelve eligible debutants. Alas, Duke just isn’t at ease in social situations, and he can be incredibly oblivious about matters that don’t concern his business. He’d love nothing better than to dump the whole gracious host gig into the lap of Irie La Croix, the daughter of the Baker housekeeper. But Irie is planning a life far away from Texas. Will Duke realize before it's too late that love can come again...with a lucky 13?

I love novellas. These bite-size stories are the perfect length for the busy reader who often can’t pick up a book until the kids are in bed. Because I can finish them in one sitting, I'm not left hanging until I can find another short burst of time or tempted to sacrifice so much sleep that I pay for my reading binge the next day.

However, short stories present challenges for the writers. Because the lower word count makes it harder to develop a new relationship between the characters, writers frequently utilize a reunion or a friends-to-lovers story structure where the main characters already know each other. Both Susie’s and Gina’s are a friends-to-lovers style stories, and I found this unusual because I personally think it the more difficult type to credibly pull off. For the romance to work, the main characters need to have some sort of revelation or catalyst that causes them to see an old friend in a new—non-platonic—way. 

But even after the characters acknowledge the attraction to themselves, should they risk a valued friendship by introducing romance? What if the romance goes awry? Will they lose the friendship? Of course, I already knew the books would end with "And they lived happily ever after," but the how-do-we-get-to-there kept me reading.

Interestingly, despite their short length, both stories also have a secondary focus on the heroes’ relationships with their fathers (and to a lesser extent, the heroines’ relationships with their mothers). And while this could have detracted from the romance in such a short story, instead it nicely added dimension to the characters and depth to a story format often not credited with complexity.

"Love's Reward" and "Baker's Dozen" are two of the nine novellas in The Most Eligible Bachelor, so after you finish reading about Daniel Blair and Duke Baker (yes, the heroes of these two stories really do have the same initials), you get seven more luscious heroes to fall in love with read about in this anthology.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Right Place, Right Time

by Jennifer AlLee

Last summer, James Garner passed away at the age of 86 from natural causes. He was one of those actors who captured your attention with his charm, wit, and air of accessibility. I remember watching every episode of The Rockford Files when I was an age that shall not be named.

I was reading an article about him, and was impressed by how he got into acting. As it turns out, it was quite by accident. He was working as a gas station attendant in Los Angeles and met another young man, Paul Gregory. Paul was working as a soda jerk, but what he really wanted to do was become an agent. Years later - after serving in the army and earning two Purple Hearts in Korea - Garner was working for his father, laying carpet. One day he was driving down La Cienega Boulevard and saw a sign: Paul Gregory & Associates. At the same time, a car pulled out of a space in front of the building. On a whim, Garner pulled in and went to talk to his old friend., who ended up signing him. At the age of 25, he accidentally took his first step on the path to his future career.

Was it an accident? Was it fate? Was something greater at work that day? Garner wrote in his autobiography, "The only reason I'm an actor is that a lady pulled out of a parking spot in front of a producer's office."

I find it fascinating that, sometimes, it's not the big things that determine our destiny. It's not those things we scrape and claw and fight to make happen. It's the small, quiet, seemingly unimportant or accidental things that often shape who we are.

JENNIFER ALLEE was born in Hollywood, California, and spent her first ten years living above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on the car radio. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, and Christian Authors Network. Her novels include The Pastor’s WifeThe Mother Road, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, Last Family Standing, and Vinnie's Diner from Abingdon Press; Diamond in the Rough, Vanishing Act, and Curtain Call from Whitaker House and co-written with Lisa Karon Richardson; the novella Comfort and Joy in the Christmas anthology, Mistletoe Memories from Barbour; and A Worthy Suitor from Harlequin's Heartsong Presents.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Is There Joy In It?

By Niki Turner

I spent most of the day with my future daughter-in-law, her sweet momma, and my own daughter and granddaughter, watching DIL-to-be try on wedding gowns. (I cannot even express how grateful I am that my son is marrying into a family I genuinely LIKE... what a blessing!) 

I never really believed that whole "it's the right dress when your face lights up" thing until today. We were on the third store and the 20th (?) dress when I saw it. Her expression changed. Suddenly she wasn't smiling because there was a camera trained on her and it was expected, she was smiling from the inside out. That dress was different. It was THE dress.

It reminded me of the power of joy, and this verse: The joy of the Lord is my strength. (Neh 8:10)

I believe we can interpret this verse in this way: where you find your joy, you also find your strength. I think the opposite is also true: where you have no joy, you are weak.

I believe all of God's gifts/talents, when put to use, are joy generators.

Observe any writer, photographer, artist or musician, teacher, engineer, designer, or carpenter who hasn't been applying him/herself to their gift for awhile... it's like watching a car run out of gas in slow motion. The same is true when our motives for using our gifts/talents get twisted. 

And yet how many of us have found ourselves pushed out of our place of joy and into a place of weakness for the sake of money, success, convention, conformity, expectation, obligation... fill in the blank?

Lately I've been searching for that spark, that place of joy, in everything I do, from my "real" job to housework to writing. I figure if I can operate in that sweet spot of joy, I'll be more efficient and produce better results, because I'll be functioning from a place of strength instead of weakness. 

Finding that place is not always easy. For me, finding a sweet spot in housework means listening to an audiobook, and audiobooks are expensive! For you it might mean hiring a housekeeper. Finding that place of joy in my "real job" right now means focusing on learning and improving my skills and abilities, which takes time and makes my brain tired. For me, finding that spot in writing means dropping all the expectations and requirements and just writing. If what comes out fits a publisher, that's great. If not, there's always indie publishing. What really matters is if there's joy in the process, because if I lose the joy, what's the point? I'm like a bride in the wrong dress... all the trappings are there, but the joy is missing. 

It's not about the money, it's not about the prestige, it's not about how other people perceive what you've done, it's about finding the joy—the strength—in all that you do.

What's your sweet spot? Do you give it the attention it deserves? Have you ever gotten sidetracked from your source of joy? How did you find your way back?