CONGRATULATIONS

Deana Dick won the Austen in Austin Volume I Prize Package! Congratulations, Deana, and thanks to all who entered and helped us celebrate!

Jan Drexler is the winner of the drawing for Anita Mae Draper's Christmas Bell Trio. Thank you to everyone who stopped by and commented on the What Happened to Christmas Oranges? post.

The winners of copies of The Peacock Throne are Rachel Dixon, Loraine Nunley, and Just Commonly! Congratulations all!

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Play Ball!"


Spring training is almost upon us. I can almost see you rolling your eyes. But it's no surprise to those who know me that I love baseball. I also love history, and reading and writing about strong women in history.

Reading and writing about historical women and the things they've accomplished inspires me as a writer, so I'm always on the lookout for articles about interesting women in history. 

Today I'm giving you a mash-up of baseball and a strong woman in history. When these two elements collide we get Amanda Clement, baseball's first female umpire.

Differing accounts have Amanda at sixteen or seventeen when her career began. Whichever the case, she was young. Stories also differ on where she got her start. Was it at the baseball field near her house? Or at a game she traveled to with her mother to watch her brother play? 

It was also either 1904 or 1905. Nevertheless, the regular umpire didn't show up and there wasn't another umpire available. Amanda, who sometimes was allowed to play baseball with her brother, was asked to fill in. This would suggest she had quite a bit of knowledge about baseball.


Amanda umpired for semi-professional baseball for six years, where she earned a reputation as an eagle eyed umpire who seldom made mistakes and reportedly inspired players to behave like gentlemen. She also earned enough money to put herself through college where she played baseball, tennis, participated in track events, and possibly even gymnastics. 

Not only did Amanda work her way through college by umpiring, she is rumored to have turned down over sixty marriage proposals from baseball players.

Oh, and by the way, she never umpired on Sundays.

She went on to become a teacher, a coach, and a social worker. 

And an article in Sports Illustrated says she taught ballet to the University of Wyoming football team during World War I.  

I'm not sure which part of that last statement intrigues me more. The image of Amanda, the young woman who turned down dozens of marriage proposals and inspired rough and rowdy men to play baseball like gentleman, teaching ballet to college football players. Or the image of college football players learning ballet. 

Either way, Amanda Clement was a unique and interesting character. And isn't that what we writers most look for in our characters?

Sources:
South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame
History by Zim
No One Yelled Kill the Umpire by Sharon L. Roan

Suzie Johnson's latest novel, A Fair to Remember, is set in 1901 during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York and is the first in her World's Fair series published by WhiteFire Publishing. You can visit her website at: www.susandianejohnson.com



Monday, February 1, 2016

The Importance of Play

by Barbara Early

Hey, did you miss me? Seems I haven’t been around much. Most of December and the early part of January, I was tied up in edits. I finished those about two weeks ago, totally burned out, and took a little play-cation.

No, that’s not a typo.

I suppose the rest of you are bona fide adults and have no such needs, but for those of us with stunted maturity I have a true confession: I’ve never given up on play.


Here’s where I was going to put all those convoluted psychological definitions of “play” and cite research proving why it truly is important—how it reduces stress and increases creativity (the lifeblood of a writer). But it turned out, while the research is there, it wasn’t much fun. So instead, I thought I’d try to explain what play means to me.

Play, for me, is freeing the mind from its normal productive pursuits, and challenging it to focus on new endeavors. Sometimes those endeavors allow the brain to relax, and other times involve learning, forcing it to think in different ways and forge new neural pathways.

For example, play can be something that rests the brain, such as knitting or yoga or listening to music (or even coloring--hey, who thought that would make a comeback for adults). Or it could be physically exerting, like tennis or one-on-one basketball. Or it could be mentally exerting, like many modern strategy board games or, say, writing a novel.

If that pursuit is a good fit, the experience of play leaves us fulfilled and refreshed.

But something odd happens when one becomes a writer. Now writing is the normal productive
pursuit, involving business and work and deadlines and such. It can cease to be play. So what’s a burned out writer to do?

Find another creative pursuit, perhaps? Funny you should mention that. It turned out all I needed was to open my new Christmas present—a Cricut—and see where it led me. Let me show you what I made on my play-cation.
Follow Barbara's board my Cricut projects on Pinterest.

But the craft-binge is over—not that I won’t pull it out when I have a stray moment—and it’s back to work for me. No longer burned out, I’m beginning to enjoy piecing together a plot for the next book.

Maybe some of those ideas have sprung organically from the process of play. After all, Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”



Question: How do you play?




Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. Barbara writes the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries as Beverly Allen, including Bloom and Doom, For Whom the Bluebell Tolls, and Floral Depravity from Berkley Prime Crime. You can learn more about her writing at www.barbaraearly.com.   **And DEATH OF A TOY SOLDIER, the first Vintage Toy Shop Mystery, is now available for pre-order! **

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Finest Hours


by C.J. Chase

Disney's The Finest Hours opens in theaters today (Friday, January 29th), but the Chases got to cross an item off our "bucket list" Wednesday when husband and wife (yours truly) left the kids at home and attended their first ever advance movie screening. Navy Federal Credit Union (in conjunction with Visa) has periodically sent us invitations to apply for tickets to such screenings, but we'd never responded quickly enough to get seats -- until last week.
Not your typical ticket

C.J.'s new poster
A couple words about the advance screening first: it turned out we got much more than just free movie tickets. When we arrived at the theater, Visa gifted us with stadium blankets, posters, and vouchers for free popcorn and drinks. Pretty cool, huh?

Set in 1952, The Finest Hours is based on a real story of a United States Coast Guard rescue operation. (You can read the full story on the USCG's website here.) I'll never understand how the Disney corp can be so consistently lucky. Had they released this movie last Friday, the Northeastern part of the country would have missed opening weekend because of winter storm Jonas. Instead, this movie about a monster winter storm hitting the Northeast opened...one week later. How do they do that?

The movie's gentle beginning of 1950's era music and romance only lasts for a couple scenes, and then the drama begins. On February 18, 1952, a nor'easter with 60 foot seas and 70 knot (80 mph) winds hit the Cape Cod coast. The first distress call came from the Fort Mercer, an oil tanker that had split in two.

Meanwhile, the oil tanker Pendleton fell victim to the same storm, and it too split in half. Yes, two tankers broke apart in the same violent storm. The Pendelton's bow (front of the ship), containing the captain and the radio room, foundered immediately. The stern (rear), containing the ship's engines, began taking on water faster than the pumps could drain it. How could the remaining men survive on a sinking half of a ship with no captain and no radio?

With most of the local Coast Guardsmen and the best boat having already gone to assist in the Fort Mercer rescue, it was up to soon-to-be-married Boatswain's Mate First Class Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine) and three volunteers to get their tiny boat "over the bar" (the shifting sandbars that are close enough to the sea's surface they can ground a boat) and race against time to rescue the Pendleton's remaining crew. The local fishermen tell Webber it's a suicide mission and he should "get lost," that is, ride around near the coast for a little bit and then return to the Chatham Lifeboat Station rather than make the attempt to take his boat into the open sea. Should he choose duty or love?


Okay, let me start with my major complaint: the characterization could have been stronger. Several statements hinted at a backstory for both Bernie and his fiancee, but we never got enough details to find out what (in anything) had happened. And then there were a couple things at the very, very end (after the exciting climax) that were forgivable, but a little too Hollywoodish to be believable.

What did I like? There are really two heroes in this movie, both quiet men who rise to the challenge of being leaders during a life-threatening crisis. These are ordinary guys who could be your neighbor or brother but who are propelled to larger-than-life status by the sheer heroism of their actions. The action scenes (which comprise most of the movie) are top notch without being over the top.

The audience at our local theater seemed to really enjoy the show -- probably not surprising since this is a Navy town and the screening was hosted by Navy Federal Credit Union. And while this isn't a particularly funny movie, my husband got a laugh from me when the Pendleton's chief engineer said, "The captain doesn't listen to me anyway" and my husband (who works for the Navy) whispered, "I know that captain."

The Finest Hours is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of people in peril. There is some swearing and a lewd statement from one of the sailors.

I'd say it rates about four lifeboats.


P.S. Every time the seamen spoke about going "over the bar" I kept thinking of this Tennyson poem which uses the image as a metaphor for death. This is published at the end of all collections of his work:

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
  Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
  Turns again home!

Twilight and evening bell,
  And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
  When I embark;

For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
  The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
  When I have crost the bar.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Peacock Throne Release Party

Today has been a very long time in coming. Namely, this is the day that The Peacock Throne release in the United States. Squee!

What you may ask is the fuss with this Peacock Throne? Well, to begin with, the Peacock Throne of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan is the most valuable single treasure made in the last millennia. Fashioned from 1150 kg of gold and 230 kg of precious stones, in 2015 the throne would be valued at $1,143,000,000. You read that right. If it still existed as it was created, it would be worth more than one billion, one hundred million dollars. It’s mind boggling when one actually tries to comprehend that. In fact when it was created, it cost twice as much as it took to construct the Taj Mahal which was commissioned by the same emperor.

Anthony Douglas, Lord Danbury
Far more importantly, The Peacock Throne was the first novel I ever wrote and its time has finally come! And we are celebrating! I’m giving away three copies of The Peacock Throne this week so make sure to leave a comment with your e-mail.

Marcus Harting
In the meantime, we’re partying here at the Inkwell. We’re starting with a full English breakfast including rashers of bacon, sausages, eggs, toast and we even have the beans. And we’ve added a few other touches for those carb lovers out there. (Me! Me!) These include scones and buttery, flaky croissant. Mm. This is buffest style, there was no persuading Marcus that he ought to be waiting on our guests. Simply not done even by the youngest son of a Marquess. Anthony, might not have stood on ceremony, but as an Earl, we could hardly ask him to act as wait staff and not Marcus. Luckily, Lydia offered the solution of the buffet. I kind of got the feeling that she has grown used to problem solving with those two around.

Here’s the story blurb:
When Miss Lydia Garrett's guardian is murdered, and the authorities refuse to investigate the odd circumstances, she vows to catch the culprit. The same night the Earl of Danbury is murdered in his bed. Against all odds it appears that the murders are related―and Anthony Douglas, the new Lord Danbury, is bent on revenge.

The clues point to the former earl’s first naval command. In 1758 the earl spirited away and hid the magnificent Peacock Throne at the behest of the Indian royal family. To draw out the murderer, Anthony and Lydia agree that they must locate the throne.
They are not the only ones interested in the Peacock Throne, however. Marcus Wiltshire, a British intelligence, has received hints that Bonaparte intends to return the throne to India and leverage its mystical significance to foment rebellion and cut England off from her most important trading partner.

When the amateur sleuths join forces with the professional agent, the quest for the throne leads them around the globe on an adventure steeped in danger, treachery, and romance.


Don't forget to add a comment with your e-mail addy (make it internet safe) so that I can get you entered in the drawing! I'll be pulling names on Sunday!




Monday, January 25, 2016

How to Overcome Self-Doubt




Self-Doubt: (noun) lack of confidence in oneself and one's abilities.

I don't know a writer who hasn't struggled at times with self-doubt. Lately, I've been wondering if we’re too quick to blame ourselves for our stinkin’ thinkin’.

Spirits (both angelic and demonic) have personalities and specific functions. I think what we call "self-doubt" is a demonic spirit speaking lies in our minds and hearts, yet Self-Doubt does it sooooo well that we think the thoughts are our own.

In his book Waking the Dead, John Eldredge writes tells a story that came from the life of Catherine of Sienna. See, Catherine was in the midst of prayer when her mind/ears/heart were assaulted by blasphemous words. She cried out to God for help. At this point many (okay, all) of us could say, "Been there, done that."

God revealed to Catherine that those words didn't come from her heart because her heart was good (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Likewise, if you have been redeemed in Christ, your heart is good. God equips us for the things He has for us to do.

Well, Catherine knew that God was greater than the demonic spirit attacking her so she called out to God to take it away. But God said no. Huh? Yep, God said, "No, do it yourself." That's when God opened Catherine's eyes to the spiritual authority she had because of the blood of Christ covering her, because Jesus said all authority He had He has given to us.

Did Catherine command it to leave and it left?

No. It took months of taking authority and commanding it to permanently leave. Eventually she was free of the harassment.

Consider this: Maybe you, me, we are plagued with self-doubt because we've never taken authority over the demonic spirit named "Self-Doubt" and commanded it to leave.

Can't we do all things through Christ who strengthens us?


ABOUT GINA

Gina Welborn worked for a news radio station until she fell in love with writing romances. She's the author of eight inspirational romances, including the 2014 Selah finalist "Mercy Mild" in ECPA-bestselling Mistletoe Memories. She serves on the ACFW Foundation Board by helping raise funds for scholarships. She is also the webmaster for the Southwest Oklahoma Corvette Club. Gina lives with her pastor husband, their five Okie-Hokie children, two rabbits, three guinea pigs, and a dog that doesn't realize rabbits and pigs are edible.


Austen in Austin: Volume 1  
featuring If I Loved You Less

The first novella in the Austen in Austin collection, based on Jane Austen’s Emma Hotel heiress Emmeline Travis knows true love. After all, thanks to her, her former governess is now happily married to the livery owner who works next to her father’s hotel. Austin banker Noah Whitley knows Emmeline. He has no qualms with insisting that his best friend’s matchmaking skills are more coincidence than reality. While Emmeline is determined to prove him wrong by matching her lovelorn protg with someone besides the local beet farmer, Noah realizes telling her to do something is one thing. Stopping her is another. When Emmeline’s schemes implode and her own heart is broken, Noah knows confiding the depth of his feelings to her would be far easier . . . if he loved her less.


Available at Amazon in print and digital format.


Friday, January 22, 2016

When Jane Austen Checks her Amazon Rating

Debra E. Marvin

In today’s publishing world, readers and reviewers might not be kind to Miss Austen. Literature wants a grittier underbelly. Popular fiction wants sweaty passion, blood and corruption. Romance needs a cute meet by page three.  After a couple of decades of writing and finding her style, Jane Austen’s family helped her find a publisher. Books were uncommonly expensive at the time, and although she wrote under a pseudonym, “By a Lady”, some readers in the upper crust of society knew of her name. Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park 1814, and Emma in 1815.
First issue of the Quarterly Review

Austen by her sister Cassandra (wikipedia)
During that time, a novel might merit no more than a mention--title and date of publishing—in a newspaper. Jane Austen’s writing did manage to get a few reviews, most focusing on ‘the moral lessons’ (according to Wikipedia). I’ve been unable to find them myself. Emma, being the later one, received the most interest and was reviewed in 1816 in The Quarterly Review by Sir Walter Scott. He included her ability to “give a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him.” Later in his private journal he wrote, “What a pity such a gifted creature died so early.”

Jane Austen put her final touch on two more novels for publication, Northanger Abbey 1817 and Persuasion 1817 before her death (published posthumously). Afterward, the Quarterly Review’s Richard Whately penned a glowing review of all her work. It was around this time that her family wrote a biography, and by the 1830s, her fame had grown along with a new appetite for her fiction. From that time on, her books have never been out of print. Despite her nephew’s (new) biography of her in 1870, Victorians went crazy for Dickens, Gaskell and their compatriots. Some criticized Austen’s work as lacking what I might call ‘tooth’. Popular fiction at the time showed all the warts of society—Dickens being the chief purveyor of it. Austen, they claimed, played down the dark side as if unable or uninterested. Consider my much loved Bronte sisters!
Chawton House (wikipedia)
Of course that criticism too fell away. By the late 19th century Jane Austen was again looked on as a champion, even a feminist, for her focus on the limited choices of women tied only to the fortune of a caretaker or husband. Novelist Margaret Oliphant called her “full of subtle power, keenness, finesse, and self-restraint.” Austen became a window into women’s minds that had been left shadowed by male authors.  By the 20th century, Austen readers considered themselves a class above the readers of cheap fiction, and universities around the world began Austen studies. Adding to the discussion, popular novelist Mark Twain held her work in disdain, claiming a private library could be made better simply by excluding her books!

In 1913, Austen descendants again published a thorough family biography including as many letters and articles as could be found. Her books always sold, plays were created and by 1940 the first solid production of her work came about in the visual medium.  As I mentioned in my visit to the Seekerville blog, The Timelessness of Jane Austen, we now have over a thousand fan fiction books and over sixty television and theater presentations.

Just Because I wanted to Put This Here
So, as the Volume 1 authors of Austen in Austin awaited their first reviews, I wanted to take some time to reflect on Miss Jane’s release dates and reviews. If only she knew what she started!





If you were reviewing Austen's work, what would be your chief criticism? Do you have one you least enjoy?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Austen in Austin Character Appearances

by Anita Mae Draper

In conjunction with last week's release of the Austen in Austin Volume 1 compilation came the individual release of the first four of eight novellas.

My novella, Romantic Refinements, stands second in the order of stories. This wasn't something I planned, but came about because that's where things in my story fit into the overall timeline.

For example, when we first came up with the concept of taking the characters from Jane Austin's novels and transferring them to Texas, we each decided what year(s) during the last two decades of the 19th century we wanted to use. In 2012, the result came out looking like this:


Gina Welborn - If I Loved You Less - 1881/2
Anita Mae Draper - Romantic Refinements - 1882
Susanne Dietze - One Word From You -1883/4
Debra E. Marvin - Alarmingly Charming -1886
Susan Diane Johnson - Simply Lila - 1893
Niki Turner - Fully Persuaded - 1894/5
Dina Sleiman - Mansford Ranch - 1897
Lisa Karon Richardson - Sense and Nonesense - 1899


However, we weren't just satisfied with writing eight novellas . . . we wanted them to connect in some way. The answer was to use a common denominator - in this case, the Jeannette C. Austen Academy for Young Ladies - a place we affectionately called, Austen Abbey, where all of our young heroines would pass on their way to becoming young ladies of distinction.




Our goal was for every reader to be content upon reaching the happily-ever-after at the end of a novella - no matter which individual novella they read. 

That was a good goal, but we also wanted our stories to intersect in such a way that if a reader read all of the novellas in order, they wouldn't just get a satisfying read, but would get a richer experience and be left a dreamy feeling of cherished love and . . . hope.  

Not only did we connect the first four novellas in Volume 1, but characters appear throughout all eight novellas which took coordination, a spreadsheet, and lots and lots of emails. 
For example:
In Romantic Refinements, I have a little girl who shares two scenes with my hero, the retired Texas ranger Brandon Tabor. One is a cute scene, one is full of danger. I could have written the scenes with any little girl, however, during a flurry of emails with the rest of the authors, Lisa mentioned that her heroine, Evangeline Bennett, would be about the right age to be the little girl in my novella. Not only that, but the events that happen to her - called little Eva in my novella - will have a profound effect on Evangeline's life as you'll see when you read her story in the eighth novella, Lisa's Sense and Nonsense.

Other character appearances you'll find in Romantic Refinements:
- Emmeline Travis - If I Loved You Less
- Noah Whitley -  If I Loved You Less
- Eliza Branch - One Word From You
- Harmon Gray - Alarmingly Charming
- Headmistress Mrs. Collins 




One thing I should note here is that it wasn't just the authors who worked to include characters from the other novellas, but when I received my first edits from the WhiteFire editor, she was the one who suggested that I include Eliza Branch and Mrs. Collins in my novella. The easy part was finding a spot to add them. Keeping their characters true was harder, but again, cooperation and communication created consistent characters. 

The end result is that a person from any novella may pop into a scene, either for a cameo appearance, or to enable a reaction that may not happen until several novellas later. That's the surprise element of the Austen in Austin novellas.

I believe that this project has been satisfying to us, the authors, because we've interacted with each other to create diverse, memorable characters. I can only hope that our excitement is transferred to you, our wonderful readers. 

For more information on Austen in Austin and our individual novellas, check here




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anita Mae Draper's stories are written under the western skies where she lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. When she's not writing, Anita enjoys photography, research, and travel, and is especially happy when she can combine the three in one trip. Anita's current release is Romantic Refinements, a novella in Austen in Austin Volume 1, WhiteFire Publishing, January 2016. Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae atwww.anitamaedraper.com