How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winner Announced and Things that Inspire in Me a Story: Flax into Linen

First: business. We have the giveaway winner of the PDF Rising to the Challenge to announce! 

Drum roll, please!
And the copy of this exciting medieval novel goes to ... 
Faith Blum!

Congratulations, Faith! We will be contacting you shortly.
Thanks to all who entered the giveaway!

Wow! It seems like a while since I’ve actually posted a regular ole article on here, but the fact is I’ve been busy with other writing and there have been other, more convenient things to put on here, such as book reviews and promotions for some wonderful writers.

But before I move on to my subject, it’s update time … England Adventure is uploaded on CreateSpace and ready to go, but there have been some delays with the cover, so it’s not quite publishable yet. But it will be soon! Thank you for your patience. I look forward to sharing this book with you!

On the final Sunday of last November, a gorgeous day, I was feeling a bit stir-crazy … oh, I had writing to work on (there is always writing), but I felt a definite need to physically get out of the house and not just send my mind elsewhere. So my mom and I went to an annual weekend fair that we’ve gone to for many years in the past but hadn’t attended for a while.

It’s called a homestead and craft fair, for the people who put it on devote part of their lives to keeping alive the skills of olden days … weaving, blacksmithing, growing food, sewing quilts, making soap, forming pottery, crafting furniture, raising animals, and more. At this fair they sell their items and demonstrate their knowledge to an audience of thousands, many of whom are normally contained within a hectic, disconnected world of traffic, technology, and city life. I know for me, it’s a rejuvenating dip into the past and proves that working with your hands and being familiar with the natural world is good for a healthy wellbeing.

While I was there, I couldn’t help thinking how seeing all these old ways of doing things would provide a historical fiction or fantasy author with great research fodder. Imagine writing about a Scottish family that weaves and how much easier it’d be if you saw a loom in motion and a blanket taking shape and were able to get one-on-one answers for any questions about the process. The two demonstrations that particularly fascinated me were horse training and linen making. 
My mom loves to wear linen clothes, and I always feel a timeless, natural, healthful aura around the textile. Like wool, it makes me think of the past because linen was important in ancient times; it’s mentioned all over the Bible. Cotton is more recent and more ubiquitous. But only when I saw the process of flax becoming linen did I really realize how special it was. 
File:Östgötaslätten vid Ljung.jpg
Flax Field in Sweden, wikimedia commons
Looking at a flax plant, a piece of woven material seems worlds away. The most striking thing about flax’s early weeks are the sky-blue flowers that, pooled together, look like a field dropped from heaven. When the plants are harvested, all their parts are used for something useful: flaxseed becomes a food, an oil, a nutritional supplement, and a wood finishing product; flax stems become linen; and chaff from the process becomes nesting material or (in olden day) pillow and mattress stuffing. Linen is two­three times stronger than cotton and lasts so long it can be an heirloom. It’s fascinating to see the dried stems get pounded into fibers that look like hair (“Girl with the Flaxen Hair,” anyone?), carded like wool, and then spun (I love spinning wheels!) into thread. It can be dyed, bleached, or left natural. 

Here is a beautiful video that demonstrates the whole process!


I think what thrills me most about flax is how every part has been indispensable to humans since ancient times … the fact that it’s so useful testifies it was specially created to benefit us, God’s beloved creation.

So, perhaps one day a family of flax farmers or linen weavers will be the feature of a fiction of mine. That’s where story ideas often starta small image or concept that can be connected to others and grown and woven into a beautiful cloth.

What old-fashioned crafts thrill you? Has researching or already knowing how to do a handicraft or old sport (cooking, knitting, archery, et cetera) informed your stories?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Interview with Alicia A. Willis + Giveaway!

In a little less than a week, Alicia A. Willis’s newest book will hit the virtual shelves. Rising to the Challenge, the much-desired finale to her series The Comrades of Honor, is set for release on Monday, January 26! 


New difficulties arise for Sir Kenneth Dale in the exciting final installment in The Comrades of Honor Series. As a favorite of the Earl of Birmingham, his life appears tranquil – until the both beautiful Lady Clarissa and a headstrong orphan named Brion arrive in the castle. It is not long before Sir Kenneth finds himself not only in love, but also the master of the most difficult squire Birmingham has ever harbored.

Brion de Lantenac is nothing short of rebellious. Hatred for Sir Kenneth’s strict rules vents itself in constant disobedience, triggering continual clashes between himself and his new lord. But there is a reason behind his self-centered character. The murder of his family has caused heartbreak he may never recover from. Will he ever reveal his true identity to Sir Kenneth? And what about Guthrie, the man who sullied his father’s shire with treacherous hands and now seeks his demise?

Caught between a hopeless romance, a rebellious squire, and the enemies on all sides, Sir Kenneth finds himself challenged. Amidst battles, heartache, and dark mystery, he must somehow rise to meet the difficulties of his life with honor. Will he ever win his squire’s heart? Will he and Clarissa be forever separated?

Join Sir Kenneth, Brion, and all the comrades of honor in a tale of perseverance, chivalry, and unconditional love. Treachery abounds and evil seems insurmountable. Will rising to the challenge preserve honor and win the day?

I had the pleasure of beta-reading this exciting book ... it was fantastic in more ways than one! Check it out on Goodreads and stay tuned there and on other social media sites for its debut. And at the end of this post is a giveaway!

Today, I am pleased to participate in the celebration by interviewing the author. Please join me in welcoming Alicia A. Willis!


Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her  blog  or  Facebook  to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing! She is the author of six books, including this one! You can also visit her website.

1. The first book in the Comrades of Honor series, To Birmingham Castle, was also your first ever published book. What are some of the most valuable things you've learned about life and/or writing between these two books?

That’s a good question! I’ve learned so much, both about writing and life. Regarding life, being an author has really helped me be real – to express my thoughts and ideas openly, allowing myself to share who I am and who I am becoming with others. Regarding writing, I’ve learned that I have two styles: my classical style, in which I wrote my medieval series, and my modern style, in which I wrote my other titles. It is an exciting adventure to have varying writing styles and helps me ensure that my work is always different each time.

2. Those are great answers! Very interesting. How was writing Rising to the Challenge harder than the first two books in the series? How was it easier?

This title was much more difficult than the previous two installments. This was mainly because of historical issues. Historians disagree on certain points, which made research difficult. Also, I wanted Sir Kenneth Dale to be very real for his time period, but still demonstrate character points such as mercy and honor. Balancing the historical and character building aspects was a challenge!

3. That does sound like a challenge, but you rose to it and I found this title to be really enjoyable and satisfying! Before you begin a story, do you outline extensively, dive right in to chapter one, or do something somewhere in the middle? Why does this work well for you?

I’m somewhere right in the middle. I have a general idea of where I am going, but not a strict outline. I’d say that my outline is in my head. That way, I have the ability to be creative and allow for scene or plot changes that I had never anticipated, but my mischievous characters demanded…

4. Flexibility without chaos is good! What strategies do you use to keep going when the writing gets tough?

Prayer, coffee, chocolate, and repeat.

5. That makes me smile! It's certainly effective for you. What is your favorite thing about writing?

Expressing my thoughts or teaching a life lesson through a fictional character! I also love the research.

6. Great answer! It sounds like your family members are very supportive of your writing. Do any of them have a favorite out of the books you've written? What is yours, and why?

My favorite is From the Dark to the Dawn. It is also my boyfriend’s favorite. I’m not sure what everyone else’s is, though. I love From the Dark to the Dawn because the Lord used it to teach valuable lessons to me. And, now, others are telling me that the book changed their life as well!

7. That's wonderful! I look forward to reading it myself. Would you like to return to medieval fiction someday, perhaps with a new storyline? Can you share with us about any upcoming projects?

Maybe. We will see where the Lord leads! My current WIP is entitled Grace Triumphant: A Tale of the Slave Trade. I hope to release it this year, but we’ll see if I can manage that. The research regarding the Middle Passage and life on shipboard is grueling… I anticipate many challenges with balancing historical reality and pure Christian reading.

That sounds spectacular. I'm looking forward to it already! I appreciate how your books are realistic without ever becoming unpleasant. Thank you so much for visiting with us today, Alicia!

Thank you for having me!

And for the giveaway ...

We'll be doing this comment-style, so leave one comment per entry, and they will be tallied up on Tuesday, January 27! The giveaway ends Monday at midnight (which, don't forget, is also release date for Rising to the Challenge!). This will be for a free PDF copy of the book!

1. Leave a comment saying you've liked Alicia's Facebook page
2. Leave a comment saying you've become a fan of hers on Goodreads.
3. Leave a comment saying you've added Rising to the Challenge to your to-read list on Goodreads. 
4. Leave a comment saying you've followed Alicia's blog
5. Leave a comment saying which book of hers you like the most (if you've ready any of them) or you think you would like the most. (This entry requires some research, but it may give you an edge!) 

The winner will be announced one week from today, on January 27!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book Review: Friendship and Folly

Happy January! On December 31, I finished reading my last book of the year: Friendship and Folly, by Meredith Allady. It is the first book in the Merriweather Chronicles, so far a two-novel and one-novella series about a group of family and friends in early 19th-century England. It was published in 2012, so is one of the more recent books I’ve reviewed on my blog.

The beauty of Friendship and Folly, however, is that you wouldn’t know it was written in the twenty-first century just by reading the story. In fact, I’d wager that you’d think you were reading a book written two hundred years ago. Yes, Ms. Allady was that good at evoking the voice of the past and the feel of a historical period. For example: she didn’t get out of the story to even drop an explanation or definition of a term or custom; she used all the correct words, dialogue, and syntax (occasionally I had to reread a paragraph to catch the meaning, and then smiled over the insightful thing she was saying, just like a Jane Austen!); and her characterization was accomplished in the same way as in old novels (i.e., memorable and solidly described personalities).

Set in 1805 England, the story is heartwarming because it’s about two friends, Ann Northcott and Julia Parry. Julia is part of a wonderful family that any normal person would wish they were friends withAnn is consistently grateful for thembecause they’re hospitable, fun-loving, genuine, and down to earth. Ann is an only child whose parents are dismissive of her; her mother is only concerned about getting her married, which appears to be a difficult task, since Ann is not especially beautiful and also has a hip injury that affects her walk and prevents her from dancing. (And how could anyone back then get a spouse without being able to dance?)

When the Parrys, through a set of circumstances, decide to go to London for the Season, Ann accompanies them and they meet with several adventures. Clive, Julia’s younger brother, tries to fend off from his sister suitors he deems foolish or foppish. But eventually the family meets a couple of young men who suit their sensibilities, and they welcome them into their circle as “friends” … what follows is an often hilarious series of misunderstandings, false estimations of the young men (mostly on Ann’s part) and a gradual unraveling of their story, and intriguing “anything can happen” visits with amusing acquaintances, all on the whirlwind stage of a London autumn. Ann learns lessons about friendship and meddlingor folly, as she calls it; but she and the members of the Parry family grow only closer together as they are forever changed by their adventure.

The story could be considered slow in some respects, but that’s because it reads like a classic. It’s all about witty dialogue and penetrating insights into personalities and relationships, so the pace is perfect. And there were times when I had to tear through the pages to find out what would happen next. So it definitely kept my interest! The prose is incredibly clever. I enjoyed the look at characters and situations that Jane Austen perhaps touched on but didn’t exploreamong other things, a whole family portrait where the young children actually had names and lines; a look at the Irish rebellion; an endearing character who wasn’t quite right in the head; the ins and outs of a London season; and several unequivocal references to characters’ spiritual beliefs.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Jane Austen (particularly if they appreciate her humor and character insight most of all!).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Thaw: A Fairytale Retelling

 It’s my pleasure today to participate in a book launch for E. Kaiser Writes’ new series, Thaw. You might remember that these stories (or rather, one continuous story) made it to my top-fifteen list in last week’s post. Yesterday, an interview with Elizabeth Kaiser was posted on Homeschooled Authors, so if you want to learn more about this wonderful series and its author, check it out!

Okay, I can’t wait anymore. Let’s move on to the stories themselves and their covers (which are illustrated by the author herself and designed by her and her sister!)!

Thaw started with the idea to combine the fairytale “Snow Maiden” with Anderson’s “Snow Queen” and form a retelling that would be more satisfying than Disney’s recent version. (While they did some things very well, a lot of aspects fell through the cracks.) Add European history and a dollop of “what if then...?” to the mixture, and out comes a wintery beginning to a series that will span 50 years and at least 16 people’s stories.

The first three books are Winter’s Child (with most of the “Snow Maiden” elements); Winter Queen (the part that will be most recognizable, since it was hard to do anything too different there and still lead into the next book); and Prince of Demargen, which resolves the problem of the Devil’s Mirror. But the entire story arc will be completed in Reindeer King, which is intended for release in early 2015.

Winter’s Child opens the curtain on the kingdom of Noran and tells the story of a long-awaited miracle baby born to the royal couple. Princess Ilise is gifted with special powers, but she must learn how to use them—or harm the ones she loves. 

Winter Queen shows Ilise becoming queen and striving to master her gift and be the worthy ruler she longs to be. Meanwhile, her impetuous sister Girta falls in love with Prince Hess, youngest son of the neighboring kingdom whose ambitions may prove to be his downfall. There is no easy path for any of the three, however.

Prince of Demargen picks up the story of Hess and follows him as he must deal with the repercussions of what happened in the preceding book.

Also knitting these three books together are a bevy of intriguing side characters, including Kai the woodsman, Halvor the snowman, the Winter Angel, and the suspicious Earl of Esser!

I had the privilege of editing these stories and providing feedback, so you could say I was sort of involved in their “growing up.” Imagine if you got to comment in one of your favorite authors’ books and tell him/her what you are thinking during a particularly striking passageif you could say something like, “I love that description!” or “I am dying to know if she’ll ever like him again!” or “I’m almost crying here.” Wouldn’t that be so much fun? That’s what it was like for me. That’s one of the things I enjoy about editing and beta-reading … it’s like being an aunt that can be more involved in the raising of a story (without having ultimate responsibility!) than just a reader after the book is published. You even get a small say in how the story is reared to adulthood, just like an aunt who gets to babysit for a while or is asked for advice.

Enough about the analogy … on to (some of) my favorite quotes and descriptive passages!

That is how you must learn to be with life. Be the rock, Ilise, not the ice. … Let life happen, but not control you.
Winter’s Child

Then her hands danced outward, playing faster than an orchestra leader’s baton. A row of swans took position along the rail, snowy bodies, glistening wings. Her eyes glowed as she sent them off, and they fell into perfect formation, dipping and rising at her command.
This was fun.
No one could be lonesome while doing this.
She brought the swans back, and they lined up perfectly on the rail, their snowy faces expressionless, their glassy beaks soundless. …
She flicked her fingers again and a sleigh appeared, formed of knitted snowflakes. She traced a finger to each swan and snowy filaments formed a harness on each fowl. The swans rearranged themselves to accommodate this new strategy, and then she lifted them off and into the air again.
They rose upward with the beat of icy wings, and the snowflake sleigh swooped up close on their tails. It sailed through the sky like a cloud, following exactly where the swans dipped and dived to.
Winter’s Child
(Just about every passage dealing with the ice swans is gorgeous, but I had to pick just one.)

The enchantment on her little sister’s face, the childlike wonder as delicate spirals flowered against the glass beneath her fingertip.
Where had that all gone? Why had this curse turned so desperately dangerous to all around her?
In the center of her heart the young queen knew with awful certainty that she wanted most of all to be warmly loved, and the grim face of her icy powers had cut her off from that possibility forever.
What use was living then, if one lived alone? Always isolated, not just by the demure if chilly distance between passing family members… but the bone-wrenching loneliness that comes from never feeling a human touch again.
Winter Queen

The angel snorted. “What nonsense. You were a gift. Your life is a gift, just as everyone’s is. Your origins were special, and therefore you are different from others. But do not deceive yourself into thinking that everyone else is all alike. That would be high folly indeed. As each snowflake is unique, each sunrise, each blossom, so are each of the children of men, and the differences they carry hidden within are sometimes the harder to bear.”
Winter Queen

Where was truth? Where was honor? Where was the day that he could look any face in the world full on and not have a single thing to flinch from?
Prince of Demargen

Never send a snowman to do a man’s job!”
Prince of Demargen

Sir Halvor the Braver than Brave!”
Prince of Demargen

E. Kaiser Writes
To connect with Elizabeth Kaiser, here is a list of her social media spots!
E. Kaiser Writes-A-Blog 
Author website
Amazon author page (with links to books!):
Pinterest group boards:
 And finally, there is a giveaway going on, so be sure to enter! There will be six winners. Winter's Child is up on Amazon if you want to have a peek at it. The others will show up this week!
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