Book Review: The Promise Bride

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This book was a join venture by authors Gina Welborn and Becca Whitham. Set in the late 1800s, The Promise Bride is the first in the Montana Brides Series. Emilia Stanek, wanting to save her family from hardship in Chicago, began correspondence with a man in Montana and eventually married him by proxy. When she arrived in Montana, though, the sheriff of the town meets her at the train station to tell her that her husband was dead, and she should go back. Without that option, Emilia stays and takes on her deceased husband’s farm and debts, all without ever having the benefit of meeting him. The sheriff, Mac to his friends, has been investigating Emilia’s husband’s death, and isn’t liking what he’s turning up about his closest friend. It looks like his intentions toward Emilia might not have been entirely honorable, which is against everything Mac thought he knew about his friend. Meanwhile, Emilia is successfully, though with a good deal of struggle, handling the farm and her deceased husband’s lenders, as well as refusing to listen to anything Mac tries to tell her about leaving, or evidence that she could be in danger, or anything at all. And worst of all, she’s worming her way into his heart, but he could never be hitched to a good woman like her, on account of his past and his parentage.

This novel has a great deal of possibility to be cheesy, corny, and unbelievable. However, it’s none of these. The characters are sympathetic and true, the struggles made real by beautiful storytelling and description, and if anything seems a little contrived here or there, the story’s pace doesn’t give you time to notice.

For example, Mac and Emilia’s struggle to deny the pull they feel for one another – hers out of loyalty to her deceased husband and his out of shame of his past – could have elicited a “Whatever. That’s ridiculous because she never even met the guy, and he should know that wouldn’t matter to a person as kind as she is.” But no, the story is woven in such a way that all the reader can think is “No!!! Don’t walk away from her; she’ll understand!” Feeling what the characters feel…great reading experience.

Another thing that I enjoyed were the elements of mystery and suspense. The big crime of the novel was committed right at the beginning, but the solving that crime, as well as the possibility of danger to the dead man’s widow – Emilia – leaves the reader just a bit off-centered while reading. “What’s going to happen? They can’t let her get hurt….can they???”

The story in The Promise Bride is like a treasure tied to the end of a long piece of yarn, wound around and around into a ball. As the reader progresses through the story, strand after strand of the yarn is removed, getting closer to the center that is obviously going to be good, but still hidden, still with an element of mystery. The closer to the center of the ball of yarn the reader gets, the treasure is somewhat revealed – shape, maybe, or size. But it isn’t until the very last strand is removed, and all the reader has in hand is the treasure, that the whole of the story comes together and is revealed by the authors.

Great job, Gina and Becca! Readers, this story is a fun, fast-paced, and yet meaningful read.

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What’s Your Perspective?

I’m putting the finishing touches…or pre-finishing touches…on my latest manuscript. Near the beginning of the novel, one of the characters is swamped with thoughts of a crisis that just hit, but he isn’t read to tell anyone. So he’s in his head a lot. Which can be a little boring to read if it goes on…and on… for too long.

As part of my pre-finishing touches, I’d made a list of scenes with the key player (s) and a one-phrase description to trigger my memory. As I was looking at the list, it occurred to me that I could simply switch the point of view.

Now, I know that in the writing world, there are strong opinions on the idea of Point of View.

A well-done story, in first-person can immerse the reader in the mind of the character, creating tension with not knowing the true motivations of others, because we can’t get in their heads…like in real life. 😉

A third-person story can do the same, if it focuses on one character and only allows small glimpses into the minds of other characters. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is a favorite that does this…Ohhh, so that’s why he called her “Carrots”!

Some stories alternate between two key players, like my Regency novels do, allowing the reader to see what’s really going on while the two characters may have misunderstanding or uncertainty clouding their perception of one another…Just tell her you love her already! She loves you!!

Still other stories incorporate a great many perspectives. This approach can be dangerous, if the character “narrating” switches too often or without enough warning for the reader. Other times, though, it can be a magnificent approach. I haven’t read it myself, but my husband and daughter both read My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, and this book operates like that. In fact, each chapter is told by a different character!

Whether your preferences tend more toward first-person or a multi-perspective third person (or somewhere in between!), most people would agree that the perspective in a novel sets much of the tone and the expectation of the novel for the reader.

Back to my solved dilemma with the perspective in the opening scenes of the manuscript I’m finishing…When I decided to switch the POV, and started writing, it all became clear. I had gotten too caught in the head of this character, trying to propel the story through his eyes, when really it was time to take a peek into someone else’s mind. Not only does it give the reader a break from Heinrich’s admittedly angsty thoughts, but it allows the reader to get a sense of Marlein’s typical day (or at least evening), and see some of the ever-present joys, as well as sorrows, in her life…both of which will come to play in a larger way later in the story.

Because I firmly believe that fiction can speak more truly of life than sometimes we ourselves would like to, my thoughts turned while writing to perspective in life. I often find that as I’m working out the various spinning plates we humans in today’s world seem to be balancing — relationships, housekeeping, work, child-rearing, finances, and so on down the list — that another perspective is sometimes helpful. To refocus. To take a look from another angle. To pause and say, “Wait a moment.”

Where might you be in need of a different perspective?

And at the risk of sounding trite, despite the truth of it, the best perspective is God’s. And this isn’t just because He is God, but because of what His being God means. He can see more than we can: into hearts and minds, and into the future and the past. He can weave and bend, mold and refine, until the sticky and icky turns into lovely and worthwhile. He was and is and ever shall be, yet loves us with the tenderness of a Good Shepherd caring for His recalcitrant yet miraculously beloved sheep.

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True, we can’t entirely get a perfect God-perspective, because of the dimness sin brings to our eyes. But we do know that in His Word (Isaiah 55:8), He tells us that His thoughts are not ours, nor His ways our ways. His Word is sure and powerful, accomplishing all He sends it to do. It is in this Word that we can find glimpses of His perspective, His heart. We are assured of His love and forgiveness in Christ, and told of the great love that the Father has lavished on us in His Son (1 John 3:1).

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When we are caught up in a difficult time, it can be terribly difficult to find another perspective. However, when we are constantly in the Word, in seasons of want and seasons of plenty, in seasons of belonging and seasons of isolation, in seasons of work and seasons of rest…our hearts can begin to understand life from God’s eternal perspective.

Writing Partnerships

Meet Heidi.

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Enjoying coffee together.

We met a little over ten years ago, at the Baptism of a mutual friend’s daughter. Our journey as friends began before that, though.

You see, we both attended the same university for a year – she and her husband both graduated after my freshman year. She and I were even in the same program, but not until near the end of my freshman year, when I changed majors.

We didn’t meet then.

A few years later, her husband and my soon-to-be-husband were both at the Seminary at the same time, but not the same classes. Karl (my hubby) was studying historical theology for his Master of Arts, and her husband was in his last year of classes, after his vicarage, for his Master of Divinity.

We didn’t meet then, either.

Fast forward another few years, when my husband and I were living in Michigan with our first child, and Heidi and her husband were living in Ohio with their first two children. We met in-between outside of Detroit, Michigan. It went something like this.

We stood around, chatting a little with the people we knew, and smiling at the kids playing outside. We each noticed the three of ours playing with the older brother of the newly Baptized one.

“How old are yours?” I asked timidly. I was pretty shy still back then, and it was a good deal of effort on my part making myself speak. (Actually, because I can’t remember the conversation verbatim, it may very well have been Karl who initiated it; he’s always been a lot more outgoing than I am!)

“Oh, M is 4, and J is 2,” she answered. “Yours?”

“Our M is 1 and a half.”

“Cool!” She had a great, welcoming smile. “My name’s Heidi, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Sarah.”

We talked about how we knew the family, and were surprised at what a small world it is. We chatted through the afternoon, and as it was time to go, I felt that if I didn’t speak up, I might be missing a huge opportunity for friendship. I’d never had such a strong urge to ask someone if we could keep in touch. All other friendships had grown slowly and naturally, over time.

My heart was thumping with the anxiety of asking to trade information. I’m always nervous that I perceive a different connection than someone else does, and this was before the days of looking someone up on Facebook after the fact (it probably existed, but I wasn’t on it yet).

“Hey, Heidi. Um, do you wanna trade email or something?” I probably went on to explain that I normally don’t just ask people I just met to keep in touch, but there seemed to be a good friendship potential or some such thing…

“Yeah! I was thinking of asking the same thing! Our kids play so well, and it’s been fun talking to you!”

So, Heidi doesn’t actually speak with so many exclamation points, but the joy this encounter brings up makes me a little over-exuberant in my writing. 😉

You get the gist, though. About a month later, we stopped (invited!) for lunch at their house on our way to visit my parents. For the next several years, we got together at least every other month. When my husband got a job as a college professor in Alabama, it was terribly difficult to say good-bye.

We’ve had some great visits in the years since. Blueberry picking and canning jam in Alabama. Christmas Parades and New Years’ Eve festivities in Ohio. Texts and letters and packages and calls…we keep in touch, but always feel like another part of us lives in another place. We dream of a day when we live near enough for a day-trip to visit, though it may very well not be until the Old Earth has passed away, and the New Heaven and New Earth are where we will sing praises to the Lord Jesus who has brought us together and sustained our friendship.

After my family moved to Alabama, and we were emailing, calling, and texting more, both Heidi and I started to think about writing. She had already been writing Bible studies for the Youth group at her church, and I had been toying with a Cinderella-like story (that grew into the Regency Silhouettes series).

Enjoying coffee apart, but together in spirit. 😉

Fast forward all these years, and her family is in Nebraska and mine is in Texas…and we still are supporting one another’s writing. (Check out her amazing, faith-filled blog here at I Love My Shepherd!) I’ll shoot her a text, freaking out about how inadequate I feel for the task of what I want to communicate in my Work in Progress. She’ll call to ask about ideas for promoting her latest Bible Study Devotional. We had our first collaborative project this past Advent, with a devotional photo challenge. She offers suggestions and insight for my fiction, and I offer editing and formatting help with her studies. It’s amazing how God has been working in and through us to support each one another.

Heidi prays for me every time she sits down to write. I pray for her every day when the alarm on my phone goes off at the time she usually starts writing. And let me say, this last novel I’ve been working on has felt different from the other two. There has been a greater sense of focus with this novel that I’m working on now, and I’ve (with a few exceptions) felt more confident in my writing throughout the process.

If you are a writer, in what ways do you feel supported? If you are a writing-partner, what are the mutual benefits from a writing-partner-relationship? Readers, how can you support the writers in your lives?

Fix it!

img_2917One of the hardest things for me as a writer is to hear critique on my writing. I know it’s
important, I know it needs to be given and received, I know how invaluable it is to hear to good, the bad, and the ugly of what I’ve written. How else am I to learn and grow? I can only do so much in editing my own work; there comes a point where I need to let go, and let someone else take a look. And not just a peek, but an in-depth study.

Whew! Just writing that made my breathing kick up a few notches!

Can any of you writers out there relate to this? How many of you employ the services of an editor?

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why having an editor is so important.

We all have pet phrases.

When I wrote Violet’s Daybreak, I created a heroine with debilitating shyness. Barely able to form a coherent sentence around strangers kind of shy. I’ve been there, and I wanted a character that could grow past it, as I (sometimes) have. But I over-used “blushed”…so much so that I’m sure my editor was pulling out hair during the reading of it. This was something that I hadn’t noticed I did, and certainly didn’t mean to do! And I’d never have caught it on my own. Instead, all my readers would be reading about an infuriating amount of blushing, flushing, flaming faces.

In working through it with my editor, I learned to think about more physical manifestations of shyness than just blushing: shortness of breath, trembling hands, inability to make eye contact, nervous fidgets, and I could go on! After making those changes, I saved the blushing for the really big stuff!

Sometimes, our brain sees what it wants to see.

Have you ever written something, even gone back through to self-edit it, and then left it for several weeks, months, or even years…only to return and find that it didn’t say what you thought it did? I’m sure many writers have experienced this, myself included. What was I thinking? The problem is that, as we write, and have an idea in our heads, sometimes that idea becomes stronger than our vision. We know what we mean, and even if the words don’t express that clearly, we still see what we mean. Example, you ask? Well, do I have one for you!

In my WIP (WIP stands for Work In Progress), a novel centering on a student of Dr. Martin Luther’s in Wittenberg, 1517. About halfway through a paragraph describing the student writing frantically during one of Luther’s lectures, I switch to the character thinking about the 95 Theses (Statements that Luther wanted to discuss in the theological/intellectual community of the time). While I want to include mention of it in the book, such an inorganic introduction will make it feel more like propaganda than a novel describing how the teaching of salvation by grace through faith touches and transforms the lives of those who hear it. I’m sure that at some point, I had an idea in my head of how to transition my character’s thought process more gently, but I can’t think of what it was now! In short, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m just glad I was able to pick that out later.

An editor’s eyes are not our eyes.

If you are writing for yourself alone, you can ignore this post, as well as the need for an editor. However, if you want to write so that other people read your writing, remember that they do not have your eyes. They do not have your thoughts guiding their reading. This is where an editor can be really useful, because editors don’t have your eyes, either!

When I’ve finished a first draft, and done what I can on my own to perfect my writing, I do two things. First, I send it to my editor. Second, I send it to test readers. The feedback I receive helps me perfect my writing further and gives me a view on how others read what I’ve written. Oh, you think that character doesn’t seem very genuine? I can fix that! This scene doesn’t have enough detail? I can fix that! The opening has too much description and not enough action? I can fix that, too!

What other reasons can you think of to work with an editor?

If you are interested in learning whether I would be a good editor to work with on your writing, please go and check out my page, Editing. Whether you decide to go with me or not, I hope you will consider this important aspect of the process. Happy writing!

New Things!

Hello dear readers! It has been an embarrassingly long stretch since my last post…

I can only claim hectic life and work on new projects as preventing me from posting. Poor excuses, I know! However, I’m excited to share with you some of what I’ve been doing.

We are in a season of newness. Spring has come full-force in Texas, and my northerly-acclimated self thinks it’s summer already! In the church year, we are in  the midst of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. If this isn’t new, I don’t know what “new” is! In the spirit of newness and hope and growth, I want to share with you that I’ve decided to offer my services as an editor. This is a stretch into new territory for me, though perhaps not so far as I might have first thought.

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As early as high school, or even middle school, I’ve enjoyed going through my work, picking it apart, and putting it back together. Now, I’ve found very real and deep satisfaction in helping others bring their work to its optimal potential.

For example, my friend Heidi has been writing online Bible studies for a while now; when she started talking over a year ago about putting some of them into a book format, I thought it was an excellent idea and offered to help with the effort. Not only was I blessed with the wonderful insights in her study, but I absolutely loved being even a small part of helping to polish it.

And if your interest is peaked, you can check out more of her studies here.

If you have a project you’ve been working on, consider how an editor might help. Is the message you’re presenting as clear as it can be? Are there any mistakes that might trip up your readers and distract from the heart of what you want them to take away from your work? Are there little spelling or punctuation issues that will detract from your credibility as a writer?

If you’d like to take a look at the services I offer, you can check it out here.

Now it’s your turn. What new things are emerging in your life during this season?

Make Ready with a nativity

A Savior. Born for you. And will bear for you. And does bear for you. Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

“Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!” isn’t a Christmas song, right? But is it? The greatest blessing, our Savior, comes to us this day. Let us sing and praise our God, who in His great mercy, made ready for us. He sent forth His own Son for our salvation. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Glory to Him who makes ready His plans for our redemption.

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Make Ready with an image of a silent night

A warm fire on a cold night has always been relaxing to me. In Christ, God calls us to rest in Him. #Advent2016 #graftedheart #ilovemyshepherd

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10a

We’ve made it to Christmas Eve. If it isn’t done yet, it likely isn’t getting done. Perhaps that’s how Mary and Joseph felt. They made it to Bethlehem, they made it past the gossipers, they made it through this season’s journey to the birth of a healthy child. Even if tomorrow will be full of activity for you, rest in this time, breathe in this space. Be still in the knowledge that God has done this great thing for you. We made ready.

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Make Ready with a cross

At the crux of it all, even at Christmas. #Advent2016 #graftedheart #ilovemyshepherd

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Christmas is fun, and special, and a holy celebration. But more than the presents and singing and yummy food, or the babies and lambs and shepherds, angels and wisemen, it’s about the difficult road ahead for that little Baby. It’s about His life lived for you and for me. It’s about the suffering endured for you and for me, the cross that lifted our Savior, the grave that hid Him, and the stone that couldn’t keep Him. It’s about His work in our lives. He alone makes us ready for salvation.

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Make Ready with a gift

Gift-giving is a reminder of God’s gift of grace. #Advent2016 #graftedheart #ilovemyshepherd

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8

Whether gift-giving is a source of anxiety or joy, we can rejoice together in the gift of God’s grace. It’s often said that Jesus is the first and best Christmas gift. But He’s also the Giver! He gave boundless grace in coming to our fallen world, in preaching and teaching on our soil, in suffering and dying on a rugged cross, in rising from the tomb and granting Life to each of us. We praise Him for these gifts and so much more. What gifts are you sharing and revisiting this Christmas? Let these joys remind you of our great and mighty Giver always.

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Make Ready with something snowy or white

No snow here in Houston, but here’s a lovely white ornament. #advent2016 #graftedheart #ilovemyshepherd

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:18

Snow covers. Fresh snow, falling softly from the sky, transforms the environment like nothing else. As the dead grass slowly disappears beneath a blanket of white and barren tree branches begin to sparkle in the moonlight, the world is transformed. While the snow’s transformation is temporary and could dissolve with morning’s light, the forgiveness the Lord speaks of in Isaiah is of stronger mettle than snow. It is for eternity.

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