Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Civil War History Forum

This past weekend, I was able to attend a Civil War presentation at the Fillmore County Historical Society Museum in Fountain, MN. There were two Civil War re-enactors and another historian there to talk about the role that MN Volunteers and particularly those from Southeast Minnesota.

Each man talked about a different group or individual that had ties to this part of the state. I learned a lot of interesting facts.

1. In the 1860 census, when MN was just two years old as a state, just over 25,000 white males between the ages of 16-39 lived in the state. Over the course of the Civil War, MN sent over 24,000 volunteers to the Union Army. By percentage, MN sent the more soldiers than any other state, and they sent the first volunteers when Abraham Lincoln put out the call. The First Minnesota turned the tide at Gettysburg.

2. The city of Chatfield, MN lost more men in a single engagement on a single day than any single town in Minnesota. Chatfield lost 19 men at the battle of Redwood Ferry near the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation, August 18th, 1862.

3. Minnesota is the only state to fight two civil wars at the same time. While the eyes of the nation were turned to the war in the South, the Sioux Indians--pushed to the limits by starvation and broken treaties--launched attackes against whites in southwest Minnesota. More than 400 settlers were killed, and the Indian Wars of the Great Plains began.

One of the men who spoke was Michael Eckers (You can find his website HERE.) He was terrific! One thing he said was that he loved coming to speak to a group who was there by choice because of their interest in history. A lot of his speaking engagements are in schools where he has a captive audience, but they are usually convinced history is a druge and a bore. History a bore??? Anathema!

After the presentation, I got to see the sword of Captain Judson Bishop, who led his troops in battle at Chickamauga in Georgia. Three days after the battle (where Union troops lost over 300 soldiers) Capt. Bishop wrote to his sister that he has survived the battle unscathed, but that his sword scabbard had taken two direct minie ball hits. I got to put my fingers into the dents on the scabbard and really experience history. How cool is that?

This is a picture of Judson. Didn't he have awesome hair? LOL!

I love talking history with people who are passionate about history.

How about you? Do you love history? If not, what subject do you like best?

Oh, and here's a bonus odd fact about the Civil War. Did you know that Denmark has the most American Civil War Re-enactors per capita than any other country in the world? What's up with that, Danes?

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Cover Art

I'm so happy to unveil some new cover art! Before the Dawn releases in just a few days! I love this cover. The colors are so beautiful, and the mountains are perfect!

From the back cover:

There’s nothing left.

His career, his upcoming marriage, his family, his life. When God deserted him in the depths of a collapsing mine shaft, David Mackenzie lost everything. Even his sight. Oh, but not his life. No, God didn’t take that. Determined not to rely on anyone else to get along, David wraps himself tightly in folds of bitterness as dark as his new world.

But Karen will not give up. Through a series of, well, maneuvers, Karen manages to convince David to marry her anyway. She quickly discovers, however, that though she loves him unconditionally, she shouldn’t have stepped ahead of God—who also never gives up.

God’s love is a light that can break through any darkness, but Karen and David must turn toward the light in order to experience it. As they learn the truth behind the accident and face a darkness neither expected, will they make the right choice?
And a little excerpt

“This will be a marriage in name only. I have no intention of consummating our union. When the time comes that you realize your mistake in marrying me, you can apply for an annulment.”

The air rushed out of her lungs and her head spun. An annulment? “When are you going to understand that I have no intention of leaving you? Did you not hear me today? I promised to love, honor, and obey you until death parted us.”

“I heard your promise. Now obey me and take your things to the next room. I’m tired, and I’d like to go to bed. It’s been a long day.” He stepped farther into the room and waited.

Numb at this turn of events, Karen gathered her valise and straightened. “David, can’t we talk about this?”

“This is not a matter for discussion. Go to bed.”

She gathered the lamp and stepped into the hall. He closed the door behind her, shutting her out as effectively as putting out a cat for the night. The final humiliation came when he turned the key in the lock.

And more new cover art!

Though Sagebrush Knights doesn't release until next year, I can't resist sharing this fabulous cover art. These novellas are the stories of four sisters who become mail order brides, hoping their husbands-to-be will be gallant knights, and are shocked at the knights-of-the-range that greet them. The girls are daughters of a medieval scholar who left them penniless when he died, and they are ill-equipped for life on the Wyoming Prairie amid the sagebrush and antelope.

I'm ridiculously excited to write the stories of Evelyn and Gareth, Jane and Harrison, Gwendolyn and Matthew, and Emeline and Joseph.

And I love that I have cover art to work with. It's so much easier to write my characters when I have a picture to work from. I'll cast one of the heroines as this lovely girl on the cover, and match one of the heroes to the cowboy.

I love a cover with people on it, and not chin-only people or headless people, though that is a very popular trend in CBA cover art at the moment.

How about you? Do you like people on the cover, and do they need to have complete faces?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Friday Five

70 kites on a single line!photo © 2007 Rona Proudfoot | more info (via: Wylio)

This week's Friday Five is from an idea my husband gave me. He suggested that once a month, I do a Friday Five on things I like about that month. :)

So, here are Five Things I Like About March:

1. It's my birthday month. :D

2. Spring comes. By the first of March, I'm longing for warmer weather and green growing things.

3. March Madness. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. I chose my teams, and I'm usually wrong, but I love watching the games and rooting for my picks.

4. Daffodils. These are some of my favorite flowers, and they start showing up in stores around here, and eventually in gardens in late March.

5. Going out without my coat. And gloves. And an ice scraper. And boots (though I love my zippety boots I got this winter.)

How about you, what do you like about the month of March?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Some tips for writing thank-you notes for contest judges.

Thank Youphoto © 2010 Patrick Hoesly | more info (via: Wylio)

This year I'm once again a category coordinator for the ACFW Genesis Contest. I enjoy this way of giving back to the organization that has done so much for me. 
I would estimate that by the time the contest concludes, I will have sent upwards of 700 emails, and that's just for one category. And the emails I love to send the most are the thank-you notes that come after the non-finaling entries are returned to the contestants.

Did you know it is considered good form to send a thank-you note to each of your judges? The Genesis judges are all volunteers. They are often juggling their own writing, deadlines, jobs, families, etc. while taking time to judge contest entries. It is definitely a labor of love.

While passing along thank you notes is usually a task I enjoy, last year, I noticed something that disturbed me at thank you time. While the majority of the notes were thoughtful, grateful, and well-written, there were some that made me wince. They were closer to 'Thanks-For-Nothing' notes. They were so defensive and bordering on confrontational, I didn't even want to pass them along to the judges. 

The truth is, I understand that critiques of our work can hurt, especially if we're not used to them. We want to hear that our writing is more adorable than the Gerber Baby and twice as sweet as Splenda. But not only would that probably not be true, it wouldn't be constructive either. If we only hear how amazing our work is, how are we going to get better? And if you cannot bear to hear the critiques of the Genesis judges, who love God, care about you, and only want to help you reach your potential, how are you possibly going to bear getting editorial letters on your manuscript from publishers or reading a painful review on Amazon?

Right now, entries are coming back in from the judges and I'm putting the scores on the spreadsheet, and I've been reflecting on the coming 'thank-you note season.' I've been wondering what the tenor of the notes will be this year. Defensive or gracious?

You might be wondering how to go about writing a thank-you note to a judge, so I've put together some ideas that might get you started. And the best part is, you can begin the process right now. Here are a few tips:
  1. Even while the judging is going on, be in prayer for your judges. Ask God to give them clarity of mind, strength, time, and joy in judging. Ask God to start preparing your heart to receive your scores.
  2. When your scores arrive, before you open them, pray. Judging is not an exact science. One judge may love your work and give it a very high score, and another judge may see lots to work on and give it a very low score. It's this dichotomy that tends to frustrate more than anything else in contests, but it is the nature of the beast and not at all unlike the submission process. I wish it was different, that there was one right answer, but there it is. One reader will be indifferent to your work while another might think it's Gerber/Splenda awesome. :)
  3. Read through the scores, then close the document and walk away. If the scores upset you, then don't look at them for at least a week. Get some perspective, give time a chance to take some of the sting out of the comments, and continue to pray. Consider if the judges' comments might have merit before you fire off a snarky note.
  4. When it comes to writing the actual note, there are several things you can include that would be appropriate.
  • Thank you, insert judge's number here, for taking the time to critique and score my entry and for volunteering in this way to help writers progress in their writing journey.
  • Thank you for pointing out ____________ that I need to work on. I will use your comments and suggestions to strengthen this area of my writing.
  • I appreciated the score you gave me on _____________. It is as helpful to find out what I'm doing well as it is helpful to see the areas in which I need to improve.

Of course there are lots of other pleasant things you might say, but these cover the basics.

One other reminder:

It is NEVER professional to whine, gripe, snark, and complain about your scores in public.

It's tempting to want the world to come to your pity party and commiserate, and the Internet gives you the means to send the invitations. Please don't. You'll find folks who will feed the snark, and it is bad for your testimony and your state of mind to cultivate a spirit of complaining. And you never know who might be reading your blog, your FB page, your Twitter feed, or that loop email.

And if, even after prayerful consideration, you can't think of anything nice to say, then please don't write a thank-you note. No response is better than one that is unkind.

So, question for you: Have you entered a writing contest? Did you send a thank-you note to your judges?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nuff Said

How awesome was my birthday, you ask?

Monkey cupcakes brought over by my pastor's family.

'nuff said.

Well, except for Thank You, Ann, Kevin, Elizabeth, and Jonathan. :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Friday Five

I took this picture at the Jo Daviess County Historical Society because it made me laugh. It's a moustache cup. But it's a PINK moustache cup. What self respecting Victorian man, head of the house, king of his castle, wearer of the walrus moustache, would drink out of such a sissy cup???

This week's Friday Five is

Five great things about a writing retreat weekend.

1. Getting to hang with Katie. :D

2. Getting to talk about writing with someone who totally gets it!

3. Putting an insane number of words on my WIP and getting into the meat of the conflict.

4. Visiting an amazing town. The town of Galena is an historical gem. Most all of the town is on the National Historic Register, and everything is pristine. Brick buildings everywhere, at least four white spires (looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell) with mansions and museums on every block. Historical Writer Heaven!

5. Though I was exhausted when I got home, I was also rejuvenated, much like I am when I get home from the ACFW Conference in September. If possible, I would suggest a mid-year writing weekend to keep those creative juices flowing and charge those writer batteries.

The only downside to the whole weekend was that it ended too soon!

What do you think you would like or not like about a writing retreat?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Galena Museums

The above picture is one I took at the Jo Daviess County Historical Society Museum in Galena, IL. This portrait is life-sized. Immense! You can learn more about this amazing painting depicting the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House as the end of the Civil War by clicking HERE.

Galena was the residence of Ulysses S. Grant at the time President Lincoln called for volunteers for the Union Army. The Grant Home Museum is located in Galena, and I got to tour the mansion, which is chock-full of the Grant family possessions, amazing oil paintings, and interesting sculptures.

This stature of Mrs. Grant, Julia Dent Grant, stands in the garden at the Grant home. She's positioned to look down the slope toward Grant Park, where a statue of her husband, US Grant, is looking up the hill in her direction.
One thing I learned that I didn't know, was that US Grant wasn't much of a cigar smoker until he went to war. Then he started smoking them because the smell of the cigar covered the smell of the sick and dying soldiers around him. Sadly, this had a devastating effect on his health, as he passed away from throat cancer after two terms as President, and only days after he finished his memoirs.

So, question for you, have you visited a presidential home? I've been to Eisenhower's and Grant's. My husband and son visited Benjamin Harrison's house last fall.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Up, up, up goes the wordcount

I thought I'd give you all a peek into the past weekend's festivities. :) Thank you to all the Twitter and Facebook buds who chimed in and were 'there' with us on the writing retreat.

My writing buddy Katie Ganshert and I met in the picturesque and inspiring historical gem of a town, Galena, IL for a much anticipated writing retreat getaway. I think we first planned this retreat six months ago.

The above picture is pretty much how Katie spent the weekend. I could never write in this position, but she rocked it. She was doing mostly book surgery, changing lots in her current WIP, and now she has it all sorted and organized and is ready to start adding words. Book surgery can be so daunting and frustrating, especially if you'd rather be pounding out the words. But she stuck with it and got a LOT done.

I've dubbed this picture: The Aftermath. We clobbered a 12 pack of Diet Coke, and polished off quite a bit of a large pizza from Happy Joe's Pizzaria. On Saturday, we only left the room for about 40 minutes to run to Culver's for lunch, then had the pizza delivered in later that night for supper. We laughed about the DC cans. Looked like a frat party in there. And no, Pastor Kevin, no one had to call the authorities. :)

This is us in front of the two story fireplace in the hotel lobby. The hotel was very nice, not one of the historic B&B's that Galena is famous for. (Those are all set up for honeymooners.) But it was a big room, nice beds, lots of pillows, and easy access wi-fi. (Important for authors. :) )
And this is Katie in her favorite sweatshirt and with her volumizing curlers in her hair. This made us laugh because she was bemoaning her hair's lack of volume, while I was bemoaning how much volume my hair has. :) It's always something.

What a great weekend. I got to visit a couple of museums (more on that Wednesday.) I got to hang with Katie Ganshert, which is awesome! We talked writing until we were hoarse, and then talked some more. I focused well on my WIP and added 13K words in two days of writing. It was exciting to see the story grow so quickly. I updated my word counter often throughout the weekend.

I also got to watch the Kansas Jayhawks cut down the nets after the Big 12 Conference Tournament. Yay! Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks! I'm hoping they rip it up during the NCAA Tournament. No early out!

So, have you ever been on a writing retreat? This is by far the BEST one I've ever attended.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Seussical Friday Five

Happy Birthday Dr. Seussphoto © 2010 Kate Ter Haar | more info (via: Wylio)

This week's Friday Five is in honor of the great Dr. Seuss who recently celebrated a birthday.

My Five Favorite Doctor Seuss Books:

1. I Can Read With My Eyes Shut. I love this book because in one of the pictures is a signpost with lots of different destinations and milages on it and arrows going in every direction. One of the signs has my hometown, Salina, KS listed. :)

2. The Foot Book. I love this one because it was the first Dr. Seuss I read to my baby girl. She soon had the story memorized (which meant I couldn't make up the words or skip pages anymore.)

3. The Sneetches. With Stars Upon Thars. Love this story sooo much.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Is there a more wonderful, heartwarming (and heart expanding) story?

5. Green Eggs and Ham. This was a favorite of my son's.

Honorable mention:

Hop on Pop. Great rhymes in this one.

The Cat in the Hat. No Seuss collection is complete without this one.

The Lorax. I love truffela trees.

What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Spring Break

Spring is herephoto © 2010 Louise Docker | more info (via: Wylio)I'm so happy to have my daughter home on spring break. I've missed her so much! She's doing well at college and really having a great time there, but her absence is felt at home.

Her spring break seems really early this year. We've still got a foot of snow on the ground and more falling this week. It's hard to remember that in a matter of weeks things will be green and blooming, warm and fresh.

This anticipation of the change of seasons has me wondering about seasons in my novels. I've written stories set during the winter and the spring and high summer, and I've written a couple set in the fall. I didn't really set out to have variety of seasons in my stories. They just happened that way. Some stories are set around a particular holiday, such as my upcoming Christmas novella: Christmas Service, or the Fourth of July celebration in A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas. The Bartered Bride needed to finish up in November, since the events in the story are based upon an actual event in history that took place in the month of November 1905.

So, question for you, do you incorporate different seasons into your work? Have you included holidays?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Getting my Life Back

Basketballphoto © 2008 Ryan Fung | more info (via: Wylio)
This past weekend I spent in Mankato, MN at the Christian Athletic League basketball tournament. What a fun time!

The Rochester Area Homeschool Defenders rocked! The boys finished third and the girls took first place. I'm so proud of how everyone played. They were good sports, fought hard, and played well. And I understand that RAHS Defenders took home the sportsmanship awards as well. YAY!

As exciting as this season has been, I admit that I am looking forward to my schedule freeing up a bit. My WIP could use some attention and so could my house. There are several things in my life that are feeling a trifle raveled.

Congratulations to my son who accomplished several of his goals this year re basketball. He wanted to play in a JV game, get a basket in a JV game, play in a Varsity game, and get a basket in a Varsity game. Yay! He accomplished all those things. This season has brought challenges and accomplishments and new friends and new skills.

And not just for James. :)

But I'm looking forward to a little time away from the bleachers.

How about you? Have you been a sports mom? Are you feeling a little raveled?

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Friday Five

I wear my newspaper hat photo © 2010 Kate Ter Haar | more info (via: Wylio)

This week's Friday Five is five questions about your newspaper reading habits.

1. What is your favorite section of the newspaper?

2. Sunday comics or weekday strips? Which comic is your favorite?

3. Do you read a local paper, a national paper? Both?
4. Does the paper become bird cage lining, do you recycle, or does it get thrown in the trash?

5. Where do you read the paper? At home, at work, or elsewhere?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

March Goals

Can you believe it's March already? (And yet, I've been longing for all this snow to be gone for what seems like weeks!) It's time to evaluate those goals again.

My goals for March:

1. Finish Stars in Her Eyes. Getting sick the last week of February put me behind schedule on this title and I want to have it all ready to turn in by April 1st.

2. Take care of my responsibilities re the Genesis Contest. I am a category coordinator and I will be busy this month sending and receiving emails to judges and contestants.

3. Go on a writing retreat with one of my crit buds. :) We've been planning this for months, and I can't wait to see her again and to write, write, write!

4. Continue the plotting for Sagebrush Knights. SK is my summer project. :)

How about you? Do you have any goals for this month?