Some of you may know that I’m an Australian author, which means that here in Australia in the Southern Hemisphere we celebrate Christmas during summer. I know that for some people that might seem a little strange, especially if you’re knee-deep in snow, so I thought I’d share some of the fun involved in a fairly typical Christmas here in Australia.
Firstly, the Christmas period coincides with the end of a school year, and the weeks before see a host of ‘end of year’ activities, from year 12 (senior) year graduations and formals, to local groups and clubs finishing their yearly activities (some of which finish mid-November to avoid the clash of Christmas events). This tends to help lift the general mood, and—thanks to those Christmas carols and decorations that shops start pumping out in November—we’re ready to party come Christmas time.
Speaking of decorations, it’s a little ironic to be here listening to songs about snow or decorating with snowmen when the sun is blazing down or there are bushfires around, or putting up fairy lights (twinkle lights) that you don’t really see until the sun sets after 8pm. It’s nice to see a recent swing to more Australian ideals, so it’s not just snowmen and reindeer but surfing kangaroos, koalas and cockatoos getting some love as inflatables on our front lawns. Even our Christmas trees (usually fake or real pine) are occasionally replaced by an Aussie tree, such as a branch of a eucalyptus or some of the gorgeous red and cream flowers of what’s known as Christmas bush.
It’s warm weather, as December signals the start of summer, so there will be more barbecues, visits to the beach, the pool, parks, etc. Some people enjoy spending Christmas Day at the beach, which might often include a bucketload of prawns and seafood. Despite the hot weather, many Aussies still enjoy a roast dinner for Christmas lunch. It can be a funny experience eating roast turkey or baked ham when the temperature is hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but we like our traditions. Typical Christmas dessert might include a tropical fruit-decorated pavlova, fruit salad or plum pudding and ice cream.
Many churches will see an increase in visitors in the Christmas period, especially those of the ‘C and E’ variety, who like to visit at Christmas and Easter. Many churches will host outdoor Christmas carols events, which are a wonderful time to connect with the local community and sing songs about Jesus. I’ve been involved in our local community Christmas carols for the past twenty years, and love singing songs like ‘O Holy Night’ and see people who claim to be atheist stop and pause and really pay attention to the words. It’s a real blessing to have freedom in this country to be able to share so openly about Jesus.
In my family we wait until after church and the main meal (at lunch) on Christmas Day to open presents, so it’s a long wait filled with anticipation for gifts. As my children are getting older they’re appreciating more of the gift giving than just receiving, which is great to see.
Here in Australia the day after Christmas is another designated public holiday called Boxing Day, which is a day that links to when the rich would box up treats and leftovers to give to their servants and the poor in their community. For my family it means we get to Christmas Day all over again as we head to my mother-in-law’s place and have a special meal, gifts etc – with the added bonus of being able to visit the beach later on. Boxing Day is also a day of major sporting events, such as the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and the Boxing Day cricket match (cricket is like sophisticated baseball ^_^ ), which means those who have eaten too much can sit back, relax and snooze in front of the TV.
The Christmas period usually sees the vast majority of people taking their summer holidays, which can mean anywhere from two weeks to six weeks off work and school, as people enjoy the warmer weather and the outdoor celebrations and public holidays like New Year’s Eve and Australia Day on January 26th. Then it’s time to really focus on the new year as we recommence work, and school returns at the end of January, although the beach still begs for attention through February and often March.
I might be dreaming of experiencing a white Christmas one day, but in the meantime I find there is so much to appreciate about Christmas here in Australia.
From my family to yours, happy Christmas!
Where To Start Your Story? You need a HOOK!
A writer must make a great first impression, hook the reader, then reel him/her all the way into the net with that first sentence, the first paragraph, and the perfect, exciting first page. Where you choose to start your story is paramount.
Friends and family might sit still for hearing about baby Sally’s first steps (uninteresting, everyday information) or even the details of the baby’s birth and her childhood (back-story), but the words on page one are being read by total strangers! Start with a hook! It’s imperative! Choose words that make the reader want to keep going, turn the page.
Think of a personal trip to the bookstore. What do you do? Find the genre you like then peruse the spines. If a title stands out, you pull it off the shelf. Then what? Turn it over to read the back-cover copy, right? If you’re still interested and the story sounds appealing, you open to that first page.
The time allotted to entice the reader can be measured in seconds.
All total, maybe the writer has thirty precious tics, half a minute, with that prospective fan. Again, think drama. I’ve found a good place to raise the curtain is with a crisis that leads to a decision (most always a bad one) or a decision that leads to a crisis (told you it was a bad one).
Bad decisions are precursors to drama.
Crises—difficult or dangerous situations that require immediate attention—and bad decisions are proven good openings for stories. Unlike movie trailers, a juicy, chosen snippet from the car chase in act two can’t be the tease to lure readers in, any more than the long, yearning gaze from the love scene a hundred pages in.
The book reader—especially one considering a new author—is looking for a story where they can live vicariously through the character and enjoy the journey. When the back-cover copy interests them, they turn to the first page. Both should propel heroes and heroines to action.
My historical Christian romance, Vow Unbroken, opens like this:
He took the pinch of cotton Sue offered and rubbed it between his short, pudgy fingers. “I’m truly sorry, Mis’ess Baylor. Two cents is all I can pay.”
She seethed, but forced at least a show of civility. “Mister Littlejohn.” She spoke in a stiff staccato. “A week ago. Before everyone left. You promised three-and-a-half to four cents a pound! You said depending on the quality. That is the main reason. The biggest reason. That I didn’t go with the others.”
The man smiled. “Oh, I might have said two-and-a-half or maybe even three, but things change. You know that.”
She couldn’t stand being talked down to, especially by such a lying loafer.
“I wish I could help you, but two cents it is. I mean, besides, anyone can see.” He held the sample up. “It’s shoddy lint.” He shook his head. “Pardon me for saying, Mis’ess Baylor, but a granger you are not.”
“Anyone can see its excellent quality, you mean.”
A bit of breeze, a very little bit, stirred the top layer of dust from the street; it cooled her skin, but her insides still steamed.
Sue studied his face while a hundred calculations ran through her mind. He certainly didn’t look like the weasel he’d turned out to be. Her cotton was as good, if not better, than any of the loads that left last Thursday. She reached up and massaged her neck, then lifted her braid to let some air dry her sweat.
She glanced over at her wagons. Levi had Becky laughing hard. The children would be so disappointed. Maybe if –
No. She would not allow this thief to take advantage of her family. How could he even think to? The loathsome, immoral oaf! She’d worked too hard getting her crop in. Everyone had, even her nine-year-old Becky. Why, at two cents, she’d hardly realize any profit at all after the extra seed and what she paid the pickers.
She squared her shoulders and determined anew, faced him again. “I’ll accept three-and-a-half cents per pound. All cash. Not a fraction less.”
“Two cents, ma’am. Half now, half when I get back.” He jingled the coins in his vest pocket.
A crisis calls our heroine to make a decision. It’s a hook!
In essence, I’ve raised my curtain in Vow Unbroken in the middle of a scene, because everything else so far that busy morning was preparation for what Sue believed to be her biggest payday ever.
Still, boring and without any relevance to my story, so it’s all implied by Sue’s loaded wagons being right there in town. Readers know it’s a prearranged meeting, and the villain is trying to cheat (or bilk in 1832) the widow.
That’s all they need to know at that point.
On the first page, Sue decides not to give her crop away to the scoundrel trying to bilk her. That isn’t such a bad decision, is it? But the next one to take her cotton to market herself is, and that’s the one that propels her on the journey.
This is where your reader—or agent or editor—decides whether they want to go along—or not.
Through Chapter One of VOW UNBROKEN, she accepts the challenge, asks her best friend to go with her and listens to the woman’s chiding and insistence she not go alone.
It’s desirable to end each chapter with a hook, too. I like to end my breaks and chapters in the middle of a scene. Never give readers a comfortable place to close your book and put it down. In this case, Sue is on her way to Henry’s—the last known male in the county who might be able to help. But he carries a bad reputation for being a lazy drunk.
Writing creative genre fiction, there are proven techniques—some might call them rules, but there are no rules in writing creative fiction, and they’re just made to be broken anyway.
But adhering to recognized methodology…that’s nothing but smart! With that in mind, for the most part, books usually start in the protagonist’s point of view (POV) and with something to create drama: a crisis, action, a call to adventure, or a bad decision.
Definitely do not start with “backstory!” That’s what I’ll talk about next month!
I hope you’ll check out my newest release, QUINCY & PRISCILLA At the Lowell House. Mama and Priscilla are out watching New Years’ Eve fireworks when Mama reveals that the young socialite’s father left them penniless when he died. Mama has sold the house and arranged a matchmaker to find them both husbands . . .the crisis.
At first Priscilla flatly refuses, but with few options, decides to oblige her mother . . . the decision. I hope you’ll enjoy going with Priscilla to Texas and meeting the chef.
The romance genre took a quirky turn a couple of decades ago when mail-order brides hit the ground running (or at least riding the rails), and it hasn’t stopped the westward marriage expansion since! I have, however, met a “mail-order bride.” My husband worked with a man who found his wife in one of those 1980s “woman looking for a husband” catalogs. They wrote. She had a son, but that didn’t deter him. After a few months of letters (including little hearts by his name when he signed them—no joke), she came here and married him.
Like many mothers, I read the Sarah, Plain and Tall books to my children. Who doesn’t love the story of the woman who came to bring joy and song back into the lives of a still-grieving family? Other than that, though, I haven’t read many mail-order bride books, so with one of my own coming out at the end of February, I decided to read a few. Three, to be exact. So, with Amazon doing half the legwork, I went to check out what is available. Here are the three books I chose and why.
Bride of Pretense by Amanda Tru and Cami Wesley. Okay, the idea of stealing another gal’s identity to get out of one marriage and into another with a stranger was too good to pass up. And really, with it being Amanda Tru, how could I ignore it?
The Judge’s Bride by Patricia PacJack Carrol. Seriously, a widow with ten children going off as a mail-order bride? Sign me up! I just had to read this one. I mean, come on! Not to mention, the pluck of a woman who won’t cave to pressure and will do whatever it takes to keep her family together? Well, that’s something I want to see. Finally, the would-be groom not knowing how many children? Don’t have to ask me twice!
Finally, The Mail-Order Bride Carries a Gun by Wanda Ann Thomas. Okay, a bride set on revenge? Had to try it. Especially since my upcoming book has a similar theme of going west for reasons other than marriage or romance. I’ve never heard of Wanda Ann Thomas, but she’s written a compelling synopsis, anyway!
Will I love all of these books? I don’t know. But I’m about to find out. I’m also about to find out just how many expectations I’m breaking with my own mail-order bride book in the Westward Home and Hearts series. Penelope’s Pursuit follows the journey of one young orphan determined to take her parents’ modest life savings and use it to find the sister who ran away west to get married… and hasn’t been heard from since.
Linda Books Davis
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1 ASV
With New Year’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to name the past year’s blessings one by one. And enumerate those we long for in the coming year.
Are you thanking God for good health in 2020? A new job? A raise? A new baby, perhaps? Has an unexpected blessing come your way—like an excellent medical report, lowering of your homeowners’ taxes, or making the Dean’s List?
In Soon the Dawn, a novella that serves as a bridge between my two historical series—The Women of Rock Creek and Valley of Promise—Ella and Andrew Evans recount their blessings on New Year’s Eve 1921.
Andrew and I slipped into the warmth of the bed we had shared for sixteen years. Anticipating the blessings 1922 had in store for our family, we nestled in one
another’s arms and welcomed dreamless slumber.
For sixteen years now, we’ve been living in this house amid warmth that has
nothing to do with the flames in the fireboxes and everything to do with God’s
hand of blessing. The spirit in this home comes from our love as family and as
children of God.
Or are you looking back on 2020 and wondering what, why, where, and how?
- Why must our family go through this, Lord?
- What did we do to deserve this?
- Where were you when we were pacing the floors?
- How can you allow so much pain?
- You promised to shelter your people under your wings. So, what’s up with that?
Ella asks similar questions in Soon the Dawn.
- “Why would my heavenly husband allow his wife to endure such sorrow?”
- “You’d think the God of love would spare his children such trials.”
- “Some folks live unscathed by tragedy. Others have known little else.”
“It’s beyond our understanding. Gotta leave such quandaries in God’s hands and trust Him.”
- “Our Heavenly Father causes it to rain on the just and the unjust …”
“What’s the point in being one of the ‘just’ then?”
- “How do I learn to trust Him?”
Ella and Andrew also express their longings concerning 1922.
- “Just last night I fell asleep thinking about all the blessings God has in store for us this coming year. “Yet, here I am, nursing an unfamiliar foreboding.”
- “… I slipped on an apron and pondered the pantry’s dwindling jars of peas and greens. Although the garden had supplied what we needed thus far, I feared we’d run short before the next harvest.”
- “Leave me to the miry pit … And get rid of that cursed Ebenezer. Sign of protection, my foot.”
- “The Lord’ll make the stitches hold. Leaving the past and stumbling through the days ahead isn’t all He’s asking of us. He wants us to go toward tomorrow and all the days after, with purpose, into the future where He is, trusting His love every step of the way.”
As a personal aside, our family endured an unspeakable horror in 2017, and it continues today. When the longing for what’s lost all but bursts my heart in two … When reminders pierce my very soul … When memories plague me, I find comfort in my theme verse for 2020, Hebrews 12:3:
Meditate on Jesus. Compare the bitter hostility He endured with your trials
so you won’t grow weary and lose heart.
I would give almost anything for our tragedy not to have befallen us. But had I never experienced it, this verse in Hebrews would hold a great deal less meaning. When I compare my trials with what Jesus endured, I do, indeed, experience less weariness, discouragement, and pain. The power of the Holy Spirit to work in the human heart through Scripture is nothing short of miraculous.
What pain did you endure in 2021? Did you ask God what, why, where, and how? Has meditating on Jesus provided a balm for your soul as it did for Andrew and Ella?
“The pain we’ve endured has been excruciating. I looked up that word and,
of all things, I found the cross … Excruciating means ‘out of the cross.’ God
witnessed the excruciating death of His child. We have something in common
with Him. We know the meaning of the word in ways other folks never will.
I believe He expects us to do something worthwhile with that knowledge. Let’s
you and I stand on His promise to be the rock that’s higher than our troubles.”
As we enter 2021, perhaps we can ask ourselves some questions:
- For what do I long in the coming year?
- Have I asked myself what, why, where, and how concerning those longings?
- Have I allowed the Holy Spirit to equip me through God’s Word to meet whatever the future has in store?
- Where do I find the cool shade beneath His wings?
- Do I understand how to abide in the shadow of the Almighty’s wings?
I’ll return to Hebrews 12:3 over and over again in 2021, friends. How about you?
Linda Shenton Matchett
Sisters in Service
World War II was a horrifying and difficult period, but at the same time provided groundbreaking opportunities women. I especially admire the gals who went to work even though they didn’t want to. They would have preferred to stay home and raise their children, but their country needed them, so they answered the call. The iconic Rosie the Riveter is just one of the ways women served. Here are a few more…
Founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, the Red Cross jumped in to help those impacted by the war even before the U.S. entered the conflict. Volunteers worked stateside in clubs, camps, and hospitals. Overseas, “Donut Dollies” drove half-ton trucks and single-desk buses converted for making and serving coffee and donuts and distributing newspapers, chewing gum, and other small items. The motor corps division clocked over sixty-one million miles answering nine million calls to transport the sick and wounded, deliver supplies, and take volunteers and nurses to and from their posts. Nearly 45,000 volunteers completed training in auto mechanics in order to make their own repairs.
The Office of Civilian Defense was established by President Roosevelt in May 1941. It was an independent agency and not associated with the Dept of War, despite its name. Their handbook specifically indicated which jobs women would be considered for: Staff Corps, Driver Corps, Messengers, Air Raid Wardens, Emergency Food and Housing, and Nurse’s Aides Corps, and which they would not: Rescue Squads, Auxiliary Police, Bomb Squads, Auxiliary Firemen, Fire Watchers, Demolition and Clearance Crews, Road Repair Crews, and Decontamination Squads. Reading some of the tasks handled by the men, I’d have been okay with the division of labor!
The Woman’s Land Army was responsible for working in the agriculture industry. By 1942 over two million men had left the farms. By 1943, the U.S. was feeding other countries in addition to our own, and another four million men were gone. Combined with the gas and rubber rationing that put an end to the use of migrant workers, the food industry was suffering, so women stepped in to fill the void. These ladies took the jobs for purely patriotic reasons, as they could have earned significantly more in the defense industry. Said one WLA worker: “No how matter how heavy the hay we pitched, how our backs ached from weeding, or how stubborn the team we were driving, we always had the secret joy that we were helping the war effort.”
Women signed up in droves to serve in one of the “alphabet soup” armed forces auxiliary organizations: WAACS/WACS (Army), WAVES (Navy), and SPARS (Coast Guard). The Marines didn’t grant their female recruits any clever acronyms, stating they were Marines just like the guys. The Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASP) was a civilian organization whose members didn’t receive veteran status until 1977. They flew over sixty million miles, transported every type of military aircraft, towed targets for every type of military aircraft, simulated strafing missions and transported cargo.
Of the more than 2,000 correspondents who covered the war overseas, only 127 were women. Given the rank of Captain, the correspondents wore uniforms, assigned to allow them leverage should they be captured by the enemy. In uniform they would not be viewed as spies. Other women went over on their own dime by hitching rides in planes, jeeps, and boats. Rules implemented by the War Department forbid the presence of female correspondents near combat, but more than managed to get there.
Last but not least is the Office of Strategic Services. A precursor to the CIA, the OSS employed more than 4,000 women, many of whom did more than their job title (file clerk) revealed. Think about how tough it would have been to recruit when the women couldn’t be told what they’d be doing, only that it would be varied and challenging. Responsible for hiring, Margaret Griggs told about receiving the following requests: a math shark, an expert on Kachins and their tribal life styles, a combination secretary-seamstress to sew agents’ clothing so they’ll look of the country and not off a Brooks Brother rack, an artist for the London war room, and a girl with steady hands to retrace lines on captured maps. Quite the variety!
It is my hope that my books honor these brave and stalwart women in some small way.
Marguerite Martin Gray
Time to be Nostalgic
The Holiday Season is a time to be nostalgic, to remember those times and incidences that make hearts flutter, eyes sparkle, and arms bull of love. This year we have new experiences due to the pandemic and a vastly uncertain environment. For 2020, we have the choice to pine for the nostalgic traditions and comforts of years preceding or flourish in the unexpected possibilities of the here and now. Perhaps, this year will be one some of us view as nostalgic and fantastic.
I love history, historical fiction, historical traditions, etc. I read and write historical novels where nostalgia reigns, where it began. As I remember this year, I see so many similarities with the period of my Revolutionary Faith series. See if you agree.
A few examples
The citizens in the 1770s Charles Town, South Carolina, found their own nostalgic longings vanishing. How familiar do these moments sound? Can you feel their wondering and longing?
1) They no longer have the ease of travel and comfort on the road or sea. Some of their neighbors become enemies, and their freedom to visit and travel become dangerous and burdensome.
2) Large family get-togethers cease to be the norm as cities and villages are overrun with military, riots, and boycotts. Immediate families choose to concentrate on their own small groups.
3) At this time, the job scene and opportunity shift to survival and military endeavors. Finances stretch to include surplus goods, protection, and saving for the future. Some jobs disappear such as inns, restaurants, and entertainment.
4) Basic supplies dwindle—some hoarded, some no longer available. The communities had to hunker down with the goods needed to survive physically.
5) The closing of taverns, churches, and restaurants force social distancing. Large groups pose as a threat to security, loss of control, and riots.
6) Health epidemics such as smallpox threaten even during war time or perhaps more so as strangers enter in and out of the cities with the military. The smallpox vaccine enters the medical field, but few are willing to be inoculated.
Nostalgic for the past? I believe every era has its own problems and circumstances that hinder mobility, supply chain, finances, health, and gathering. What are you making of this opportunity where the challenges of the present intersect with those of the past?
Perhaps, you will join me in reading some inspiring historical fiction this season. It might help you feel a part of something bigger, even historic.
Wild Heart Books featuring Lorri Dudley
Behind the Scenes of The Duke’s Refuge by Lorri Dudley
After being buried under the largest snowfall in Massachusetts history, I wrote The Duke’s Refuge as an escape to warmer tropical climates, and what better respite than a romantic Caribbean isle with a mysteriously missing Duke? In the process I fell in love with the beauty of Nevis, it’s rich culture, and history.
My heroine Georgia lured me in the moment I realized she only wore pink. My psychology background had me digging deeper. I needed to know why. Why the obsession? What was the root behind the hurt? Why pink? How did she go from being a Tomboy to a dignified, Regency socialite? And how did she wind up in the Leeward Islands? Enter her beloved, sick father who always saw Georgia’s potential even when it was hidden under boy’s clothing and often smelled of marsh. Although, he held the best of intentions, his relocating to Nevis left Georgia with deep abandonment issues.
Harrison was a completely different beast. After reading about Mudlarks who trolled the Thames River searching for treasure and even picking the pockets of dead people washed up on the shores, I knew Harrison’s would wind up caked in the Thames’s thick mud and devastated at the loss of his wife. The Leeward island became not only a reprieve from his grief but also from the women who snuck into his carriage or cornered him at parties clamoring to become the next Duchess.
Oddly enough, part of the story formed when a friend of mine spoke of their family trip to visit his mother. She happened to own a parrot, and after a week of the kids yelling each other’s names, the parrot imitated their shrieking. Even long after they returned to the U.S. the bird still screeched out their names. I couldn’t resist adding a mimicking parrot to add a comical element and harass my main characters.
The Duke’s Refuge is meant to be a fish-out-of-water, case-of-mistaken-identity, love triangle romance with a happily-ever-after. It demonstrates how God’s love fervently pursues us, no matter how far we run, and that sometimes, something we would never have chosen can bless us in a way we would never have expected.