Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sandra Merville Hart loves to find unusual facts in her historical research to use in her stories. She and her husband enjoy traveling to many of the sites in her books to explore the history. She serves as Assistant Editor for DevoKids.com and is a contributor for a collection of stories about answered prayer in Jesus Encounters, (Spring, 2015.) She has written for several publications and websites.

Listen in as she answers a few of our questions.

Has your writing affected your reading habits?

I love to read, but now I notice how authors build tension. I notice their descriptions of people and settings. I guess reading has become another opportunity to learn the writing craft.

That's very true! You said you've always loved to read. Did you always want to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer in elementary school but received no encouragement. My dad told me I'd starve to death as a writer. I buried the dream, but it returned to me about ten years ago. I love creating new characters and plopping them into historical settings. I'm having a great time!

Who inspires you? (Not Dad, obviously, though his advice was quite practical.)

I'm inspired by great authors. I've read several books by Mark Twain recently because I write historical fiction. This master storyteller inspires me.

I'm inspired by the courage I find in people who face insurmountable challenges and somehow find a way to get through it.

I'm inspired by those who cling to their faith when it's all they have left to hold on to.

I'm inspired by a friendly smile, a warm welcome, and how good old-fashioned hospitality feeds the soul.

I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere, if I only take time to discover it.

What in particular gave you the inspiration for your Civil War romance, A Stranger on My Land?
While researching for another novel, I discovered that local citizens lived in caves on Lookout Mountain when armies remained near. I wondered what it would have felt like to find a wounded soldier on your property after a Civil War battle. It surely happened. Would you walk away and leave him to die if he fought for the other side? What if members of your family fought for the opposite army? Does that change anything? Suppose you help them anyway and fall in love?

These questions sparked the idea for the story.

Your book is a Christmas romance set during the Civil War. Can you tell us more about it?

It's an inspirational novella that released on August 21, 2014.

Carrie and her little brother, Jay, find Adam, a wounded Union soldier, on their land after a battle near their Lookout Mountain home. Carrie takes Adam to the cave where her family has been hiding from the soldiers. Before long, she falls in love with him, but she can't save his life. He requires a surgeon. Carrie weighs the potential danger of revealing her family's hideaway with saving Adam's life.

What is your current project?

I'm writing my first romantic suspense novel. I'm having a lot of fun with it, but, as I don't outline before I write, the characters are letting me know the story. Just last week I discovered two clues at the same time as my characters!

I have the same experience. Those characters tend to take over sometimes. What's your favorite genre to write?

My favorite genre to write in remains inspirational historical romance. My next project is another Civil War romance. This one will be set in Gettysburg.

Thank you, Sandra, for taking the time to visit with us!


Readers, if you'd like to know more, you may find Sandra blogging at DevoKids and The Barn Door Book Loft, or on Facebook, Pinterest, or Goodreads.

Want to buy A Stranger on My Land? You can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in print or ebook format.






Monday, December 15, 2014

Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain once sat on a bench in Washington Square to enjoy an hour's conversation. 
"Can you name the American author whose fame and acceptance stretch widest and furthest in the States?" Stevenson posed the question to the famous author at his side.
Twain believed he knew, but modesty prevented him from answering.
Stevenson quickly burst Twain's bubble, for it wasn't the beloved author. Stevenson then explained how he discovered the most famous author at a bookshop in Albany that displayed a large number of little books written by the same author, Davis. (Twain didn't recall the first name of the author.) All the books were compilations with a brief chapter of introduction written by Davis. Such titles as Davis's Selected Poetry and Davis's Selected Speeches were cheaply yet neatly bound. 
Not recognizing the author, Stevenson asked the bookseller about him. It astonished the well-known author to find that the books sold so well that it required freight trains rather than baskets to carry them.
Stevenson's lack of knowledge about the multi-published author didn't surprise the shopkeeper. He explained that no one had heard of Davis for his name didn't appear in print or advertisement as such publicity didn't appeal to him. Davis's books would never rise to the top; one must put on diving gear and plunge to starvation wages where the compilations were found by millions of readers. The author who sells to that market will make his fortune for these readers remain loyal. According to the bookseller, once a writer becomes a favorite in this market, his or her books will always be preferred for the fans pay little attention to reviews. They simply know what they love.
On the other hand, well-known authors must worry about reviews and the weather on the top, for winds of slander may blow and hammer away at their good name.
Stevenson and Twain discussed this kind of submerged fame and decided to call it submerged renown. Authors with submerged renown affect a great number of people they never meet or speak to, but who read their books and develop a fondness for the writers. These readers don't criticize or listen to the criticism of others for the author has found a place in their hearts.
This pair of famous, well-loved authors agreed that this type of fame was best of all. 
In this day of social media, where publishers insist on authors building a platform and getting their name into the public arena, many may feel this is no longer valid. It is frequently stated that no one will find an author's book without publicity.
Or perhaps those readers Stevenson and Twain determined to strive for will find the best of authors and books anyway.

It's definitely food for thought.


Sandra Merville Hart loves to find unusual facts in her historical research to use in her stories. She and her husband enjoy traveling to many of the sites in her books to explore the history. She serves as Assistant Editor for DevoKids.com and is a contributor for a collection of stories about answered prayer in Jesus Encounters, (Spring, 2015.) She has written for several publications and websites.





Find Sandra here:

http://devokids.com/category/stories/adventures-in-history/
http://www.barndoorbookloft.net/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sandra.m.hart.7
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/sandramhart7/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com



 You may purchase the book at:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Stranger-My-Land-Sandra-Hart/dp/1941103278/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405606746&sr=1-1&keywords=A+Stranger+on+my+land.

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-stranger-on-my-land-sandra-merville-hart/1120155194?ean=9781941103272.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Emmanuel. God with us.

He is the God who is with us.

Through joy, through blessings, when the road is smooth and the weather clear.

Through sorrow, through loss, through hardship. Even when it feels like He’s abandoned us to our circumstances or at least to the storm of our emotions.

Psalm 139 (NKJV) ~ For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

Can we even really comprehend the thoroughness with which God knows us and our situation? With how closely He watches over us and, as this passage says, surrounds us with Himself?

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

These were the words the Spirit whispered to my heart one lonely night, lying in a hospital after the birth of my sixth child, who had been whisked away to the local medical university.  I felt so alone, so desolate, not knowing if he would live or die. If I make my bed in hell ... and yet, He whispered, I am there. Was I swallowed up by darkness? It made no difference, because His eyes  penetrate the deepest shadow. Indeed, to Him there is no difference between light and dark.

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

Every one of our days is mapped out by the brilliance of God’s genius. That means nothing happens by accident—which may not be a comfort, when we consider how hard (or purposeless) some things seem to be. But can we trust that He does indeed have a purpose?

17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

Even His thoughts are with us. His very thoughts. He doesn’t set our lives in motion then walk away ... He’s paying attention. All the time.

19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20 For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

We have it drummed into our heads that it isn’t “nice” to hate anyone ... that it isn’t righteous. But is there not cause to hate evil? To hate the darkness that wreaks such havoc on the innocent?

It is not wrong to grieve the wickedness done in this world. Indeed, evil breaks the heart of God Himself—it is what drove Him, in love, to step down from heaven and become one of us so that He could redeem us and put an end to evil.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

And this is the God we trust to know us, to search our deepest depths, to shape us into what we should be, need to be. The God who loves us. Who became our Savior.

The God who is with us.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Water from the Tiber River and Mediterranean leeched through tuff rock, creating a bone-cracking stillness in a passageway of the Catacombs of Priscilla beneath Rome.
I wrapped my sweater around me, staring at an image I had studied in seminary a decade ago: the first known depiction of the Virgin Mary. Shifting to encourage circulation and hoping to prevent lead-footed clumsiness during the hours of exploring that lay ahead, I considered the cozy allure of writing romance—while uncomfortably researching international suspense.

I chuckled when I remembered heavy artillery fire in Syria, machine gun fire in Lebanon, and the tarantula in the skiff on the Amazon River in Peru. As I shook my head at those memories, a crypt fresco combining Greek geometric designs with early Christian symbols caught my eye. 
I engaged the young graduate from the Pontifical School of Archaeology in a vigorous discussion of syncretism (the blending of religions), which led to a long and uplifting chat about martyrdom.

In this ancient space just off the Appian Way, we ignored cultural, denominational, and generational barriers to unite in the love of Christ.

As she disappeared in the rabbit’s warren of shafts and tunnels, I rushed to follow her fading beam. I reminded myself that catacombs were not good places to get lost, especially if you are not keeper of the flashlight. I learned that lesson the hard way—in a war zone—in 2007.

As I tumbled along, I smiled: I love my life.

While Google Earth and the Internet make detailed research easier and more convenient, they cannot convey sensory elements that I believe draw readers into my stories, satisfying my loyal tribe with authenticity. Subtle, factual differences distinguish settings; develop characters in the Parched series; and relate one book to the next in ways that enrich my readers’ participation and allow them to embrace my characters closely. (Two ruthless editors note when I “geek out” with detail. Thank you again, ladies.)

Did you know the wet dust and rock, plus mold, in the Roman catacombs emit a sweet, slightly acidic
smell? But catacombs in the much-drier Middle East almost lack scent? Camels can be sweet-tempered, with a smoother gait than a racehorse. They also can be demonically mean, so get a bead on their personality before stepping too close. (Warning: both ends can be dangerous.)

Sunset on the Western Wall in Jerusalem bathes everything in a golden glow—except the blue tiles on the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, which glitter like sapphires. A peculiar lilac haze often precedes dusk in this region. Fresh pomegranate juice in the Old City of Jerusalem is sweeter than fresh pomegranate juice in the Greek Isles.

If you are an intelligent, middle-aged female protagonist determined to save your family despite your
better judgment, your responses to these sensory influences convey your stress, fear, excitement, or frustration. If you are a middle-aged female author, writing these scenes believably requires that you embrace the “been there, done that” approach to crafting a manuscript.

I am committed to write only about places I have traveled and know well. Except for murder, I share my protagonist’s struggles so that I can tantalize readers with my sense of participating in her adventures.

Archaeologist Grace Madison’s time in the Catacombs of Pricilla was tense and fearful as she and her adult children searched for clues to the location of a treasure from King Solomon’s time. Her husband was wounded, dear friends were near death, and everyone she loved was heading to the climactic scene (but was it?) at Carnevale in Venice.

As I climbed the claustrophobia-inducing spiral staircase to exit the catacombs on a cold October day, I reminded myself that I shoot better than I salsa. Camels are more natural to me than carriages. And cargo pants are vastly more comfortable and mobile than a corset.

The life of an international suspense writer is good. Especially if she is in charge of the flashlight.


A member of the venerable Explorers Club, NLB Horton returned to writing fiction after
an award-winning career in marketing and a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She has surveyed archaeological digs under Syrian and Lebanese heavy artillery fire in Israel and Jordan, explored the Amazon River and Machu Picchu after training with an Incan shaman, and consumed tea on five continents—and while crossing the North Atlantic.


Visit the author on her website, "Like" her Facebook page, and tweet with her on Twitter



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I love the Protestant Reformation (keep reading because it gets better), partially for non-theological reasons.

My devotion exceeds Luther, Calvin, Knox, or Tyndale. I include da Vinci, Galileo, and Copernicus as well, men whose revolutionary ideas enriched a sixteenth-century world barreling from the restrictions of the Middle Ages into the light of the Renaissance. 

Courage and intellect created counter-cultural heroes then. And those traits define my protagonist, archaeologist Grace Madison, in the first two books of the Parched series: When Camels Fly (May 2014) and The Brothers’ Keepers (November 2014).

When I began percolating about The Brothers’ Keepers, Grace’s character, and the seminary backgrounds of the troupe of octogenarian theologians who assist her and her family, led my thoughts to the Reformation. I admit that I went willingly.

The Brothers’ Keepers is a tale of international suspense: theologically sound and scientifically correct. It is liberally sprinkled with Grace’s warped humor and slight sarcasm, and extolls contemporary family dynamics—in a family not unfamiliar with espionage and danger. 

It opens in Brussels, when Grace learns that her beloved daughter Maggie has disappeared in France, and that her son’s bride has been attacked in Switzerland. In a five-star review of When Camels Fly, one reader described Grace as a Mama Bear protecting her cubs. Her growl from Belgium in the opening chapter of The Brothers’ Keepers resonates around the globe, attracting family and friends to Paris to begin the search for Maggie. 

Grace inspires that kind of devotion as a vigorous, joyful woman trying to live fully in the image of Christ. 

Maggie inspires devotion of a different sort. As the object of affection from two very dissimilar young men, her professional success as a hydrologist balances her epic failure as a sweetheart. Will she accept the repeated proposals of the all-American who is as loyal as a drooling golden retriever? Or will the handsome sayan (helper) for Mossad break through her Herculean defense mechanisms to win her heart? And where in the world is she, anyway?

“The nut didn’t fall far from the tree,” Grace’s husband Mark says of the mother and daughter, and Grace has heart issues of her own. She and Mark are working to rebuild a thirty-year marriage after growing apart. The healing process complicates life-threatening situations in When Camels Fly and The Brothers Keepers, but reveals the devotion they still share.

Using clues Maggie has left at the American Church in Paris, where she was last seen, the Madisons pick up the trail of an ancient relic that they hope will save her life. The desperate journey crosses four centuries and three continents. Difficult choices endanger everyone the family and their friends love, and compromise nearly every belief they hold dear. 

And in the end, they discover that to save themselves, they must first rescue an old friend who deceived them.

If he’ll let them.

As with When Camels Fly before it, The Brothers Keepers is all about doing the right thing. Because sometimes, doing what’s right is all that’s left.


A member of the venerable Explorers Club, NLB Horton returned to writing fiction after an award-winning career in marketing and a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She has surveyed archaeological digs under Syrian and Lebanese heavy artillery fire in Israel and Jordan, explored the Amazon River and Machu Picchu after training with an Incan shaman, and consumed tea on five continents—and while crossing the North Atlantic.

http://nlbhorton.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/NLB-Horton/289059931145461

https://twitter.com/NLBHorton

Sunday, December 7, 2014

One of the things I love about the Christmas season is having more reason to listen to a handful of favorite carols that, to me, serve as much as worship songs as anything. Probably my favorite, in any arrangement and style, is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” There’s something universally appealing about a song of any age or season that touches upon our deepest aches and longings, and points us to the hope of a Savior, and we see that all over the psalms.

This one, especially, resonates with the theme of Christmas. Keep in mind as you read that Emmanuel means God with us.

Psalm 130 (NKJV) ~ A Song of Ascents.

O Come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel ...

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.

... that mourns in lonely exile here ...

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

... until the Son of God appear ...

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

He is our Savior, in any time, in any season. He came once ... He shall come, yet again.

~~~~~~~~

One of my favorite versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was sung by 70’s Christian artist Evie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CohbAHsUk2w

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thank you to The Borrowed Book for hosting me, day two. 

Today I’d like to talk about my Amish novels, The Bargain and The Bachelor, a bit more in depth. Thanks for coming back.

The problem with writing Amish novels, if it can be properly called a problem, is that readers are extremely knowledgeable. “The Amish would never do thus-and-so,” a few go so far to insist in book reviews. Readers know all the Amish words and spell them the proper way. But the real problem is that there are so many Amish groups and they all have different ways of handling everyday life. They even have different ways of spelling those oh-so-familiar Amish words. Would it surprise you to know that Deitsh/Deitsch/Pennsylvania Dutch is primarily a spoken language? There is no set spelling for the words, and that’s not usually a problem, because the Amish write mostly in English.

My first novel, The Bargain, finds heroine Betsie Troyer whisked into an alien setting: the English world of Hilliard, Ohio as it was in 1971. Book two, The Bachelor, finds her back in her Amish home in Plain City, but a young English girl is staying with her. In other words, worlds collide.

My touchstone Bible verse as I write my Plain City Peace series is Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female [there is neither English nor Amish]: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” I want everyone to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of how they were raised or what they were taught, because in God’s sight, the Amish are the same as the English.


So how do I imagine the Amish in an English setting, one with all the complications and innovations of the English world? I believe the good Lord has set my feet in a good place to do just that. There are no Amish families living in Franklin County, Ohio, but the Columbus Zoo is not far from my house. I love visiting the zoo, and so do the Amish. In fact, the last three times I’ve visited the zoo, I’ve seen Amish there. It’s a great opportunity for me to see Amish families and how they cope with today’s modern world.

I like the title photo because the colors of the fence palings and the ladies’ dresses are very similar. As I studied the photo later, I made some observations that were helpful to my writing. First, how did the family get to the zoo? As I said, they don’t live in Franklin County. The closest community would be in Logan County near Belle Center, much too far for a horse and buggy, so a vehicle was involved. They could even be from Holmes County. 

Second, look at the footwear! Sneakers, Crocs, flip flops—as much variety as an English family! Only the bearded married men are wearing what you might say are sensible Amish shoes. Third, the stroller—not only is it in use (though I never caught a glimpse of the baby), but the cup holders hold what looks like a Sprite and some kind of plastic cup with a sipper lid. Also notice the girl on the far right is clutching a Mountain Dew. And last but not least, notice the sunglasses that the father and the smallest girl are wearing. When we arrived at the zoo, we found a pair of child’s sunglasses. We placed them on a nearby trash can so they would be found by the owner. Well, guess who picked them up?

So this Amish family has made some peace with the modern world. True, I don’t know if they’re Old Order, New Order, or what, but they probably are not the strictest group, Swartzentrubers—the boy’s bangs are not cut like a Swartzentruber boy’s.

Now it’s your turn. Below are more photos I’ve taken at the zoo. Look at them with an eye for detail and tell me in the comments what you notice about the Amish and the modern world.  

Notice an amusing change between the title photo and this one of members of the same family?



These ladies are out for an excursion to the zoo. What do you notice?

Here’s a different shot of the same girls. Observations?



Compare to the family in the title photo. What is the same and what is different?


Stephanie Reed lives on the outskirts of Plain City, Ohio, site of a once-thriving
Amish community. She gleans ideas for her novels from signs glimpsed along the byways of Ohio, as she did for her previous books,
Across the Wide River, The Light Across the River, and The Bargain. The Bachelor is the second book in the Plain City Peace series. 

Visit her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads,
 or Pinterest. 






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