Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Way Back When-sday: Insurance Maps from the 1890's

I have a self-imposed deadline. I planned to get my story, Enticing Julia Morgan, to my Beta Readers by May 1st.

I'm in the midst of revisions, but I'm hopeful I can keep my deadline. The story doesn't need major re-writing (at least not yet!), but I am going through and fixing the errors, rearranging sentences, adding more detail and checking for consistency.

Here's what my work station looks like.

The papers on the left are copies of insurance maps from the 1890's. The maps give amazing detail about the buildings in Little Falls, Minnesota, where my book is set. It's a great resource to discover what types of businesses were in town during 1898. There were at least three cigar factories, two breweries, numerous millinery shops, dress makers, confectionaries, bakeries, hotels, cobblers, tailors, livery stables, banks, schools, churches, an opera house--not to mention flour mills, lumber mills, a paper mill, three brick yards, two iron works, blacksmiths...the list goes on and on!

The maps give specific details about how the buildings were heated, if they had electricity or gas, if there were watchmen on duty, when the buildings were in operation, etc.

I'm a History Nerd, I get it. This stuff fascinates me more than I can express in words. I can't get enough!

Do you enjoy history? Do you like to research? What has been your favorite historical find?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Minnesota Monday: Spring Thaw!

Finally, the snow is melting, melting, melting!

We went from 40 degrees to 70 degrees almost overnight, which means the snow has disappeared at a wonderful speed. It was so warm, my girls pulled out their summer clothes, but some of the snow banks were so high, they didn't melt as fast and the girls had to play around the snow in their shorts and tank tops. *Shaking head*

During this glorious weekend, we grilled out, had our first campfire along the river and got sunburned! We spent almost all day outside both Saturday and Sunday, soaking up all that Vitamin D.

I spent a large part of Saturday raking up dog poo in the front yard so our kids could play outside. It was a chore I was happy to do, since it meant the snow had finally melted and it was sunny and warm outside. Now I need to tackle the backyard, which is much bigger...

Here are some fun pictures from this weekend. Enjoy! And Happy Spring!

Dave and I took a bike ride Saturday morning and saw
these beautiful pelicans flying over the Mississippi. The sky
was such an incredible shade of blue.
Our oldest in the neighbor's yard (thankfully all our snow
was melted by this point!).

My two girls (on left) catching some rays with their cousin...

The first of many campfires of the year!

One of my boys was having a little too much
fun playing with the water hose...

Our backyard after supper tonight. We ate on the back deck. Ahh...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Birthday Celebrations!

I was overwhelmed with birthday wishes on Facebook yesterday. Seriously, birthdays weren't half as fun before Facebook was invented!

I always feel especially blessed on my birthday. When I was in grade school, middle school and high school my mom would have a rose and a balloon sent to school on my birthday. I love when people take the time to wish me well and help me celebrate.

This year my mother-in-law invited me to go to a community-wide garage sale in a neighboring town. We took the boys and I found some good deals. Afterward, we met my hubby for lunch at my favorite Mexican Restaurant.

I was treated to fried ice cream! Mmmm...
I came home and played outside in the sunshine with my children and then we went to supper at one of our favorite pizza places with my parents, my brother and his family.

After the kids had their baths, and I read to my girls from my favorite book (Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, by Maud Hart Lovelace, who also happened to be born on April 25th), I took three hours and worked on my current story. It's almost ready for my Beta Readers!

Tomorrow my hubby and I will continue the celebration by going out with friends to dinner. My parents and Dave's parents will take the children for the evening and maybe we'll get to sit out near the campfire along the river (the snow is FINALLY melting!).

All in all, it's been a fantastic birthday, and an even better year. I can't wait to see what blessings God has in store for our family this year.

And today is my sister's birthday! Happy birthday, Andrea! She was born the day after my second birthday--which has always been a special bond we've shared.

What about you? What makes you feel special on your birthday? What are your plans for the weekend?

**By the way, my blog passed 30,000 hits this past week! Thank you for taking the time to visit.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Minnesota Monday...More Snow

It's Minnesota Monday time! I know you've probably heard this a few times already, but it really has been an unusual spring around here. There's still so much snow! We might get more tonight and tomorrow, but I'm hoping it turns to rain.
Here are a few pictures I've taken over the past couple of weeks. I can't wait until I'm taking pictures of green grass and brightly colored flowers.
Happy Monday!

My in-law's backyard

This is the Classic Golf Course near Nisswa, MN - one of
our favorite places to go out for a nice meal. We celebrated
my mother-in-law's birthday here.

This was the yard BEFORE the last two snowstorms. The
purple sled in the corner was completely covered until
this afternoon, when the rain melted the snow again. It's still
not this clear in the yard. Hopefully in the next couple of days.

Back porch after the last snowstorm.

Some people have asked for pictures from my writing room
window. Here is the view.

A little better view (with about three inches of snow).
What about you? Is there snow on the ground where you live? Just for fun, what is the temperature where you live today? (No bragging, please...) :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Love at Any Cost, by Julie Lessman

Love at Any Cost is the first Julie Lessman book I've had the privilege of reading. My expectations were high when I picked up this book. I've heard so many good things about Julie, I was eager to see for myself. And let me say, I wasn't disappointed!

From the moment I began reading Love at Any Cost, I was transported back to San Francisco in 1902. Julie's details are outstanding and her characters are well-crafted and believable. Each one has a unique personality trait that sets them apart from the others. My particular favorite of Cassie's (the heroine) was her use of slang terms. The very first two words in the novel are: "Sweet thunderation."

Cassie McClare has left her Texas ranch behind to spend the summer with her cousins in San Francisco. She hopes to forget about the man who has broken her heart. Her former fiancĂ© was a fortune hunter and when he found out Cassie's father had just lost all his money, he jilted her a week before the wedding. From now on, she intended to swear off all "pretty men" for good.

Jamie McKenna is a handsome lawyer who has worked his way up from the very bottom of the social ladder. He desires to pull his family out of the slums of the Barbary Coast and make a better life for his mother and sister--but the only way he can do that is to marry into a wealthy family with good political connections. Cassie McClare's arrival in town is the opportunity he's been waiting for.

When Jamie sweeps Cassie off her feet, quite literally, the sparks begin to fly. But will their love survive when Jamie learns Cassie isn't as wealthy as he thought--and can Cassie trust her heart to another "pretty man"?

This story is sweet, funny and full of heart. With a lot of excellent supporting characters, Love at Any Cost is a book I will recommend.

What about you? Have you read a book by Julia Lessman? Have you read this one?

**Available April 15, 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.**

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Way Back When-sday: Historic Minnesota Homes

My current work in progress is set in 1898 in Minnesota. Recently I came across an interesting website dedicated to a Minnesota architect, Edgar E. Joralemon. He designed residential and commercial buildings in the Minneapolis area in the 1890s.

Many of his buildings are still standing today, but sadly, many of them have been torn down. A gentleman named Charles Test has started a website dedicated to collecting pictures of the buildings Joralemon designs.

If you go to www.chuckstoyland.com you'll find many more. Charles has graciously given me permission to share these pictures. There are many more on his website. If you visit the link, you'll also find out when the homes were built, how much they cost to build (most around $15,000) and when they were torn down--and why.

What about you? I've always dreamed of living in a house like one of these. Would you prefer to live in a brand new house with all the bells and whistles, or would you rather live in a hundred and fifteen year old mansion?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy...

It's 12:08 a.m. and I just looked at the clock. I've been busy working on my current novel, Enticing Julia Morgan, and I've lost all track of time. This isn't the first time it's happened...

I'm lucky because my husband gets up with the kids before school on most mornings, so I can indulge in some quiet, late-night writing. I'm currently at 89,662 words, with 100,000 as my goal. It's getting to the point where my fingers can't move fast enough as the story is pouring from my heart.

I was a bit nervous as I started out writing this story. The first story I wrote had been in my mind for over ten years, but this one I had only plotted for three weeks before I started working on it...and I was afraid I couldn't pull it off. Would I need to let this story incubate for ten years, as well?

The answer, I'm happy to say, is no. I discovered this story as I wrote it, which is a new adventure for me. But everything about writing this story has been new to me. It's been a learning experience, to be sure. A good one.

And, the best part is, my mom and my sister are loving this story already--they've had special VIP access to it... :)

As I come to the end of this story, I'm getting more and more excited. I'm convinced each time I write a story I will learn something new. Something about God, something about me, something about my writing, something about my dreams and something about life in general. Because there's no way you can pursue your passions without God using it to shape you.

It's late, and I'm rambling, but I didn't want a Monday to go by without a post. I'm so thankful I have all of you to share this journey.

What about you? Do you ever get lost in a good story (whether reading it or writing it) and lose all track of time? Do you learn something new in that story? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

**On a side-note, I'm protesting today. No Minnesota Monday until the weather starts to cooperate! It's the middle of April and we had a snow storm today! My birthday is in ten days and I can only recall one year (in 33) that there was snow on the ground. I'm not complaining...I'm just protesting. :)

**And--Happy Tax Day America!

Because I don't have a graphic to
go with this strange post today, here
are some pictures of my favorite
super-heros, courtesy of my twins
These were taken at my parents'
house this weekend. When this little
guy came up from the toy room
and my dad told him to go back
downstairs to play, he said:
"I can't! I haft to save the world!"

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: A Noble Groom, by Jody Hedlund

Don't you just love authors that keep getting better, despite the fact that the last book you read by them was so good, you wonder how they could possibly write a better story after that?

Such is the case with A Noble Groom, by Jody Hedlund. I loved Annalisa and Carl's story.

Annalisa is a young widow living in a German immigrant community in Michigan in the 1880s. Though she had a loveless marriage with her husband, losing him puts her in a dangerous position. Alone, with a young daughter and a child on the way, Annalisa is left to manage a struggling farm and protect it from a corrupt land developer, who will stop at nothing to take what he wants.

As a widow, she is at her father's mercy, and must marry a man her father chooses. Annalisa will do whatever it takes to provide a better life for her children, and so she concedes to wait for a distant cousin, Dirk, to come from Germany to be her husband.

Carl von Reichart, a German nobleman by birth and a chemist by choice, faces the guillotine for a murder he did not commit. In the wee hours of the morning, his faithful servant breaks him out of prison and instructs him to go to the United States, to an immigrant town in Michigan, where he can hide with the servant's family until his name is cleared.

Carl arrives in Michigan and only plans to stay as long as necessary with the peasants who work the land and slave for their meager existence. What he doesn't plan is falling in love with Annalisa, and her charming little girl, and discovering the depth of character in a community of immigrants who only desire a better way of life.

When Carl and Annalisa fall in love, more than their social status will keep them apart. Annalisa's cousin Dirk is on the way, and he fully expects a bride to be waiting...

What I loved most about this story was the love between Carl and Annalisa--two characters I could believe were real people. As the tale unfolds, their love story flows beautifully and naturally, filling us with all the hope and possibilities of happiness. We ache to see them overcome the obstacles to achieve a happily-ever-after.

I didn't think it possible, but this book is even better than the last one by Jody. With her track record, I can't wait to see what's coming next!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Minnesota Monday - on Wednesday

The past couple of weeks I've been straying away from my blogging schedule (for good reasons)! But I have so many wonderful Minnesota pictures stacking up, I thought I'd switch things up again and share my Minnesota Monday post today.

Here are some pictures taken in the past few weeks. Things have melted A LOT since these pictures were taken, but I wanted to give you a taste of how things looked around here recently.

A flock of seagulls have taken up residence on the river near our house

We've also been blessed by beautiful swans on the river
My hubby playing outside with the kids about three weeks ago.
The snow was about three feet deep (now we can see grass where
the snow once was!). The railing behind them is
our fence - only sticking out a foot above the snow!

I watched my Little Monkey analyze this new development...

And then take advantage of the snow to get out of the fence built just to keep him in...

Can you see the sense of accomplishment on his face?!?!

Of course, his brother had to try the same thing a couple minutes later...

But his attempt wasn't as graceful...

Although, he made it!
 Playing outside with the kids in the snow will be some of my favorite memories from this past winter--although I'm more than ready to start making some warmer weather memories!

What about you? What were some of your favorite memories this winter?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ten Reasons an Author Needs an Agent

Last Thursday I announced I have a literary agent. I signed with Mary Keeley from Books & Such Literary Agency. It's a huge step on my journey to publication, one I'm thrilled to take.

When I started on this journey I wasn't quite sure what an agent was, or if I even needed one. But as I learned more and more about the publishing industry, I discovered the vital role a literary agent plays in the publication process.

Without further ado, here are ten reasons an author needs an agent.

1. An agent has the ability to submit your manuscript to numerous publishing houses, simultaneously. One of the greatest benefits to having an agent is their ability to get your manuscript in the hands of editors at publishing houses. Most publishing houses will not accept an unsolicited manuscript directly from an author, but they will from a literary agent.

There are really only two ways for an author to get their story on an editor's desk, without the help of an agent. You can meet with an editor for a fifteen minute "pitch" session at a conference (and you're still not guaranteed the editor will ask for your manuscript), or you can pay a fee and place your manuscript on a website like Christian Manuscript Submissions, on the (unlikely) chance that an editor will see it.

2. An agent negotiates contracts. When an author is offered a writing contract, it will be the agent's job to negotiate for her. Literary contracts are extremely technical, filled with legal jargon the average writer has never heard of. An agent is skilled in this area and will work hard to get it right. Without an agent, an author would have to hire an attorney each time she needed to negotiate, and most attorneys aren't savvy in the publishing world.

3. An agent works with a publishing house, after the contract is signed. Another important role for the agent is to make sure the publishing house upholds their end of the contract. In some situations the agent becomes the mediator between the author and the publishing house (but hopefully this doesn't happen often).

 4. An agent helps create a marketing plan. As part of the team, an agent wants to help the author sell as many books as possible. She's also knowledgeable in the industry and understands what has worked in the past, and what has not. The agent will help the author create a marketing plan and then the author will implement it.

5. An agent knows the business. As I was learning about the publishing industry, a handful of agencies continued to show up on my radar. These agencies have excellent reputations in the industry and they represent hundreds of authors, many of them on the bestseller's list. Books & Such Literary Agency is one of the leading agencies in the Christian Book Association (CBA).

6. Agents have the inside scoop on what publishing houses are looking for. Often a publishing house is in the market for a specific genre, era or subject to fill in their publishing lineup and they will call a respected agency to ask if they have an author who could fill the slot. Agents work closely with publishers and they create good relationships. They have connections on a broad range that an author (especially a newbie) doesn't have.

7. Agents are the first step on the journey. Every year thousands of people write books, but only hundreds get published. Publishing houses used to accept manuscripts, but they would sit in a "slush pile" for months before an editor had the time to read them. Agents have become the first step in the process. Now agents receive all those manuscripts and it's their job to find the best of the best. If an agent finds an author who has potential, they've cut out a lot of work for editors. Editors still have hundreds of manuscripts to go through in a year, but it's a much smaller--and higher quality--"slush pile" than it used to be.

8. An agent stays up-to-date in the publishing industry. Agents are constantly attending conferences, going to trade shows and meeting with publishers to stay up-to-date on trends in the publishing industry. An agent will help the author process this information and apply it to their goals.

9. Signing an agent is a career-long decision. Most agents and authors consider their partnership as long-term. An agent has many years in the publishing industry and one of her goals is to use her experience to help the author navigate her writing career. There will be many decisions to make and having her knowledge is priceless.

10. An agent encourages you. The road to publication can be long and winding. I've often heard my writer friends tell me their agent is always at the ready to encourage them when things are tough and celebrate with them when things go well. It's helpful to have a voice of reason to keep the journey in perspective.

This is not a complete list of why it's important to have an agent, but it's a good start.

What do you think? Did any of these things surprise you? If you're an author (or an agent), what can you add to this list?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I Have an Agent

I'm posting off schedule this week because I have a big, BIG announcement and I can't wait to share!

I have a Literary Agent! And not just any agent, I'm honored to be represented by Mary Keeley of the Books & Such Literary Agency, one of the finest agencies in the industry.

For those of you who have been following this writing journey with me, you know I've dreamed of being an author for as long as I can remember. God called me to lay down my pen for a season (called parenting infant twins), but last January He told me to pick it up again. Since then, it's been a whirlwind experience and I've seen His hand at work in my life in mighty, everlasting ways.

I started this blog last February and since then I've met hundreds of authors, agents and editors, online and in person, creating lifelong friendships with many of them. I attended my first writer's conference, I went to two major writing retreats and I've spent countless hours learning about the craft of writing through blogs, craft books and fellow authors.

While at the ACFW Conference in Dallas, Texas I had a conversation with a writer friend of mine. She offered to read my manuscript and, if she thought it had potential, she would be happy to recommend me to her agent, Mary Keeley.

I was so excited with her offer because I've been a huge fan of the Books & Such Agency and I had heard many wonderful things about Mary.

I sent my manuscript to my friend and three days later she replied with an encouraging email, telling me she couldn't put my story down. She offered to recommend me to Mary.

I sent a query letter to Mary, my friend emailed her recommendation, and the next day Mary asked for my full manuscript.

And then the waiting began! For those of you who have experience "The Waiting," you know what it's like.

But two weeks ago The Waiting came to an end and I received a lovely email from Mary. She asked for a phone conversation to talk about my book and possible representation. To say I was excited is an understatement. But I had three days to pull myself together.

Mary called on Thursday, March 21st and we talked for over an hour. It was a wonderful conversation and I knew instantly that I had found my dream agent. We talked about writing, about my book, about my future story ideas and so much more. When Mary offered representation, I accepted. I had already prayed about it, and talked it over with my hubby, so I knew if the phone call went well, it was the right move to make.

The author-agent agreement arrived in my mailbox on Friday, March 29th, on my twin boys' third birthday. The significance of this date is not lost on me. A couple of week after I found out we were expecting our twins, I had a long conversation with God about my writing. With tears in my eyes, I accepted His choice to lay down my pen for a season. He whispered in my heart a promise, one I've clung to for the past three years. He promised to fulfill my dream to be an author--in His timing.

To receive the agreement on the boys' birthday was a confirmation that all of this is in God's hands. He's weaving an intricate tapestry right before my eyes. One I haven't had to fight for, or struggle to achieve. He's been placing each beautiful strand in place, creating a pattern so exquisite I want to weep as I watch it unfold. It's Him. All Him.

I'm honored, humbled and awed by this writing journey. My prayer remains the same. Lord, use my writing for your glory.

~ ~ ~ ~
For my non-writing friends, I will be sharing a post on Monday to explain what a literary agent does for an author. It's an exciting step on my journey and I'd love to answer your questions!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

20 Fun Facts About Twins

After discovering we were expecting twins, I started to notice twins everywhere! It turns out twin pregnancies are on the rise. Studies show the increase is due to infertility treatments and the average age of the mother is increasing.

For us, neither one of those reasons applied. I was twenty-nine years old and our twins were conceived without any help. More than likely our twins were born because of a hereditary gene, passed down through the women in my family. Whatever the case may be, we're thrilled to be the parents of twins and we feel blessed to have our three year old boys.

Below are twenty fun facts about multiples.

1. In 1980, one in every 53 babies born in the United States was a twin. By 2009, that number had risen to one in thirty, according to new research released by the National Center for Health Statistics. Over those three decades, the twin birth rate (number of twins per 1,000 births) rose 76%.

2. Chances of having a twin pregnancy is increased by maternal age (30+).

3. Fraternal twining is genetically predisposed and the result of a woman releasing more than one egg at the same time.

4. Identical twins are the result of a random split of a single egg and cannot be genetically predisposed.

5. Male twins will not have twins unless their wives have the ability to produce two eggs.

6. Identical twins share the same DNA but do not have the same fingerprints.

7. 1 in 250 pregnancies can result in identical twins.

8. Fraternal twin girls have twice the chance of giving birth to twins than singletons.

9. Once you have fraternal twins, your chances of having another set are 1 in 12 pregnancies.

10. A study shows vegans are five times less likely to have twins than women who consume dairy.

11. Examining 3D ultrasound images, a study in Padova, Italy found fetuses start deliberately interacting at 14 weeks.

12. 40% of twins invent their own language.

13. Over 50% of twins are born before 37 weeks.

14. The average birth weight for a twin is 5lbs, 5 oz.

15. 4.5 million twin individuals live in the United States today or about 2 percent of the general population.

16.   An additional 90,000 sets (180,000 individuals) are born each year.

17. After digging up the birth records of more than 59,000 women between 1800 and 1970, University of Utah researchers found that moms of twins tend to live longer than moms without twins, have healthier kids, and "appear to be healthier" themselves. That's probably because sturdier women have twins, not because having twins is good for you, the study notes.

18. There are more than just fraternal and identical twosomes; other rare twin types include “half identical twins” (when the egg splits and then each half is fertilized) and mirror image twins (identical twins who develop asymmetrically).

19. Identical twins don’t have identical fingerprints.

20. Some estimates suggest 1 in 8 people started life as a twin while 1 in 70 actually are a twin.

Did any of these facts surprise you? Do you have any little-known facts to add to the list?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Twins Week!

In honor of my twins' birthday last Friday, I'm going to have a week dedicated to all things "twins" on my blog!

Okay...I'm really just celebrating that we hit a huge milestone on our twins journey! Three years ago I was breastfeeding sixteen times a day, changing at least sixteen dirty diapers, sometimes waking up twelve times a night, rocking, singing, bouncing, shushing and cooing my babies so they would sleep.

When I look at this picture, all I can remember is how tired I was!
It's been a whirlwind experience. One I wouldn't change for anything in the world. But, I have to admit, I'm so happy we're past the infancy stage. It's a blast to finally see my boys' personalities developing. It's fun to talk to them, sometimes reason with them (sometimes), find out what they like - and definitely what they don't like.

I get a lot of questions from people about raising twins, so I thought I'd give you a little peek into something we're dealing with right now.

Potty training.

My older twin decided he was done with diapers three months ago.

The other twin, my little Monkey, has decided he's not done with diapers. But he keeps us laughing with his antics, so I'm not losing patience...yet.

I thought it would be fun to share some of his reasonings for not going on the potty chair. So, without further ado, here are the inside workings of a three year old's mind.
~ ~ ~ ~
Upon waking up I ask him: "Would you like to be a big boy today, and wear underwear? Or, would you like to be a baby," insert scrunched up nose, shaking my head, "and wear a diaper?"

He looks very contemplative and says: "I want to be a CAT today!"
~ ~ ~ ~
We thought we'd be smart and "throw away" his diapers, so he didn't have any other options. Really, I just hid them. We said: "No more diapers! It looks like you'll have to go on the potty chair today."

For the rest of the day he peed in every available corner of the house...everywhere BUT the toilet.
~ ~ ~ ~
When I told him: "You have to go potty - you'll be three!"

He looks at me very seriously and says: "No, I'll be zero."
~ ~ ~ ~
For every logical reason I have, he comes back with one of his own.

I've had many well-meaning people give me advice about potty training him, but when I tell you we've tried it all, we've tried it all!
  • We've let him walk around the house in the same diaper all day long, hoping he'd get annoyed with a heavy diaper...nope. He didn't even bat an eye.
  • We've offered stickers, stamps, candy, you name it...he doesn't seem to want any of them.
  • We've reasoned, begged, threatened (to take away a privilege), to no avail.
  • We've even had our other twin "show" him how to go potty. After the older twin went potty, my little Monkey clapped his hands and said: "Ya! Good job!"
My little Monkey is simply not interested in going on the potty chair - yet. I've come to a very serious conclusion about this...he's not going to go, until he determines he's going to go. And that's all there is to it.

My Early Childhood/Family Education teacher has told me there are a handful of things children have control over. What they eat, what they say and when they go to the bathroom. Those are the three areas a child will fight you for control. It's my job to guide him and instruct him, but he has to make up his own mind to do it.

Aren't we similar when it comes to doing what God asks? His Spirit guides, the Word instructs, but it's up to us to do what we should do. Often, God is prodding us to mature and take the next step. For a variety of reasons we balk Him. It might be laziness, it might be fear - but, most often, it's because we want to be in control. Look how much better life would be for my son (and me!) if he gave up control and started using the potty chair.

How much better could our lives be if we gave up our need to be in control - and took the next step God is asking us to take?

What about you? What milestones have you celebrated recently? Have you ever had a determined (a.k.a. stubborn) child? Were you stubborn? Is there an area of your life you're struggling to give up control?