The Face of My Second Book

I love studying faces. They are the introduction to what I might find beyond them when I begin talking to someone new, and they reveal quite a bit in a single glance. Faces never tell you an entire story, but they give clues–sometimes misleading ones–about the person standing before you.

I’m very excited to give you all an early peek at the “face” of my new novel a few days before it’s released on social media, and it’s such a lovely depiction of the story you’ll find behind it.

A Rumored Fortune is a novel about searching for hidden treasure–on an old vineyard estate and sometimes in people.

In Victorian England, Tressa’s stoic, closed-off father hid his vast fortune and never told anyone where he put it. When he dies suddenly, his wife and daughter suddenly become the poorest wealthy family in England. Tressa eagerly begins untangling her father’s vineyard notes to find the fortune, but debts pile up, unpaid workers strike, and family members plant themselves at the estate to “grieve” with the family, and Tressa finds herself with competition to find the fortune.

Ellen knelt in a poof of skirts between Mother and the sketch. “It looks as though the walls on this side of the house are far thicker than on any other.”

“That was merely to reinforce the castle. It’s a classic medieval building technique to prevent invaders.” I leaned close to Ellen. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work against the modern ones.”

Through it all runs a love story and guys, this one is dear to my heart. The relationship dynamic between the heroine and her hero, the starkly honest Donegan Vance, loosely resembles the dynamic of my own love story that nearly didn’t happen. Vance is a bit of a hidden treasure himself, buried beneath a blunt and rusticated exterior, and while Vance is enchanted by Tressa right away, it takes Tressa time to even allow a friendship to form.

After a moment of silent hesitation, she wilted into him. Donegan’s arms stiffened to keep from embracing her, for everything would unravel if he did. It seemed natural, almost necessary, to lift his arms and wrap them around her, but he couldn’t afford the indulgence. So there they stood, the weeping girl leaning against his chest, her enamored yet rejected suitor holding her up like an oak.

It was such a fun story to write, but it felt like wrestling words onto the page. Like my artist heroine who connects with God while painting, I was pushed more deeply into God, more firmly integrating art and intimacy with Him as I tried to figure out where He was taking me and what the story should be. The vineyard setting uncovered a spiritual dimension tied to Jesus’s teaching on vines and branches in Scripture that opened me up to a whole new understanding of those verses, and taught me a lot, too.

So here you are, readers–one part mystery, one part love story, all parts God and art. I’m pleased to show you the cover for my second book, A Rumored Fortune.

(This title will release in the summer of 2018 from Revell. You can add it on Goodreads now: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35841006-a-rumored-fortune)

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True Stories: The Marriage Tree

Once upon a time there was this girl who was perfectly fine on her own. (This is me, by the way, in case that wasn’t clear.) She had a job, a house, and a collection of strays to keep her company. She had an individual one-on-one relationship with God and she moved through life with him.

No need for a man.
A tree can grow on its own, thrusting its own root system into the ground, producing its own nutrients and holding out its open-handed leaves to catch the sun. Like this tree, I had everything Ineeded to maintain my own life.

It was at this stage that I met some guy on a motorcycle who wanted to date me, and I said yes–once. I said no the next time he asked. He wasn’t my type and, like I said before, I didn’t really need a guy.

But he stuck around and I eventually said yes to a second date–many months after the first. Our tentative relationship began. He fixed my car when it broke down, rescuing me from another state. He taught me how to eat healthy. He picked up the phone when I reached out for someone to talk to. When I struggled with worry over something, he asked me if I’d prayed about it yet, speaking of God’s sovereignty in nearly every situation, and drove me deeper into God.

When my little dog was hit by a car, he came over to bury her. I could have done that, and so many other things he did for me, but I didn’t have to. And that felt wonderful. Words cannot express my gratitude for all the ways in which this man has served me over the years in each stage of the relationship we shared.

Our relationship consisted of phone calls and car trips in which I read my novels out loud to him. I’d been writing all sorts of things for years, but it was amazing to read my little thoughts aloud to him and get his very honest but very heartwarming reaction to everything I wrote. He steered me in a different direction sometimes–especially in the actions of my male characters–and he filled my head with ideas that perhaps God had intentions of me being a published author. I talked it over with God and, as often happened, He agreed with Vince.

I married this man, my best friend, in 2012 and tried writing a novel that I could possibly publish. Vince shoved me out of the nest, forcing me past my objections into forward motion. Then in 2016 I signed a contract with Revell that would catapult me into the world of my childhood dreams. I could have kept working at my steady job and taking care of myself, idly dreaming about writing fiction and raising babies. I’d always been pretty independent, and I could have continued to be so. The same could be said of Vince.

Yet over time, we became more and more bonded and life grew around those joints, strengthening the connection.

As I incorporate romance into my novels, this tree is the image I keep in mind. It grows on the property we bought in the first year of our marriage, where we now live. I call it the marriage tree because it so perfectly depicts some of the best marriages. Neither of us were missing half of ourselves or incapable of being alone when we met. We were whole and healthy and autonomus. But we grew together and became a unit. A pair. Fully connected and better because of it. So connected that you couldn’t remove one without doing major damage to the other. I’d consider us inseperable, and that’s ok by me.

Once upon a time there was this girl who was perfectly fine on her own.
But she was better with him.

 

Learning from Failure: The Power to Do Different

by guest poster Jennifer Slattery

(Jennifer Slattery was my first ever content editor, and I’m honored to have her contributing to the blog today! Please welcome Jennifer as she shares her true story. She writes missional fiction that delves into real, gritty topics in our modern culture.)

You’ve heard the term hangry? There’ve been times, many, when I’ve epitomized that word. Add in some exhaustion, and you’ll find my family tight-lipped and quick-stepping it the other way.

I don’t remember the tip, but I do remember it was long. I’ve got digestive issues that are well managed now but were crazy-bad at the time. I never knew how my gut would react. Eating out always felt like a game of Russian roulette. Would it give me an instant, painful, and potentially embarrassing reaction?

I’ve never been a fan of the unknowns, or embarrassing situations, so, on this particular trip, I chose to go hungry. Which wouldn’t have been bad, given the right attitude. I could’ve even turned the experience into an opportunity to fast and draw closer to my Savior.

Instead, I chose to grumble and complain.

All. Day.

My poor family.

Throughout the day, I sensed God’s gentle prodding. A steady nudge to change my attitude and focus on Him instead.

To pray.

In my tired and hungry state, to fuel up on my true, unchanging power source.

I decided to obsess on my hunger instead. As you can imagine, my attitude only got worse. Fast forward six or so hours, and we’d landed in Omaha and were heading home.

My husband glanced at me as he pulled off the freeway. “Want to stop at the grocery store to get something for dinner?”

Want seemed like a strong word, but starved as I was, and knowing our fridge was bare, I nodded, and he turned into the grocery’s parking lot.

We both expected this to be a quick in-and-out deal. I’d jump out, run in, he’d circle the lot a bit, I’d hop back in and we’d be good to go. Only problem—my purse was in the trunk, buried under all our luggage.

With a sigh, I got out and began digging under fifty pound suitcases. My purse happened to be near the very back, and by the time I found it, the woman in the car behind us was laying on her horn, hanging out her window, and cursing me.

Acting like the mature Christian I am, I turned around and said, “Can I get you a Valium.”

Some of you, probably most of you, are cringing right now. I did too. A thought soon followed: “What if she shows up at your church tomorrow? What if she sees you and decides to leave?”

That stung. And here’s the thing. I knew. I knew I was tired, hungry, and crabby. My reaction didn’t “just happen.” It’d been building all day, a day that I could have, at any time, stopped to connect with my Savior. To fuel up. In my weakness, to lean hard on His strength.

When I react, regardless of the provocation, it’s tempting to turn defensive. If she hadn’t … Or, if things had been different. But Scripture tells me I’m an ambassador for Christ. His image bearer. That the world will—or should—catch a glimpse of Him through me.

That’s a heavy responsibility to bear. But not an unmanageable one. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”

I have everything I need to live a godly life. By God’s power. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in me. Not so I can wow the world with my spiritual greatness, but rather so that I can win the world through love.

I blew it that day. I won’t get a do-over, but I can have a do-different. The next time I feel fatigued and weak, whether from hunger or anything else, I can give myself a timeout and tap into my power source, Jesus Christ.

About Jennifer:

Author, speaker, and ministry leader Jennifer Slattery writes for Crosswalk.com and is the managing and acquiring editor for Guiding Light Women’s Fiction, an imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She believes fiction has the power to transform lives and change the culture. Healing Love is her sixth novel, and it was birthed during a trip she and her family took to El Salvador that opened her eyes to the reality of generational poverty and sparked a love for orphans and all who’ve experienced loss.

Her deepest passion is to help women experience God’s love and discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she travels with her team to various churches to speak to women and help them experience the love and freedom only Christ can offer. When not writing, editing, or speaking, you’ll likely find her chatting with her friends or husband in a quiet, cozy coffeehouse. Visit her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her and her Wholly Loved team at WhollyLoved.com

Her newest book:

Healing Love

Find it on Amazon

Genre: Women’s fiction with a strong romantic thread

Dual setting—Southern California, and El Salvador

A news anchor intern has it all planned out, and love isn’t on the agenda.

Brooke Endress is on the cusp of her lifelong dream when her younger sister persuades her to chaperone a mission trip to El Salvador. Packing enough hand sanitizer and bug spray to single-handedly wipe out malaria, she embarks on what she hopes will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But Brooke is blindsided by the desperation for hope and love she sees in the orphans’ eyes. And no less by the connection she feels with her handsome translator. As newfound passion blooms, Brooke wrestles with its implications for her career dreams.

Ubaldo Chavez, teacher and translator, knows the struggle that comes with generational poverty. But he found the way out – education – and is determined to help his students rise above.

When he agrees to translate for a mission team from the United States he expects to encounter a bunch of “missional tourists” full of empty promises. Yet an American news anchor defies his expectations, and he finds himself falling in love. But what does he have to offer someone with everything?

 

 

 

True Stories: The story behind the novel cover!

I’m pleased to show you all the gorgeous, shadowy, elegant cover for Lady Jayne Disappears! Take a peek at this loveliness and then read on for the details.

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“Most rumors about Lady Jayne came from men who could not have her or women who could not compete with her.”

This novel is the story of Lady Jayne—tragic heroine of a Victorian serial novel and mysterious beauty who lit up an entire summer and then disappeared.

But mostly, it’s the story of Aurelie Harcourt. The young writer who grew up in debtor’s prison is on a mission to finish her father’s novel about Lady Jayne and to find the real woman behind this story.

Because Lady Jayne is Aurelie’s mother.

Every girl, if she did not have a mother, sooner or later required an explanation as to why.”

The shadowy Lady Jayne, whose face is not quite revealed on this cover, has been an object of mystery to Aurelie her entire life, and our heroine has longed to fill in the pieces of this woman she’s never met and have a complete picture of her. This novel is Aurelie’s journey to understand who her mother was and what happened to her, while also trying to find her place in her mother’s elegant world where she doesn’t belong.

This cover captures the mystery element of the book as well as the elegance and illusive quality Lady Jayne possesses. Even the little earring features her signature color–purple. I’m so thankful for the designers who created this beautiful cover, this work of art, to represent my story. I only hope the novel inside lives up to it!

I can’t wait to share my debut book with you all! It will release on October 3, and that seems so far away, but it’s nothing when you consider I’ve been waiting for this day for years 🙂

Thank you all so much for stopping in for a peek at my cover. I’d really like to hear what you all think of it, or of the story itself, so feel free to leave a comment.

 

 

 

True Story: Love at First Sight

What is it about kids that makes them hate sleep so much? I don’t just mean THEIR sleep, but OURS. The parents. Levi is mostly a good sleeper, but then there are those nights…

One recent night will forever remain in my memory. Hubby and I crawled into bed around midnight after a massive house-cleaning effort, dead tired and ready for sleep. Which we had… until 12:50 when Levi woke up and decided he was done sleeping for the night. He got fed, changed, rocked, bounced, patted, burped, swaddled, sang and read to. His sweet eyes would droop but the second I set him in his bed, those big brown eyes popped wide open. “I’m watching you,” he seemed to be saying, “in case you get any funny ideas about leaving me alone in this bed.”

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Of course, tired as I was, at one point I got brave and changed his diaper without bothering to put my glasses on.

Oops.

Projectile poop aaaaaaaaaaaall over me and the bed. Of course. And I can’t even see what’s what, but I know everything is covere in it. I think I cried. In fact, I’m pretty sure I did. Everybody up, lights on, let’s change the sheets. Back down again, nurse baby yet another time. Attempt to put him down and get a look something like this:

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So I pick him back up again. Repeat the sleepy time process that seems to be working better on the adults than the kid.

By about 4am, when I’d reached my point of sheer exhaustion, I laid this child on the bed between Vince and I and looked down at his bright-eyed little face that should have been sleeping, and said, “you rotten little bugger.” He blinked twice, then his face broke into the hugest dimpled grin I’d ever seen.

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And you know what? I smiled back. I looked down at him through bleary eyes aching for sleep and my heart melted.

Some people cannot understand the nature of God’s love for us, and I’m right there with them. It doesn’t make sense to me why a God like that would want anything to do with any of us. In fact, when I was in my twenties and God reached out to me in a huge way, I couldn’t wrap my head around why He’d do it. Not at all.

Apparently, He sent Levi to help us better grasp the idea.

Levi came into the world one day in August bringing nothing, able to do nothing, yet already in possession of our love in abundance. He can do nearly nothing for himself, his needs are frequent, and he can offer nothing–not even gratitude–in return. Yet we planned for and welcomed him into our family and looked forward to his arrival. Before he can even understand the concept, he’s been showered with kisses and sacrificial love. And if this little boy who’d done nothing but be born needed a hug, a procedure, a KIDNEY, you better believe we’d be right there pouring out everything we had to give it to him.

That’s just a very human version of God’s abundant love for us. So often we (me included) feel like God really wants us doing certain things or being a certain way. And He does, don’t get me wrong. But more than that, much more than that, He simply wants US. Just as babies are precious in spite of the massive upheaval they bring to our lives, we have God’s love before we even understand what that means. We don’t have to DO anything–it’s already a fact. We didn’t earn it, don’t deserve it, but it exists. It’s there for us to reach out and accept, just as a baby reaches out and clings to the finger of his loving parent. And just as I have sat and looked down into my baby’s precious face for much longer than is practical, God enjoys us. He loves who we are. He delights in us.

What a different view of God. Honestly, I did know all this about Him before, but I’ve gained such an experiential knowledge of it through this beautiful, terrible, heart-wrenching piece of motherhood. All my children did to make me love them was…. be born. (Ok, I loved them before that, but you get the idea.)

Of all the names God calls Himself, the one that has become the most precious to me, the one I understand best, is FATHER. I’ve recently started addressing Him as Father instead of my usual “Lord” or “God” in our personal talks and it’s amazing the sense of intimacy it invites into those conversations. The feelings of being loved it evokes. And all I did was… exist.

I’ll just say this to end my thoughts–love at first sight does exist, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

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True Stories: Levi’s Crazy Birth Story

I’ve been away from my blog lately, but I have a good reason. A very cute one, actually. Our second baby joined the family a little early, and with his arrival comes a great birth story. It was nothing of what I expected, but everything I should have come to expect from God.

Most of you who know me in person heard my many worries about this birth as the due date approached. Our childcare for the two year old was coming from about 2-3 hours away, and our hospital was about an hour away from our house. Our doula Amy, who I had come to depend on during baby #1’s birth, would be on a trip up until 5 days before the due date. How on EARTH would everything fall into place? Especially considering the possiblity of false alarms and the fact that babies make their own schedules.

Despite all my worry, let me tell you how it all worked out–every last detail, down to the last possible moment. Like detailed brush strokes from an artist who knows exactly what he’s doing.

I had two nights of prodromal labor (when non-braxton-hicks contractions start up, get regular, then die out). I warned my dad and his wife (Elena’s childcare) that baby would probably come early and settled in at home. On Sunday they started up in the afternoon rather than at night. My dad offered to come up, just in case, and I waved it off. “Nah, it’s ok. This could last for weeks.”

Nope. (Baby was born within 6 hours of that phone call.)

I sat outside with Elena and Vince as they drew on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. We picked berries in the yard, walked and talked… with mom pausing every once in a while for a contraction. Finally I realized they were about 2-3 minutes apart and we decided I should think about going in. (“This is real labor!” Vince had been saying for hours. Yes, I should have listened.)

I called my doula and debated with her about if it was true labor or not. I told my dad to go ahead and start heading toward our house and I’d go get checked out at least. They were scheduled to arrive around 9pm but by 8 or so, I decided we needed to leave–THAT SECOND. Vince got everything in the car and we told my dad to meet us at the hospital and we’d hand Elena off to him. Told the doula we were on the way. I curled up in the car and, quiet as I am, almost slammed my fist into the car horn as Vince double and triple checked everything in the house. It was definitely time to GO!

Then we had an hour-long drive to the hospital. About 15 minutes into that drive, baby decided it was time to make an appearance–right that minute. Throwing out all my training about relaxing through contractions, I tensed every muscle I had to keep that baby inside until we got there! That’s an agony I never want to feel again. I begged Vince to drive faster (poor guy was already moving pretty fast through a construction zone!) I told Vince not to bother switching Elena’s carseat and everything when we got there–that could wait until after the baby came or he might miss it.

And then everything came together with the precision and amazing timing I’m coming to expect from God–especially when He wants to prove to me that He had it under control the whole time. (Maybe next time I’m in an anxious spot I’ll worry less. Maybe.)

My dad and his wife arrived at the hospital FIVE MINUTES before we did. Cindy came out with a wheelchair when we drove up. Our doula, who was hours away from leaving for a week-long trip, came sprinting through the parking lot as we arrived. She stayed with me in triage while Vince got Elena set up in my dad’s car. When I finally got wheeled to a delivery room, they had me sign all these forms (which I wanted to hurl at the wall and scream at them to let me push already!) Being so thoroughly Norwegian, I bit back the screams I wanted to let loose and compliantly signed every form they shoved in front of me. In silence. Hopefully I didn’t sign away my home or anything, because I sure didn’t read them!

I don’t remember the rest in perfect detail, but it went something like this: “Ok, I’m going to check and see if you’re dilated enough to stay yet… Oh look, HAIR!” At this point I think Vince showed up. Just in time. With one contraction my water burst like a pressurized water balloon, then another contraction or two and our baby Levi arrived at 10pm. I think we were in the birth room about 15 minutes total when he was born, and we called to let my dad know… while he was still driving to our house!

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Despite my anxiety about all the variables, all the possible crisis situations, everything fell exactly into place. Down to the minute. My doula was there to help, Vince did not miss the birth, Elena was taken care of, and we even managed to make it to the hospital! And meanwhile God is chuckling at all my senseless worry.

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Levi’s birth left me in shock. I laid in the birthing room shaking, thinking “my baby’s here already. He’s here. He came out. We did it.” And just a few hours before, I had been debating with my doula if this was the start of real labor or not. It was amazing, intoxicating… humbling. Never again will I doubt God’s utter sovereignty. (Ok, not NEVER. I’m still human. And me.) And never will I forget the way He so perfectly orchestrated Levi’s amazing birth–and blessed me with every little thing I worried about not having right.

And at the end, I am left to cuddle my sweet little boy, the newest piece of my heart. ❤

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The Story of Broken Glass

This is what broken glass looks like.

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But we all know this image, because we’ve felt this way before. Perhaps you experienced a day where incredible weight built up until you broke under the pressure. Maybe it took years of stress for you to shatter. Either way, we’ve all had a time where we’ve known without a doubt that we are utterly broken. Crushed.

Nothing makes you feel more useless or discouraged. After all, what do you do with shattered glass? It’s difficult and tedious to clean up. You don’t want to let someone else clean it up—what if they cut themselves? So you collect the pieces and get them as far out of reach as possible.

But what if someone asked you for those shards as you snuck them out to the trash? My mom saves everything—EVERYTHING—because she sees a potential craft project in it. So what if someone looks at those shards and says, “yeah. I think I can use those. Would you give them to me?”

“Ok, sure,” you say. “Here you go.” And you wait to see what they’ll do with it. Lo and behold, they polish them. Not only that, but they infuse them with color. Wow, that’s incredible! I’m glad I gave this to someone who knows what they’re doing. Now someone has a collection of beautiful stones for their mantle, all because they were placed in the hands of a master craftsman. What was broken is now polished out into something useful and pretty.

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But this artist has more in mind than merely pretty stones. “Just wait” he says. So you leave him to his work, finally beginning to trust his expertise. He has a very detailed plan on paper, with specific ideas for every single piece of glass. Ready to be amazed, you step up to look at his work when he pronounces it done. And of course he does not disappoint as he reveals…

Northern rose window of the cathedral Notre-Dame in Chartres, France

You stand back in awe, tears in your eyes, as you see what the master craftsman has done with the shattered pieces of glass. The brokenness you wanted to hide away and move on from as quickly as possible. “I can use that,” he’d said, and now those words ring true. Here it is, all your pain and brokenness in a beautiful display, in a way that makes sense. The pieces fit together, in this master’s plan, to form an entire picture. They even tell a story to others looking on and communicate something to them. Amazing, you think. And truly it is. But he’s not *quite* done. “Just one more important touch,” he says, disappearing for a moment. And then light bursts through the glass from the other side, a prism of colors raining down on you.

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And then you get a glimpse of his true plans from the beginning. For only a master craftsman can take your shattered, broken pieces, fit them together into the beautiful image He’d designed from the beginning, and then shine His own light through the prism of colors for a radiant display that will leave everyone who sees it breathless with the wonder of His artwork.

And imagine, He’s done all that through you. Through your brokenness. Because only broken pieces can be fitted together into something beautiful, just as empty jars are the only ones ready to be filled with something amazing.

And only a master can take the dirty, messy garbage you would love to discard forever and make it a stunning masterpiece that will prove to everyone around how great are His plans and His power.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been broken in the past, it feels like an “end.” The end of my strength, the end of a relationship, the end of my success. But in truth it’s a brilliant beginning. God cannot work with a person who feels “whole” on his or her own. It’s in our brokenness that we become useable, and it’s that brokenness that He uses to reach people, to create that larger picture we can’t see, and to make a glorious piece of art that fully reflects who He is as an artist. Personally, I can’t do much with broken glass besides line my trash can with it, but hand it over to an artist and our shame, embarrassment, and heartache becomes a masterpiece.