MERRY CHRISTMAS!

For this blog, I tried to think of a wonderful Christmas message that doesn’t start with a Bible verse and become a devotional.

But the truth is, Christmas is a ho-hum day for me. The last special Christmas memory I have wasn’t all that happy. The Christmas after my daughter’s death, my mother treated us to a special weekend at a swanky hotel with all the trimmings. She was right. We needed a quiet, but memorable, place to survive that first empty feeling. Of course, it was also my granddaughter Jordan’s first Christmas.

I didn’t and couldn’t know that would be my last Christmas with my mother, either. A year later, she was in a nursing home and I was homebound by a blizzard. A year later, she was gone. Now I have no family left that celebrates Christmas. Jaran and his family enjoy Hanukkah—and I got to take part this year.

The nursing homes hold great Christmas parties, wonderful food, lots of presents—a week or even two before Christmas. We’ll be lucky to get ham or turkey on Christmas day. And the abundance of presents goes down when they’re things like a family-sized tube of toothpaste for someone with dentures! It did include a few lovely items, such as a round-the-neck cream scarf and a Monet calendar and sweet-smelling body lotion.

So I don’t expect much on Christmas day itself but to hold onto the feeling of Christmas. As I continue my study/devotional/memorization of Isaiah, I keep finding reference after reference to the coming Messiah. This week I reached the holy of holies, chapter 53: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

It’s powerful whatever version you read it in, but the first verse from The Message hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have ever expected God’s saving power would look like this?”

I felt like I was looking at the manger, seeing that tiny, helpless, adorable baby—under the shadow of the cross.

Once again, Christmas is in my heart. God is now here, where He can be seen and heard and touched.

365 days a year.

WRITING TIPS AND NEWS

Note to my readers: Starting with my next writing tips post (on December 28th), guest bloggers will offer you writing tips.  I will continue to keep you up to date with my writing life.

Darlene Franklin snowbound colorado christmas         Since this is my last writing tip for awhile, I’ll offer you a ChristmasDarlene Franklin woodland christmas gift of where I find ideas for a yearly stream of novellas. Because when I started, I wondered how anyone came up with new ideas year after year. Now I can’t imagine not writing them.

So let’s start with the obvious source for ideas: the original Christmas story. There are many directions to take. So far I’ve looked at a very young Mary looking forward to marrying her best friend’s older brother. Another time, a single mother is ashamed of giving birth out of wedlock. More recently, Darlene Franklin christmas at barncastle innthree wise women from the east arrived bearing gifts for Christmas.Darlene Franklin postmark christmas

Other years, Bible stories that have no bearing on the Christmas story inspired my novellas. Want snow? How about the woman who dressed in red long johns during a blizzard like the virtuous women. Even Eliezer’s visit to Ur to find a bride ended up in a Christmas story.

Of course, they can’t all be that spiritual . . .

A few times, the story ends on ChrDarlene Franklin gifts of christmasistmas day, but isn’t central to the story.

Towns named Darlene Franklin christmas potpourriafter Christmas, let me count the ways: I chose Christmas, Florida, and later, Bethlehem, Texas. I even have a series of books set in towns fitting in with the holiday: My Candy Valentine in Loveland, OK; Love’s Glory in Old Glory, TX; Tobogganing for Two in Plymouth, NE.

Christmas traditions find their way into the stories—angels and gifts, music and Christmas cards.

Do you have any family stories that center around Christmas? I would love to hear about them.

WRITING NEWS

I completed NANO and the book! Case Closed weighed in at 54,800 words. My next projects are a devotional based on Genesis and Exodus to be published in January and a novella about one of the “tea events” in 1774. (The Boston Tea Party wasn’t the only one. Mine is in Greenwich, NJ).

I have been published twice in the webzine, Pastor Resources. A place I never expected to be, but they keep looking for articles that reflect on something I’ve been studying in the Bible. For the latest article, a reflection on the recent shootings in California, check out http://www.pastorresources.com/where-is-god/

I “read” my 1st-grade granddaughter’s book of stories in the cat journal I had given her—the next generation of writers!

Upcoming Guest Blog Posts and Holidays

December 14-20: Jacob’s Christmas Dream and An Advent Journey through Matthew are featured at http://www.theswordandspirit.blogspot.com/ all week long, complete with a giveaway of both books.

December 16: My devotional, “Take It Out of the Drawer,” will appear on http://www.gingersolomon.com/blog/. Jacob’s Christmas Dream is being given away

December 18: Interview and giveaway concerning Jacob’s Christmas Dream will appear at www.liztolsma.com .

December 23: An inspirational piece will appear on Jennifer Slattery’s blog  Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud

December 24: National Chocolate Day – enjoy my novella about a chocolatier, My Candy Valentine. http://www.amazon.com/Candy-Valentine-Holidays-Heart-Book-ebook/dp/B00SI2214K/

December 25: Merry Christmas!

WRITING NEWS & TIPS: FINDING IDEAS: HISTORICAL EVENTS

I know this will primarily apply to writers of historical fiction, but I bet your creative minds can find a way to apply it to contemporary as well.

I love finding historical tidbits that suggest a story. Oh, the big events—wars, the Great Depression, the Oregon Trails, etc.—provide the backdrop for many a story. Others—such as the Battle of the Alamo—are too sacred to be the actual setting. I found that out when I tried to have my hero’s father died at the Alamo in Lone Star Trail. I took the wise course and have him die sometime during Texas’s war for independence from Mexico. Even some smaller events, such as the Mason County, Hoo Doo War, are probably too big for a story except from a real expert–my subject in A Ranger’s Trail.

My favorite place to look is historical timelines. In developing the Texas Trails series with Susan Page Davis and Vickie McDonnell, we used facts as diverse a cowboy strike in the 1880s, a train blown up for a movie in the 1890s, and children raised as Indian captives in the 1850s. I would have written about the start of kindergartens in Dallas if the story had continued. Maybe I still should.

This is especially good is you know the place and/or the time your story must take place. In looking for Vermont’s involvement with the Civil War (for the third book of the Maple Notch Days series), I learned that the northernmost battle in the Civil War took place in Vermont! Confederates came south from Canada, robbed three banks, and declared the town of St. Albans a victory for the Conferacy. Voila, the nearby town of Maple Notch had imitation bank robberies.

Other times, a fact finds you. In looking at steamships (a nice romantic setting, don’t you think?), I learned there were female steamboat captains. Oh, I had to write that story: A Bride’s Rogue in Roma, Texas, where Blanche becomes captain.

Just looking through books about the history of quilts gave me dozens of ideas.

So if you like history—look around you and find those treasures in the most unexpected places.

NEWS

(report about Nano progress)

Christmas Mail Order Angels, Volume 2 (Books 7-11) was released on November 6th.

Christmas Mail Order Angels: The Complete Anthology will be published on December 1st.

Pray for me as I attempt to finish Beginnings: 12 Weeks in Genesis – Deuteronomy for publication in January.

CALENDAR

7 DAYS LEFT to leave a comment to win a copy of Tobogganing for Two or Home Front Dreams.

November 23rd: Book excerpt from Tobogganing for Two with a recipe for a chance to win a copy of the book. http://www.shannonvannatter.com/blog

November 27th: My romantic interview with a recipe for turkey leftovers for a chance to win An Advent Journey through Matthew. http://www.shannonvannatter.com/blog

I know this will primarily apply to writers of historical fiction, but I bet your creative minds can find a way to apply it to contemporary as well.

I love finding historical tidbits that suggest a story. Oh, the big events—wars, the Great Depression, the Oregon Trails, etc.—provide the backdrop for many a story. Others—such as the Battle of the Alamo—are too sacred to be the actual setting. I found that out when I tried to have my hero’s father died at the Alamo in Lone Star Trail. I took the wise course and have him die sometime during Texas’s war for independence from Mexico. Even some smaller events, such as the Mason County, Hoo Doo War, are probably too big for a story except from a real expert–my subject in A Ranger’s Trail.

My favorite place to look is historical timelines. In developing the Texas Trails series with Susan Page Davis and Vickie McDonnell, we used facts as diverse a cowboy strike in the 1880s, a train blown up for a movie in the 1890s, and children raised as Indian captives in the 1850s. I would have written about the start of kindergartens in Dallas if the story had continued. Maybe I still should.

This is especially good is you know the place and/or the time your story must take place. In looking for Vermont’s involvement with the Civil War (for the third book of the Maple Notch Days series), I learned that the northernmost battle in the Civil War took place in Vermont! Confederates came south from Canada, robbed three banks, and declared the town of St. Albans a victory for the Conferacy. Voila, the nearby town of Maple Notch had imitation bank robberies.

Other times, a fact finds you. In looking at steamships (a nice romantic setting, don’t you think?), I learned there were female steamboat captains. Oh, I had to write that story: A Bride’s Rogue in Roma, Texas, where Blanche becomes captain.

Just looking through books about the history of quilts gave me dozens of ideas.

So if you like history—look around you and find those treasures in the most unexpected places.

NEWS

(report about Nano progress)

Christmas Mail Order Angels, Volume 2 (Books 7-11) was released on November 6th.

Christmas Mail Order Angels: The Complete Anthology will be published on December 1st.

Pray for me as I attempt to finish Beginnings: 12 Weeks in Genesis – Deuteronomy for publication in January.

CALENDAR

7 DAYS LEFT to leave a comment to win a copy of Tobogganing for Two or Home Front Dreams.

November 23rd: Book excerpt from Tobogganing for Two with a recipe for a chance to win a copy of the book. http://www.shannonvannatter.com/blog

November 27th: My romantic interview with a recipe for turkey leftovers for a chance to win An Advent Journey through Matthew. http://www.shannonvannatter.com/blog

November 29th: Advent Sunday: An Advent Journey through Matthew available for 99 cents from now through Christmas. http://www.amazon.com/ADVENT-JOURNEY-THROUGH-MATTHEW-2015-ebook/dp/B016NIEJLI/

 

THANKSGIVING FOR THE UNWANTED BLESSING

My daughter Jolene died at the age of twenty-three.

She didn’t die of disease or accident. I guess you could call it murder. She committed suicide.

I know grief on a first name, call-in-the-middle-of-the-night basis.

The first time I read the beatitudes after Jolene’s death, the words slapped me in the face. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Oh, I understood the comfort part. God comforted me, in spades, giving me strength to carry on and using me as a testimony to the people around me.

Losing a daughter in the prime of her life didn’t feel like a blessing. Today, almost nine years later, it still feels wrong, unnatural, unnecessary, heart-rending, life-changing. All of that, and more.

I wrestle with the idea of grief as a blessing. Mourning and grief are feelings, and I didn’t “feel” happy, no matter what word Jesus used in preaching the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus didn’t deny my feelings, discredit them, or tell me to be happy when my heart had been ripped from my chest. Instead, He blessed me with His actions, with facts that took on a new reality. Facing my first Christmas after Jolene’s death, I took stock of the rock-bottom truths which had gained a new depth.

Jesus died to give us eternal life; Jolene has eternal life because she placed her trust in Jesus. I had witnessed her decision to follow Christ, heard her testimony from her own lips, and read her words. She is alive.

Jolene is in heaven, where tears and pain are a thing of the past.

Even if Jolene could return, I would never ask her to. She is healed of the Borderline Personality Disorder that made her so uncertain and unhappy.

Jolene is watching me as I continue to run the race before me.

Jolene wants my happiness. She is cheering me on. I am the missing generation—she is there with her great-grandmother and her grandmother.

I will see Jolene again.

The more of my loved ones go ahead, the more I want to join them. What a reunion awaits.

Jolene wrote about Jesus hugging her in His arms. As life ebbed from her body, He cradled her in His lap.

I knew Jesus had experienced grief—look at Lazarus. He might have also known the pain of losing someone to suicide. He cried along with me.

Jesus welcomed Jolene home.

 

I have always accepted these facts as part of my belief system. With the blessing of grief, facts traveled from my head to my heart and etched themselves on the raw nerve endings, seeking to scab over as I healed.

As if all those biblical truths weren’t enough of a blessing, God added another to enrich the life-from-death truth of the gospel: my first grandchild was born nine months after Jolene’s death. Jordan Elizabeth Franklin will never meet her aunt this side of heaven, but her smile, her bouncing brown curls and bright brown eyes, her giggles—she is God’s gift, here and now. She also honors her aunt. Recently, she brought a rock home for her “friend” Jolene, “because I know my Aunt Jolene loved rocks.”

Holidays have come and gone. Each Resurrection Day reminds me of my loss—we learned of Jolene’s death on the Monday of Passion Week. With Christmas came a different kind of celebration. The trappings of Christmas, presents, lights, and trees, seemed hollow without Jolene. I went through most of that first advent praying, Lord, just let me survive.

How could I decorate the tree without crying over the memories? Baby’s 1st Christmas 1984. A tree-top angel made out of a lace doily. A blue delft disc from the Dutch Festival. The golden boot from the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Yet, as I struggled, Christmas became more real than ever. Emmanuel, the incarnation—God becoming man—that is the blessing of grief for me.

(P.S.S.) Many of you have heard this story before, but I felt led to share it again this year.

OCTOBER’S BOOKS

Thanks to all of you who took part in my very first blog giveaway! Liz Dent won A Texas Christmas and Cynthia won Romanian Rhapsody.

PSST: Tuesday in NATIONAL GERMAN AMERICAN DAY. Love’s Glory (http://www.amazon.com/Loves-Christian-Historical-Romance-Holidays-ebook/dp/B00YSY018K/) is free all day, and four books of the Texas Trails series will be given away at my German American Celebration at https://www.facebook.com/events/448793798655051

Now let’s discover the books being offered this month. Two lucky winners will one of the books. You increase your chances by commenting on the weekly blogs, liking my page on Facebook, following me on Twitter and signing up for my newsletter. Mention the Facebook, Twitter, and the newsletter in your comments.

FINAL MOA vol 1This month’s new book was released on September 25th: Christmas Mail Order Angels: A Collection of 6 Historical Romantic Novellas of Mail Order Brides.

A few years ago I developed an idea for a long book about twelve mail order couples. A miner who hadn’t made much money panning for gold talks his best friend, the well-to-do store owner, into advertising for mail order brides.

After research, I decided the Black Hills Gold Rush of the 1870s was the perfect setting. Think Deadwood, but the discovery involved Wyoming as well. I chose Crook County, Wyoming, since I’ve actually spent some time in the state.

As for the bride, my store owner wanted to seek a bride from his father’s home town—Merville, Maine—like Abraham’s instructions to Eliezer.

I never finished the long book, so when I jumped into indie publishing, I realized 12 couples=12 novellas! I wrote the first book, Jacob’s Christmas Dream, which pairs the store-owner with the Merville pastor’s daughter. This month’s offering contains the first six stories from the eleven that ended up in the collection. In addition to my novella, Christmas Mail Order Angels includes The Reliable Cowboy by Susan Page Davis, Christmas Gold by Cynthia Hickey, A Christmas Rose by Brandi Boddie, Christmas Fire by Jennifer AlLee, and Cooking Up Christmas by Teresa Ives Lily.

Christmas Mail Order Angels: http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Mail-Order-Angels-collection-ebook/dp/B015RN2J8U/

Jacob’s Christmas Dream: http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Christian-Historical-Romantic-Novella-ebook/dp/B013J2AR76/haveDarlene Franklin lone star trail

For the featured release, I turned to Oktoberfest and German American Day on October 6th for inspiration. Three of my books focus on German American immigrants,

The featured book, Lone Star Trail, is the first book at the Texas Trails series. It’s set in 1847, a critical time in Texas’s history: Texas became part of the United States and was the battleground of the War with Mexico. More importantly, the German Verein was in full swing. Thousands of Germans emigrated to Texas in the 1830s and 1840s, settling dozens of communities, such as New Braunfels to Fredericksburg. My hero, Jud Morgan, lost his father at the Alamo; he resents the Germans flooding Victoria, but he can’t help being drawn to Wande Fleischer. Relive the experience of the German immigrants and the excitement of the era in Lone Star Trail at http://www.amazon.com/Lone-Star-Trail-Texas-Book-ebook/dp/B005NFG4VG/

Other of my books celebrating German Americans:

A Ranger’s Trail http://www.amazon.com/Rangers-Trail-Texas-Book-ebook/dp/B006YYGUFK/

Love’s Glory http://www.amazon.com/Loves-Christian-Historical-Romance-Holidays-ebook/dp/B00YSY018K/

WRITING NEWS & TIPS 9/21/15-10/12/15

Mark as many of these events as interest you on your calendar!

 

TODAY’S WRITING TIP

My hope is to give you bite-sized writing tips. I’m starting about with the most basic advice a writer must know:

Rule #1: Read, read, read. Especially the genre you want to write, but read a variety of books.

Rule #2: Write, write, write. Write every day, even if only for five minutes.

Follow those two rules, and you’re on your way to being a writer.