The Reviews Are Coming In

reviewsWell, at least some reviews. And they’re pretty alright. When I write a book, I tend to think it’s really good once I’ve finished the edits and turned it over to the publisher for the last time.

Then, about a month before the book releases, I start wondering if it’s actually terrible. Or at least not up to par. I keep reminding myself Bethany House wouldn’t publish it if it weren’t at least adequate.

And then, the reviews roll in and in a world where there isn’t much feedback, they can be reassuring. So in the interest of boosting my confidence while doing a little self-promoting, here are some snippets:

  • Thomas is a master storyteller, and her latest novel does not disappoint. Readers are quickly invested in the lives of the characters as their stories unfold. Beautifully written and rich with atmosphere, The Sound of Rain is a novel readers won’t want to miss. – RT Book Reviews
  • Thomas’s easy prose, flavored with Appalachian dialect, light tone, and steady pace as the relationship between ­Larkin and Judd slowly blooms, make this an enjoyable historical romance. – Library Journal
  • Thomas delivers an enjoyable and earnest inspirational romance that examines legacy and longing.The characters are incredibly relatable as they grapple with the fear of failure and the struggle to find and hold on to love. – Booklist
  • Sarah, you outdid yourself! – My friend Joan who finished the book last week

Honestly, that last one is my favorite.

I guess maybe the book IS pretty good after all. I sure hope you think so, too.

Is There Sex in Christian Fiction?

book coverChristian fiction sometimes has a reputation for being prudish or stuffy. And I suppose it can be. But it can also be passionate, moving, and yes . . . even sexy.

This blog sees occasional spikes in traffic as posts particularly resonate with readers, but most posts fade into anonymity pretty quickly. Except for one. The 2011 post I wrote about sex in Christian fiction STILL gets hits EVERY week.

Which leads me to believe folks are interested in the subject. I was inspired to write the original post after reading a scene in Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz. Here it is:

“He took his time, his mouth moving along the damp wisps of her hairline to her ear. Breathless, she freed his hair of its leather tie till it spilled like a black waterfall onto the thin fabric of her nightshift. Oh, but she’d forgotten how sweet he could be . . . how unerringly gentle, even gallant. She felt like a bride again and shut her eyes, remembering how he’d held her that very first time, beside all that rushing water. Only now, with time against them, it was sweeter still.”

This is a passionate scene between two people who are deeply in love, who long for one another, who are . . . married. And frankly, the fact that they’re married makes this scene even sexier in my opinion.

So how do you incorporate romantic sex while still staying true to expectations for Christian fiction?

  • First, it should be appropriate. As I mentioned, the couple in Laura’s passage is married, which means sex is part of the arrangement. God designed physical intimacy to be a blessing to married couples—let’s celebrate that!
  • Second, all Frantz gives us is kissing, unbound hair, and a thin nightshift. There’s no mention of specific, sex-related body parts or acts. Instead, she hints at what’s happening and leaves readers to fill in details as they choose.
  • And finally, the scene focuses on the mind and the emotions stirred more than the physical act. “How sweet he could be . . . even gallant . . . she felt like a bride again . . . how he’d held her that very first time . . . sweeter still.” Sigh.

I don’t know about you, but I find this MUCH sexier than descriptions of body parts and the actual mechanics of the sex act. There’s nothing scandalous, nothing titillating. Nothing like the romance novels I used to sneak when I was in high school. And I vastly prefer Frantz’s love scenes to those much more explicit ones.

Is there sex in Christian fiction? Absolutely. Just like there’s sex in Christian marriages. Our jobs as writers is to work to return God’s precious gift of physical intimacy to its rightful, holy and blessed place.

And if you need inspiration, read the Song of Songs.

Appalachian Thursday – Walnuts

I’m not really a fan of walnuts and that makes me a little bit sad since they’re such a prolific food source in Appalachia. This year’s crop is, ahem–nuts–which might be a sign of a hard winter ahead. We can hardly walk around the driveway for rolling on walnuts.

I remember being in the Strawberry Festival parade one year, riding on a float dressed in “pioneer” clothing with my parents. To keep us busy and to look vaguely authentic we had a stump, a hammer, and lots of walnuts. Apparently I liked them better back then.

If you have a walnut tree and are wondering how to make use of all those free nuts, here’s what you do:

  1. Put on stout gloves and old clothes.
  2. Gather fallen nuts and process them somewhere you don’t mind getting dirty.
  3. To remove the green husk, roll them under your foot (or car tire) and peel the husk away. If the husk has turned black, you can still remove it and eat the nut, but it won’t taste quite as good.
  4. Dispose of the husks in a spot where you aren’t trying to grow anything. They contain a compound called juglone that inhibits growth.
  5. Rinse the nuts several times to remove any last bits of hull.
  6. Lay out or hang (in a mesh bag) the cleaned nuts to dry. The longer they dry, the more the nutmeat will pull away from the shell and the easier it will be to remove. Start with at least a week.
  7. Shell with a a hammer–tap, tap, tap until the shell cracks. Beware of flying bits of shell which are hard and sharp.
  8. Pick out the nutmeat and enjoy!

The hulls can also be used as a strong, color-fast dye in a rich brown. If you try to husk the nuts without gloves, you’ll found out just how strong and color-fast it is.


When You Need a Hero

Going Hunting
My father and brother–some solid hero material here!

One of the great pleasures of writing books is inventing heroes. Instead of swooning over other writer’s leading men, I get to build my own.

The hero of The Sound of Rain releasing in just over a month, is Judd Markley. I was thinking the other day about just how much I like Judd. I might even go so far as to say he’s my favorite. Which led me down the rabbit trail of pondering which of my heroes I would actually want to fall in love with.

I realized, it wouldn’t be Judd. Here’s my hero lineup to this point–which one would you choose? Which one do you think I would?

  • Robert Thornton – Appalachian Serenade – Robert is a more mature store owner who is clever about most things, but not very smooth when it comes to the ladies. He’s a bear of a man with dark hair.
  • Casewell Phillips – Miracle in a Dry Season – Tall, redheaded with a beard in the beginning of the story (he shaves it midway). Casewell is a bit self-righteous, but once he decides to woo a woman, he comes at it with a definite plan of action. He’s a woodworker by trade.
  • Henry Phillips – Until the Harvest. Oh Henry. He looks like a young Gregory Peck–a bit gangly but with promise. Initially he’s too wrapped up in his own problems to be any good to a woman, but he does get his act together. He’s a musician and farmer.
  • Seth Markley – Brown hair, solid build, steady. Seth is level-headed and true–he works for the extension service (state farm management). He’s sweet and has a romantic streak, but won’t put up with any nonsense.
  • Judd Markley – Tall, wiry, dark hair that tends to curl. He’s a man of few words, but once he makes his mind up to something, he’s committed 100%. Had a bit of a reputation for never settling on one lady in his younger days.

Appalachian Thursday–The Bees are Angry

Tis the season.

Yup, September is the month when the stinging insects are mad at the world. And who can blame them? Killing cold is right around the corner and this is the time of year when bears and skunks are raiding their hives, eating larvae like popcorn.

On Saturday we walked past FOUR recently dug out ground hives. Two were abandoned and two still had stragglers milling about.

This is something I pay a great deal of attention to after having experienced a serious allergic reaction 15 years ago. A 911, emergency room reaction. I spent seven years getting shots and still carry an epi pen. Which I am NOT keen on using.

hand sting
Sting #1 was in the first knuckle of my middle finger. A little swelling was a small price to pay!

So it was just plain foolishness on my part when I saw a bear thumping around not far off the trail last week. I KNEW to look for a disturbed hive. But I didn’t. And I got stung FOUR times.

Turns out I can run and pry a Benadryl capsule out of it’s bubble pack at the same time. I really had NO plans to ever test how effective my allergy shots had been. I especially didn’t want to test it while alone in the woods with a little less than a mile to go back to the car.

And that’s the thing I want to tell you. I wasn’t alone. (And I don’t mean Thistle, who was sticking to me like glue–she doesn’t like bees either.) Even though I was frustrated that I’d been stung and I was concerned that I might have some sort of reaction, I wasn’t in a panic or overwhelmed with fear.

And I finally understood that whole, “pray without ceasing” business.

This is why I have faith. It’s not that God keeps me from getting into sticky situations, it’s that I can feel his presence when I dig myself a fresh hole and fall into it.

Being reminded that he’s with me no matter what almost makes getting stung four times worth it.


Appalachian Thursday–After the Storm

storm damage2Mountain people are good in a crisis. Maybe it has something to do with how many grew up hardscrabble. Or if they didn’t, their parents and grandparents did.

It’s not so much about being prepared in case of an emergency, it’s knowing if there isn’t an emergency now, there will be soon enough.

These are the people who drive around in trucks with a come-along, jumper cables, and a chainsaw in the bed. There are probably some empty beer cans, too. And maybe a dog.

These are the people you want living next door when a hurricane turned tropical storm tears up your neighborhood.

We woke Tuesday morning to no power and a yard that looked like, well, like a hurricane had hit it. The rain was less than expected and the wind more. Proving my point that the only thing you can trust about the forecast is that it’s wrong.

The reason for the power being out was immediately evident. It was the same reason none of the folks further up our dead end road would make it in to work that morning. Several large trees right in the edge of the power line right-of-way had tipped over taking down the power lines and blocking the two-lane road.

But not to worry. In short order, every volunteer fireman in the vicinity was out with chainsaws taking care of the scariest downed tree on our road. And by the time they were done, locals on up the road had cleared everything between there and the end.

Which means Thistle and I were able to go for our usual hike in the national forest late that afternoon. Or not so much hike as scramble and dodge. There are a LOT of trees down in our corner of NC. But thankfully, we’re in the mountains where a crisis brings out the best in folks.

Anyone need some firewood?storm damage

Appalachian Thursday–Summer’s End

Laurel Fork
Laurel Fork–the creek we were meant to stay out of.

Can you believe tomorrow is September?

My grandmother was right when she told me time picks up speed as you age. She was right about a lot of stuff.

When I was a kid, Labor Day weekend meant it was time for the annual wiener roast at Toad and Berle’s. Yes, his name was Toad and no one thought it the least bit odd. Toad and Berle lived in what had been the community schoolhouse when my dad was a kid.

The wiener roasting happened over an open fire using sticks with sharpened ends. (I can only imagine what those men and their pocketknives would have thought of manufactured, metal hot dog sticks with wooden handles.) The women would bring every side dish you could think of and some you couldn’t. And oh the desserts! My goodness the desserts. Plus marshmallows for toasting on the hot dog sticks (a taste sensation, indeed!).

The creek was nearby and we were meant to stay out of it but never did. There was also a cliff over on Uncle Willis’ land (not nearly as high as I remembered). We were meant to stay away from there, too. Of course we didn’t.

After eating, folks would sit around smoking cigarettes, talking, telling stories (otherwise known as lies), and playing music. We kids would set fire to the hot dog sticks and write our names with burning embers against the night sky. Until someone made us stop. And then we’d do it anyway and sometimes we’d get in trouble and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d go to bed late that night, smelling of smoke and hot dogs, hearts and bellies full.

I guess people still have picnics on Labor Day weekend. I guess they might even have hotdogs. But I’ll just bet they don’t cook them on a sharpened stick over an open fire outside an old schoolhouse while dusk settles like a soft blanket and the voices of just about everyone who’s ever cared about them hums in the background.

This Labor Day I might have to build a fire out back and roast me a hotdog. But I have a feeling it won’t taste the same. Not even a little bit.