Appalachian Thursday – Christmas Countdown

Christmas 1974Guess what? It’s 12 days ’til Christmas! Yup, Christmas is less than two weeks away. Are you ready? Are you counting down with joy and anticipation? Or is there a little how-will-I-get-everything-done dread mixed in there?

When I was little, we had a count-down to Christmas wall hanging my mom made. It was in the shape of a Christmas tree and had 24 little beads from which we would suspend 24 little, felt ornaments. There was an angel that went at the top as well as a Santa, little wrapped packages, a candy cane with sequins–it was wonderful. And I always got to hang the first ornament since my birthday was December 1.

I LOVED counting down to Christmas when I was a child growing up on the farm in WV. Each year I looked forward to all the things we got to do as we counted down. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Singing carols in the car. Snapping our fingers for reindeer hoofs up on the housetop. Dad substituting our names as he sang, “First comes the stocking of little Sally (his nickname for me).” Rudolph and Frosty and oh, what fun!
  • Decorating sugar cookies. I now know this makes my mom a saint. Arming three kids with frosting and sprinkles is a bold move.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree we cut on a neighbor’s farm. Dad did the lights and hung his one ornament remaining from childhood–a tattered cardboard Santa. We Santagot to do the rest. And no clumping icicles, if you please.
  • Hanging our stockings and posing for a picture looking up the chimney. As if we thought Santa would be up there before we went to bed.
  • And if we were lucky, sledding and playing in the snow!

My husband and I have our own traditions to mark the days until Christmas–a gathering with friends, Christmas Eve services, fudge (the marshmallow fluff kind), and stealth decorating (he’s not as big a fan of glitter and greens as I am).

But all too often our grown-up traditions get bogged down in hurry and self-imposed pressure to make this Christmas the best ever. This December I’m encouraging you to remember what it was like to be a child counting down the days–not wondering how you would fit it all in and get it all done–but wondering how much longer must I wait?

Because we are children, after all. God’s children. And what we’re waiting for is a chance to celebrate the best present ever.

Merry Christmas.

Letting Go – When Silence Sings

Sarah Thomas (1)

There I am with the Thurmond, WV, depot behind me. Covering the same ground my characters did.

I submitted my latest manuscript to my editor over the weekend. After the hours of writing, re-writing, and editing you’d think I’d be glad to turn it loose and move on.

But releasing a story is surprisingly hard.

I think this is a good story. Maybe the best I’ve written. And as long as those 87,750 words are sitting on my hard drive, I can keep thinking that. But once I release them . . .

No one told me that being a writer would require me to be this vulnerable. Oh, I was warned to develop a thick skin, but it was hard to understand what that meant until I submitted a manuscript and got back those pages of editorial notes.

They’ve always been GOOD notes–thoughtful, inciteful, helpful. Well, except when my editor said churning butter in 1970s West Virginia seemed out of place. Shoot, I helped my mother churn butter many a time and I wasn’t born until 1971.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, turning a story loose is what I imagine it must be like to send a child away to school. You know your child is amazing, wonderful, exceptional even. But you also know that she likely has a few flaws you’re too biased to see. And odds are pretty good someone is going to point those out.

It was hard to hit the “send” button, but now that When Silence Sings has landed in my editor’s in-box, I feel better. He’s going to help me find any weaknesses and strengthen the story. And if it really IS good, well, then it’s about to get even better.

Within the year I’m looking forward to introducing you to Colman Harpe, Serepta McLean, Ivy, and little Emmaline. I expect they’ll all do a bit of growing between now and then and I’m excited to see it.

Mostly 😉

Appalachian Blessings on Sale

blessingsLeading up to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, my publisher has put some of my books on sale. You can currently get the digital editions of Miracle in a Dry Season for $0.99, Until the Harvest for $1.99, and A Tapestry of Secrets for $2.99 (or less!).

The stories follow three generations of the Phillips family through the trials and tribulations of love and faith from the 1940s to present day. If you’ve read one of the earlier books, this is a great time to snag the follow-up stories!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Roots of the Mountain

roots contract

Even as I’m looking forward to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, I’m excited to be working on my next full-length novel tentatively titled Roots of the Mountain. I signed a contract with Bethany House for two more Appalachian stories with the first releasing in the fall of 2019.

And for the first time, I’m writing about ACTUAL places in West Virginia. My story is set in the southeastern part of the state, specifically Thurmond, Ronceverte, and White Sulphur Springs–all rail towns.

White Sulphur Springs is best known as the home of The Greenbrier Resort. The resort opened in 1778 when guests came to “take the waters.” The year of my story–1930–is when the current hotel was substantially rebuilt and refurbished. But this part of WV really only gets a cameo. The bulk of the story is in Thurmond and Ronceverte.

And here’s the cool thing about Thurmond–in the 1920s it was a thriving coal town with a bustling population and lots of ritzy visitors. Today, it’s a ghost town with a population of FIVE. For years, it was accessed primarily by rail and even today getting there involves a harrowing drive down into the New River Gorge. But the town IS STILL THERE. The National Park Service owns it and it’s something of an out-of-the-way tourist destination.

Ronceverte was a thriving coal and lumber town, also on the rail line. There’s a particularly lovely depot built in 1915. The name of the town, incidentally, is French for greenbrier–the name of the county and a prickly plant common to the area.

I’m about to finish the first draft of this story and I’ll be sharing more as I go along, but for now I’m just calling it Jonah meets the Hatfields & McCoys! Looking forward to sharing the whole story with you in about a year . . .

 

Why is Asking for Prayer Hard?

church ladies

Some of my prayer warriors.

Pride.

That’s the short answer.

Last week I asked a group of friends to pray for me as a sort of last resort. Why in the world would that be my last resort??

I tried all sorts of things to resolve my challenge on my own. When nothing worked and I began to feel desperate, I asked for prayer.

Why did it take me so long? Basically, because I’m too proud to air my weakness. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m being all dramatic. Now, I’ll be honest, I like attention. But I like positive attention. You know, the kind where people look at me with admiration rather than pity.

I’ve confessed before to my praise addiction. Asking for prayer does NOT feed it. As a matter of fact, it does just the opposite. Having a challenge I’m unable to overcome on my own does not make me feel competent or admirable.

could flip this and say it takes courage to ask for prayer–and that’s admirable. Except . . . it shouldn’t take courage to ask for prayer. Asking for prayer should be our go-to, gut reaction to problems.

In our ladies’ Bible study we share prayer requests and have a sort of “rule” that you can’t pass and say all is well, you don’t need prayer. Because we ALL need prayer pretty much ALL the time. Big issues, little conflicts, medium-sized problems–we’re never without at least a few. And if there is a day without a challenge, well then, prayers of praise are equally in order!

The response to my request for prayer had me in tears. Lovely words of support and even a friend with a similar problem. Why, oh why, didn’t I start here?

Romans 12:12 – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Appalachian Thursday – Sang Hunting

ginseng2While in West Virginia last weekend my brother showed me some ginseng plants. He was checking them to see if they had seeds he could plant to spur future growth. He gathered up the red fruit with seeds inside and sowed them in a new spot. Seeds need 18+ months to germinate so if we’re lucky, they’ll sprout in the spring of 2020.

Ginseng is not for those in a hurry.

The native plant is prized for all kinds of curative properties from preventing the flu to acting as an aphrodisiac. In the Orient, the fact that the root is often shaped like a man with a body, arms, and legs, makes folks believe it has all sorts of body-related benefits. Another name for it is manroot. It’s relatively common in Appalachia, although the fact that you can get $500 or more for a pound of the dried root has caused over-harvesting.

Enter sang hunters.

There are lots of regulations around how and when the roots can be harvested. Plants should be five years old or older before they’re harvested. If you plan to export the root, it has to be 10 or more years old. How do you know how old a plant is? The first year, there will be just one, compound leaf typically with three leaflets. After about five years, the plant should be at least a foot tall and will have four or more leaves each one with five leaflets. The plant pictured above with three leaves, each bearing five leaflets is probably three or four years old. Not ready for harvesting.

If you look closely, you’ll see a wee crown right in the center. That’s where tiny flowers gave way to red berries with two seeds each inside. They’ve been planted now.

Ginseng is going to find its way into my stories one of these days. It’s ripe with potential–poaching, stealing, the solitary act of hunting through the woods, the art of digging the plant so as to keep the root undamaged and intact . . . it’s an art and a mystery.

Just the sort of thing I love to write about.

Should I Pray for Power?

crosswordWe saw some storms blow through late Friday afternoon knocking out the power just before five. Our landline went down as well, so I loaded up Thistle (who is FREAKED OUT by power issues) and drove about a mile and a half to where I can get a cell phone signal.

Called it in. Of course, they’d had about 400 other people call it in by then, but hey, it’s something to do. Word was that 1,700+ folks were without power in our outage and crews were assessing. They’d text me once they had news.

Well, good luck with that. I went on home where I:

  • Listened to a battery-powered radio,
  • Read a book,
  • Wrote a thousand words or so of my new book (laptop was charged),
  • Worked on a crossword puzzle, and
  • Pondered what I could eat that wasn’t refrigerated.

Then, around 7 p.m., the power blinked back on and I proceeded to cook the chicken breasts marinating in the fridge. No problem-o.

And honestly, other than not having access to the internet, that wasn’t much different from what I would have been doing anyway.

Neighbors called at 8 p.m. to see if the power was back on. They’d gone out to eat after the electricity had been off for about an hour and were faced with crowds of other people doing the same thing.

I told them we’d had power since seven and they asked if I’d said a prayer for restoration. Which kind of took me by surprise. Well, no. I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to pray about the power being out. And while I don’t think God would have minded a chat about electricity in the least, I’m pretty sure he and I can come up with better stuff to talk about.

Sure, power outages can be scary. For people who depend on electric medical equipment. For hospitals and nursing homes. For people living in extreme heat or cold. But for me on a cool, rainy Friday evening? It was a minor inconvenience at most.

We talk about taking a “break” from things like Facebook or our cell phones. We take vacations from work and sometimes give up food or drink like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or wheat when we’ve been overindulging. Maybe we should start taking breaks from electricity. Eat peanut butter crackers, go for a walk, play cards, read books, and talk to each other.

Hmmm. Maybe the power should go out more often . . . I think I know where the breaker is.