It’s wartime…from several theaters, dire news accosts the small town of Caroline, Iowa. In the local newspaper office, Madge McQuestion sorts all reports to make sure readers get the full scope.
But what to make of a sudden death right here in her church basement? And an outrageous Easter bonnet at the core of the investigation?
The town sheriff plies his investigative skills, but as one of the chief suspects, Madge cannot simply sit by and watch. Along with her husband Bill and their new fledgling pastor, she sets out to solve this murder behind the scenes.
Available now in Kindle and Hardcover, soon in paperback!
We’ve been working on this one for a few weeks now, and there’s an ambiance to this scene, stories that draw me, waiting to be told.
See the woman carrying her Christmas gifts to the wagon?
She looks so young, yet manages a household back on the farm or ranch. I like the way her husband holds their daughter’s hand . . . or maybe it’s his daughter and he lost his first wife, and this young bride is getting used to being a stepmother, as in the Oke series.
Or . . . well, any number of scenarios could be playing out. What we do see is the general store front and center, a place where folks search for ways to brighten the cold days of winter in their stark cabins.
The artist included a boy helping his father load a big present onto their wagon. Another mother holding a baby follows her young child and husband inside. What quiet expectations does she cherish? Some yard goods for new curtains? A little something special to add to the Christmas meal–perhaps some nuts or raisins the storekeeper ordered in?
Plenty of room here to brainstorm about theme. What focus propelled the artist? What life concepts did he wish to portray?
Ah…it’s all about story, and imagination plays a huge role. It’s fun to speculate…and may even motivate me to start writing!
A few feet away, there’s a steady sound. If you didn’t know what it was, you might picture a cauldron with something cooking. You’d envision steam and the constant movement of ingredients in liquid. And you’d be right.
Last week’s snow has nearly melted, no big project is calling my name, it’s Monday morning, so I’m making soup. A definite soup person myself, I was glad to discover our neighbor does not like to cook, and loves her veggies and meat in broth, too. If Lance gets tired of my concoctions–because it’s difficult to make just a little soup–our neighbor will help out.
There’s just something about that bubbling sound…quiet, nonintrusive, yet noticeable in the background, like white noise. Someone ought to add “soup boiling” to the list of white noises on those machines…what a comforting thought as you drift off to sleep. Even if you’re facing a rough night, somebody’s got the food covered.
Learning about the suffering of people during WWII always broadens me. Tens of thousands in Holland starved to death . . . Audrey Hepburn, an eighty-eight pound teenager at the time, ate tulip bulb soup with other desperate citizens.
What solace they would have gleaned in the reliable resonance of real vegetables and beef or chicken boiling in a pot. Such a simple item, something we take for granted. Delving into history often swells into gratitude–I have never known the sort of hunger they endured.
So today, I hone in on this wholesome, vibrant, homey sound.
Maybe it will usher in a new character…some woman cooking for her family. Perhaps she’s in a distressing situation. Perhaps not.
Hmm…images are starting to bubble up in my mind. (:
It might sound a bit confusing to look forward to a retreat, but I’m quoting an author friend from Connecticut when I say this. Today she told me she’d made her reservations at the quaint GILES HOTEL in Comfort, TX for our late February writers’ retreat.
In military terms, the word retreat smells of defeat, but more than one victory has come about after troops experienced a retreat. Take General George Washington, for instance–when facing General Howe’s forces, retreat became Washington’s strategy.
We’ve all seen the painting and heard the story of this famed Revolutionary War hero crossing the Delaware with his men in the dead of night . . . well, that qualified as a RETREAT. General Washington retreated his troops many times, but in the end, those retreats contributed to his final victory over the British.
A limited number of authors, or as some of them would say, “wannabes” will gather in Comfort, Tx, not far from San Antonio. We chose this venue purposefully, since the hotel’s own history highlighted one of the stories in our 2022 Christmas collection.
We’ll eat together, explore some writing genres and techniques in mini-workshops, and venture forth into the quaint town of Comfort to explore the wealth of history right down the street. Some will be working on stories for the 2023 edition of A Hill Country Christmas . . . that’s exciting!
Others may spend time on their own, if that’s what they need at this point–any portion of our schedule is open to individual discretion, of course. But hopefully our networking will enhance the effect of retreating.
We still have some spots left–join this site for more information.
On December 30, it’s natural to look back over the past year, celebrate successes and victories, bemoan our errors, and perhaps plan ahead a little. I’m so grateful for new author and reader friends, the joy of producing our Texas Hill Country Christmas Collection, and am looking forward to our writers’ retreat in late February.
In the rear-view mirror, one choice I’d change if I had a do-over…on a cold, miserable mid-April day, I might still go walking in the closest large building to our home, BUT I would not go upstairs. Thus, I would not roll my left ankle coming down the steps and splat onto the unforgiving hallway floor. Breaking a femur is no fun.
Yep, that’s one thing I’d change. And I was only trying to keep exercising in spite of the weather…
A whole bunch of other people I met in the hospital and rehab and even now in ongoing physical therapy might note similar alterations in their behavior this past year. One of them, a new friend I met on a day when her facial bruises made a memorable impression, writes this:
I was on my way home from volunteering at Food Bank and I stopped to check for mail. It was dark, so I turned on emergency flashers, but forgot to put the car in park. As I got out, the car rolled forward and I fell backwards (onto right hip area). As I tried to get up to stop my car, my arms and/or legs gave out and I hit my head on the street. I then managed to get back into my car, which had stopped at my cul-de-sac turn (as if to say, “Get in. I’ll take you home.”). Luckily, there were no serious injuries- just a very “colorful” couple of weeks to come.
Don’t you love her sense of humor? And Jan has even shared some photos.
When she first shared her story, Jan said, “Lesson for all: Put car in park before exiting!” So you know what she would change if she could go back.
Another shot of Jan in the Emergency Room:
And another later at home. Note: sometimes the healing process can make us look even worse than at the beginning.
The wonderful thing is, finding a bit of humor in our situations makes all the difference. If Jan had looked like anyone else around us the day I met her in a very public spot, her remarkably humble attitude might not have shown through. And we both agreed that sometimes it seems like our bodies resist the “normal” track.
Neither of us have any idea what’s ahead in 2023, of course, but we’ve both made it this far. One thing that’s helped me on “low” days has been keeping a list of people fighting much bigger, life-and-death battles…
a young mom with a newborn AND a frightening cancer.
Someone who had two bone breaks last year and now faces serious cancer surgery.
And the list goes on. Lifting them up in the middle of a sleepless night puts my own woes in perspective.
As you look back on 2022 and ahead to a new year, any stories you’d like to relate? We all benefit from this kind of sharing!
Time and again, C.S. Lewis nails it. I just became familiar with his little Christmas poem called “The Nativity” from The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis: A Critical Edition.
Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay.
How often does what we think we’re looking for get in the way of what we might actually see by opening our minds and hearts?
Can anybody identify?
We live in the midst of change…constant change. Maybe it’s due to aging, but change seems to blast us lately. “Us” includes our circle of family and friends, and change exists everywhere. Feels like we’re constantly hit with another alteration to get used to.
Yesterday on her birthday, Lance pulled up a photo from our daughter’s childhood. Reminded me of how creative she is, and how time has flown by. Here, I see childhood’s uninhibited joys…exploration and discovery.
Ah, the pure pleasure of playing in the mud! Messes didn’t bother me that much back then, all part of learning.
Anyway, here we are with Christmas around the corner. A different Christmas, with friends rather than family…and my prayer is for eyes to SEE, not just to LOOK.
May you, too, find what you didn’t expect this season!
Patti Shene Gonzales has always been such an encouragement to me and other writers, but I had no idea she had the PROBLEM she shares about here. I’ve always admired people who share their struggles, so here she is, and she’s offering a free e-book of her debut novella to a commenter. Enjoy!
What I Learned From My First Published Novella
All my life, I have been a procrastinator. Lately, I have passed off the flaw with the statement, “why do today what can be done tomorrow? After all, Jesus might return tonight!” Although this thought brings a chuckle, it does not lead to a productive lifestyle.
More than once, I have found myself in situations where I lack some important food ingredient, household product, or whatever, because I failed to write it down on my shopping list.
I can’t count the number of events I have missed in town or online because I put off entering said event in my calendar at the time I read about it. I am always thinking, “I’ll do it later.”
I believe it was way back in April that I was invited to participate in a multi author Christmas novella series. I was so excited, but in my mind, April was a long way away from a November release date. HA!
The months in between flew by faster than an airliner in blue sky, and before I knew it, summer was drawing to a close. I had not written one word of the story. Oh, yes, ideas churned in my mind all the time, but I had nothing concrete to show for it.
I am a member of an excellent critique group who have offered me so much valuable advice about my writing over the past couple of years. By the time I settled down to write Cathy’s Christmas Confession, there was not enough time to send all of my chapters to my critique buddies.
In retrospect, this first novella would have been so much better if I had taken the time to write, get critiques, edit, and hone the finished product. As it turned out, I spent a very rushed eight weeks writing this story.
Many days and nights I was literally in a panic, fearful I would not fulfill my commitment to God and my fellow authors. I could not face another defeat in my writing career. I had told too many people about this novella. No way was I going to back out on the project.
God intervened at this point and gave me some solid ideas to help me craft a story worth reading. He brought scenes to mind that I had not even thought of. He spoke to me through my main characters and their shared experience of loss. He enabled me to demonstrate the theme that Christmas is not always joyful for the hurting, but there are ways to recognize the true meaning of Christmas through our pain.
Writing is hard. It takes time, patience, perseverance, skill, encouragement, creativity and guidance. I learned a valuable lesson while writing this novella. Procrastination is not a positive trait for an author.
There are hundreds of Christmas stories available to readers every year. Cathy’s Christmas Confession is not a story for all audiences. However, if this story appeals to you, my prayer is that it will bless you and bring joy to your heart.
Happy Jesus’s birthday!
Christmas is not a time of joy for the hurting.
During a snowstorm, widow Cathy Fischer creams a stop sign on her way to work at the Christmas Ridge Community Church. Acquaintance David Martin stops to help. Cathy sees signs of deep grief in David, a recent widower. She reaches out with support in an attempt to help David through this most difficult first Christmas without his beloved wife.
David Martin struggles with grief over the death of his wife. He blames God for her rapid demise after her cancer diagnosis. Cathy reaches out to him with compassion and support and soon enlists him in her mission to bring joy to others at Christmas. Will their joint quest restore David’s faith?
David needs to turn loose of the past and embrace his future. Cathy has a confession to make to the entire community that may give David a different perspective of who she really is. Will her confession set her free?
Does God have plans in mind for the two of them they did not anticipate?
Patti Shene Gonzales hosts Step Into the Light, a weekly interview style podcast, where guests share their journey out of darkness or ways they lead others back to light. She hosts writers on her two blogs, Patti’s Porch and The Over 50 Writer. Patti is published in two anthologies and local publications and has three novels in progress. She enjoys writing, reading, critiquing, and spending time with family and friends. Patti lives in Colorado with her devoted feline companion, Duncan. Cathy’s Christmas Confession is her first novella.
The other day on Hwy 87 between Pine and Payson, AZ, the heavens definitely revealed an up-and-down pattern.
Dark clouds, a bit of blue sky peeking through now and then.
And then voila! Sunshine.
A veritable blaze. Worth the wait!
Kind of like life…we don’t know for sure when the sun will appear, but when it does, what a moment.
During these days of preparation before Christmas, joy finds a way of peeping through like sunshine.
This morning I opened a tin of tea sachets, a wonderful early Christmas gift. Their aroma led me to believe there’d be a flavor burst in my cup.
And they were right. Ahh….my British genes perked up!
During World War II, tea played quite a role in the morale of British soldiers. Most American soldiers probably gravitated to coffee, but either way, a steaming cup energized many a weary attitude.
Admittedly, the effect couldn’t last forever, and n this old world, promises aren’t always kept. But when they are, we bask in the result.
Every year the promise of the nativity magnetizes us, lures us to believe in a long-range plan originating in divine love. Although we can’t necessarily see the complete fulfillment yet, we honor the promise.
A hearty welcome to Becky Van Vleet, whose first novel tells her father’s WWII story and honors his sacrifice. Becky’s offering a signed hardback copy of Unintended Hero to one commenter–for yourself, or would make a great gift!
The Story Behind the Story
As a baby boomer, I grew up in a household hearing stories from my parents about the Great Depression and WWII. I don’t recall being all that interested as a youngster, yet I never forgot the firsthand stories my parents shared. Fast forward a few years, and I marry a baby boomer, who also recalled similar stories. As an educator with four children, the call to preserve these stories in some fashion or form came to me. Not knowing how long our parents would live to share their firsthand accounts with our children, I decided I’d better not let the stories perish in oblivion.
I’d always been fascinated with my father’s stories he shared about the USS Denver, the light cruiser he was a gunner on in the South Pacific in WWII. So I whipped out my dated cassette recorder on March 19, 1990, corralled my father to our kitchen table, and asked him to recount his WWII adventures, experiences, and battles so I could save his stories for our children, his grandchildren.
For the next two hours, his stories tumbled out with pride and a remarkable remembrance. I sat spellbound, taking it all in. At the time, my plan was to simply save the cassettes as historical keepsakes for my family.
Fast forward again, thirty years later. Covid hits, and I’m homebound with a worldwide shutdown. My children are grown up with children of their own. Time is on my hands. Another call to write a book to preserve my father’s WWII stories came loud and clear.
Google and search engines became my friends, working in tandem with my fingers on my keyboard. I had a big puzzle on my hands to fit all the pieces together—my dad’s stories on the cassettes, the USS Denver deck logs, tedious research for the whole Pacific Theater for WWII, researching ammunition and guns (remember I said my father was a gunner), all the battles, hundreds of other Navy ships, and the . . . well, I had a lot of pieces to fit together to formulate a story. And a well-written story. I wouldn’t settle for less than the best.
This was a story, after all, about my father.
He was no longer living, and my book must honor not only him, but the other sixteen million Americans who also answered the call of duty to fight for our country. They had sacrificed school, jobs, families, homes, personal aspirations, and their very lives. My book would represent them as well.
Tap, tap, tap. My fingers flew over my keyboard faster than armor piercing shells flying from WWII battleships for more than a year as a manuscript immerged.Help came from everywhere–my husband, editors, WWII veterans, and friends. Family cheered me on.
Unintended Hero, my debut historical novel, finally made an inaugural appearance on Amazon in August, 2022. For Gail’s readers, if you know of any WWII buffs in your circle, or, if you have young people in your circle who could benefit from a good story about patriotism, sacrifice for a cause beyond self, and teamwork for America, I’d like to recommend this book to you. This is not about self-promotion nor sales. That was never my intention when I set out to write my father’s story. This book is about preserving a firsthand story from Walter Troyan, my father, who came from The Greatest Generation, to use Tom Brokaw’s term. A story about sacrifice and freedom which impersonates Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis” which he wrote in 1776.
Becky Van Vleet
Becky Van Vleet is a wife, mother, grandmother, swimmer, gardener, oil painter, power walker, and a writer who loves God. She especially enjoys getting together with friends and family, eating cotton candy, asking Alexa hundreds of questions, and reading books to her grandchildren. An award-winning author of children’s picture books, she’s over the moon about her debut novel, Unintended Hero, a true story about her father’s experiences on the USS Denver in WWII. Her website is devoted to preserving family stories and memories, believing it’s important to tell our stories to the next generations. Check out her website at www.beckyvanvleet.com
Holidays always bring Mom to mind. She created plenty of food for seven of us, plus hired men all year long, but really outdid herself on holidays. Entertaining meant a lot to her, and she put forth a mind-boggling amount of effort to produce perfect turkey, dressing, gravy, homeland rolls and pies . . . the works.
We have it pretty easy now, in comparison. Mom’s old gas oven threatened to blow every time she squatted down to light the burners. I definitely remember that “poof!” For her, progressing to an electric one must have seemed like heaven.
At age nineteen, setting up housekeeping in a stark little frame farmhouse couldn’t have been easy, especially since she grew up in poverty and probably didn’t know a lot about stocking a kitchen. But she managed, and people eventually raved about her culinary skills. Oh, the pies . . . luscious crusts, enticing raspberry and peach and apple fillings. My cousin recalls FOOD as being a highlight when visiting us on the farm.
Tthat was due to Mom’s willingness to pour herself into cooking and baking. In the photo, she’s on the left, at about five years old. In adulthood she always had something perking, and wasn’t afraid to try new recipes that came along, like Baked Alaska. For an Iowa homemaker in the fifties, that really says a lot about risk-taking.
Now, our daughter consistently comes up with new recipe ideas, and our granddaughter has grown up knowing her way around the kitchen. This would make Mom proud, because it’s a good share of her legacy.
The men may have battled the elements to produce a corn and soybean harvest, but Mom fought her own forays in the kitchen. Making do came naturally to her, having survived the Depression years and World War II rationing.
This morning, I needed to make deviled eggs and was out of mayo, so an old cookbook provided a recipe for making my own. Really not complicated, but requiring a double boiler which I rarely use. The main ingredients, STANDING and STIRRING, brought Mom to mind once again. How many hours did she spend standing at the stove, mixing and tasting and adding a bit more spice, waiting and hoping for a positive outcome?
My addiction to the WWII era began in her kitchen, because she hummed or whistled or sang those touching tunes as she worked. And she let me help, too. Drew me right into her world, like a skilled artisan.
No doubt about it, Mom’s creations qualified as ART. Her hopes and dreams and aspirations came out in those baking powder biscuits, beef pot roasts, homemade noodles and chicken, and a myriad of other comfort foods. Homemade banana pudding, custard pie that Dad loved, and meringue that peaked as high as anyone’s.
I have to say that noticing the mayonnaise begin to thicken brought a wave of satisfaction this morning. Just one heaping tablespoon of flour mixed with 4 eggs, 1/2 cup of cider vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 2 tsp mustard, and 1/2 cup of Xylitol somehow caused this reaction. This mixture was fast becoming a creation. (You can make it w/regular sugar, of course, and use GF flour if you wish.)
Who we are today goes way back, doesn’t it? Who we have become, rooted in what was, makes a good place to visit once in a while.
May your holidays exude a touch of the nostalgia that makes you into such a unique person in this world hungry for individuality and creativity! And may you find time to stand and stir.