The Stars in April

Welcome, Peggy Wirgau–and everyone, get ready for a treat! Peggy’s giving away a signed paperback copy of her very first book.

My debut novel, The Stars in April, is based on the true story of a twelve-year-old Titanic survivor, Ruth Becker. Released on March 30, 2021 by IlluminateYA, the book has been honored with a Starred Review from School Library Journal.

In 2012, during the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, I discovered among the survivors the name of a girlwhose parents were missionaries in India. Twelve-year-old Ruth Becker was separated from her family as the Titanic lifeboats were loaded, yet she managed to share her blankets with others and offer a handkerchief to a stoker who had injured his finger. 

What would make this young girl act so bravely when she must have been terrified? How did she feel about leaving her home in India, and what led to her decisions in a lifeboat full of strangers that cold, dark night? As I asked myself those questions, I began researching and realized I needed to tell Ruth’s story. 

An excerpt from the back cover:

The year is 1912. When doctors in India are unable to treat her baby brother’s illness, Ruth’s missionary parents decide there is one solution: move her mother and the children across the world—to Michigan. 

But India is the only home Ruth knows. In a matter of days, she must leave Papa and all she loves behind, abandon her dream of one day playing violin in the Calcutta Orchestra, and embark on a four-week journey to England, followed by the voyage to New York aboard the luxurious, ill-fated RMS Titanic

Ruth’s story is one of courage and self-sacrifice as she earns her sea legs and faces the unknown, culminating in a desperate, tragic night she will never forget.

One of the best parts of writing the book was getting acquainted with a member of the Titanic Historical Society, who knew Ruth in her later years. He graciously provided several tales she had shared with him about her life in India and aboard the Titanic, and I was able to weave them into the novel. One that took place in India involved a tea party that her mother hosted for other missionary wives, only to have it interrupted by wild monkeys who had decided to invade their veranda and eat the sandwiches!

You may contact Peggy here:


https://peggywirgau.com 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peggywirgauhistoricalfiction

A River For Gemma

Creativity can serve as an anchor in our lives, giving us hope for something beautiful to emerge from the emotional wreckage around us. That’s what I hope my readers will experience in my novels as they escape into another realm…”

~Debra Whiting Alexander

WELCOME, Debra Whiting Alexander! As an Emily Dickinson lover, I’m excited about your new release. Debra’s here to tell us more, and is offering a GIVEAWAY to a commenter: See details below.

A RIVER FOR GEMMA 

(Releasing August 16, 2021 Available for preorder now!)

Three spirited women. One perilous past. And an unlikely heroine…

Pigeonholed as “intellectually disabled,” a young woman’s desire for motherhood collides with her grandmother’s hidden past, forcing her to muster the grit to save their lives. A sparkling tale of wild courage and unexpected miracles.

Sometimes a woman must take risks to learn to be brave…

When I was nine, I read the poem, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died”, by Emily Dickinson. That little poem stirred something in me—a desire to capture on paper compelling moments of life in a simple way. When something touches my soul, I listen to it. Those moments often end up in my novels.

Raised in San Diego, I grew up on a steady diet of western movies and musicals and a love for the ocean, cowgirls, pianos, golden retrievers, and art. In Oregon my home backs up to lush green fields, horses, stunning sunsets, and hazelnut orchards. The beaches of southern California were the inspiration for my debut novel, Zetty, but it’s in the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest that I found inspiration for my second novel, A River for Gemma.

         Inspired by my grandmother who died in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 41, Zettyblends personal history with my professional background. The story shines a light on the stigma of mental illness and the shame that often accompanies it. A River for Gemmais the story of a young woman with an intellectual disability and challenges our ingrained perspectives on disability and capability. Writing an uplifting story about nature and the pure of heart gave me a wonderful escape from the difficult years our country has recently experienced.

My writing career began with seventeen published books of non-fiction related to post trauma recovery for children and families, including a project written for schools and parents following the 9/11 attacks. My passion today is to write stories about the humor, spirit, and strength of unconventional women. I relish the opportunity to write about friendship, motherhood, mental health, and to do it with spiritual substance —matters of the heart and soul. I’m hooked on Upmarket Women’s Fiction because it allows me to integrate all the things I love most. 

Comment and Like for a chance to WIN a signed copy of A RIVER FOR GEMMA! Winner to be announced Thursday evening.  Good luck!

Find out more at: https://www.debrawhitingalexander.com

http://www.facebook.com/TheAuthorDebraWhitingAlexander

Twitter/DebraWAlexander

Instagram/DebraWhitingAlexander

Sunday Morning Snaps

When heat and oppressive humidity make it difficult to breathe, having a wind sweep in from the Northwest changes everything. Not just the weather, but our outlooks. Suddenly, we can enjoy being outdoors again, so I am.

Here’s a bit of “cottage garden” that meets the eye in our back yard.

I can only imagine how tough it was for Everett to arrive at this same effect back during World War II when he emigrated from England to Texas Hill Country. Hotter, dryer, rockier. But he used his tenacity and determination, just like the pioneers of the previous century as he grew to love his new home in Land That I Love.

Beside the fence, hollyhocks are growing. Next year, I hope, they’ll regale us as a backdrop to all of the other plantings. Tenacity, determination, and PATIENCE!

Alone at the Well: Photine’s Story

Welcome to Sandi Rog, who sheds fresh light on the ancient Biblical story of the Samaritan woman at the well. I learned something new about this passage I thought I knew so well, so you may, too. Sandi is offering a pdf copy of this book to a commenter.

Broken. Rejected. A failure.

On Photine’s daily trek to Jacob’s well, one step forward is another step back into her past as she relives the dismal events of her life. All she knows is brokenness, much like the waterpot she carries on her head. Rejection from those who used to be her friends is now commonplace. Failure should be her name. After all, who else in all of Samaria has gone through five husbands? And now she no longer sacrifices for her sins. Why bother when she’s just going to commit the same act every single day? She no longer cares.

Then one day, a day that started out like all the others, she meets a man at the well who offers something she had all but given up on. Hope. Hope for healing… Hope for forgiveness. Hope for a new life. Can she dare believe that His promises are meant for someone so broken? Someone so lost? Someone like … her?

This is not your typical “woman at the well” story that you’ll find in most novels. Rather than focus on all her husbands, I start this story with Photine meeting Jesus. For those of you who don’t know, Jesus has a chat with this woman while she’s at the well, and He reveals “everything about her.” This causes Photine to believe Jesus must be a “man of God,” and the story takes off from there. You can read about this encounter in John 4:1-26.

I didn’t grow up in the church and was so confused about what God wanted. All my life I had questions about Jesus and truth, but I always got different answers. Which ones were right? I finally found someone who was willing to teach me the truth. What stood out the most to me was when he pointed to his Bible and said, “Don’t listen to a word I have to say if it’s not found in this Book.” That moment in time transformed my life. I learned I could always find truth in God’s word, and I learned to read each passage in context. I imagined Photine must have felt similarly, and that’s partly why she had so many questions for Jesus and was so excited to share her account at the well with others. As I wrote this story, much of my own story became a part of Photine’s. More importantly, not only was our story about looking for answers, it was about learning to forgive and discovering the depths of God’s love for us through the sacrifice of His son. I often never thought I was “good enough” to receive His love (truth is, none of us are), and that is part of Photine’s story.

FACTS BEHIND THE FICTION:

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL HAS A NAME! WHO KNEW?!

The Woman at the Well isn’t named in Scriptures, but according to the Orthodox Church her name is Photine (Photina or Photini) and she’s revered as a Saint. They say that Peter gave her the name “Photine” after her baptism, which means Enlightened One. They also say that Photine had five sisters (Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, and Kyriake) and two sons (Victor and Joses). Victor, Photine’s oldest son, was also considered a saint.

THE TRUE PEOPLE OF GOD

The main differences between Samaritans and Jews rested in the appropriate place to worship God and the Samaritans assumption that Moses would return as the Messiah. Samaritans practiced their religion through sacrifices in the same way the Jewish people did because they believed in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible); although, they still changed some things in their version, especially in regards to Moses. The Samaritans believed they were the true people of God, which is why there was so much animosity between them and the Jews. While the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim. It is said that the modern-day Samaritans are the Palestinians, which would explain the conflict that continues to this day. Because the Samaritans were a mixed race (2 Kings 17:24-35), some also worshipped man-made gods of that time. However, in this case, it’s clear Photine’s interest lay in the One true God. 

PHOTINE WAS A MARTYR

The Orthodox Church reveres Photine as a martyr. After converting her family, they left their homeland and traveled all the way to Carthage to share the gospel. In 66 AD they were persecuted by Nero, and it says they “all” were tortured and executed. Sabastianos (a Greek name) was also among them, known to be a good friend of Victor (Photine’s oldest son). They say Nero ordered her (and them) to be thrown down an empty well, which also reveals she likely told him of first meeting Jesus at the well and how he told her “everything she ever did.”

Where to buy Alone at the Well:https://www.shopguideposts.org/fiction-books/biblical-fiction/ordinary-women-bible/alone-at-the-well-book-21.html?fbclid=IwAR0QtS-J2HZlzoTKzqLccSosLYWNijvFrqnyc8TckkYhGmvjhNqgpSMsQKw

Sandi Rog is a First Place Winner in the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Awards for her book, Out of the Ashes.She’s received numerous accolades for her other inspirational novels, including Walks Alone, The Master’s Wall, andYahshua’s Bridge. She has also spoken at Christian ladies retreats both in the United States and Europe. After serving as vocational missionaries in The Netherlands for thirteen years, Sandi returned to Colorado with her husband and four children where they settled down with a kitty cat and too many spiders. You can learn more about Sandi and her books at  www.sandirog.com

Powerful Adjectives

Photos from our youth group trip to gorgeous Montana back country bring all kinds of over-used words to mind: beautiful, breath-taking…

But what about this mountain lake proves so inviting to the eye?

A crystalline sky, forest reflected on the water, a fallen log: all of these play a part. The collective effect helps us smell the pine, almost feel the water between our toes. Lance and I backpacked in this very basin about thirty years ago–incredible views!

This kind of editing keeps me busy right now, just before submitting Land That I Love to my publisher. The goal, to embellish each scene so it engages the reader, keeps me mindful of individual words and phrases, aware of the way each sentence begins and ends, and how paragraphs are organized.

It seems as if this process could continue forever–“I might could work on this manuscript until the cows come home,” as they say in Texas Hill Country.

For this very reason, deadlines are a good thing. Someone outside the process says “It’s time, you’ve done the best you can.”

Perspective on LAND THAT I LOVE

Our granddaughter had to get WAY DOWN LOW for this photo to work:

Here, she shot what we normally see, as well as the view looking up:

In researching Land That I Love, I’ve had to get way down, too.

Way down into German American history in the state of Texas. Way down into human skills of surviving loss and rising above bitterness. Way down into the beauty of nature and how it frosts our lives with joy.

From cottage garden lore to the history of Nottinghamshire, to World War II and how it affected American and British citizens even in remote locales, to learning spelling in a one-room Texas Hill Country schoolhouse- Land That I Love offers all these.

Coming in late August to a purchase site near you!

Trestles and Time

Leaving Fredericksburg, we followed the route early settlers took to find their new homes. A lovely expanse of live oak and pecan trees meets the eye just over the Padernales River, and this is where John Meusebach paused. He had relinquished his royal status back in Germany to emigrate, and accepted the responsibility of seeing many other immigrants to this new land.

“This is it!”

His pulse must have raced at the beauty surrounding him. Perhaps his horse snorted in agreement. Here, a fertile land awaited them–the kind of place where a man could provide for his family.

In 1938, the railroad had come as far as Llano County, but not into Mason County and Loyal Valley. By then, this little town had gone through a name change–earlier known as Cold Water Springs, it became Loyal Valley in the 1860s, as an expression of German settlers’ loyalty to the Union, even though Texas had joined the Confederacy.

Everett, his butler/friend William, and Donnie, a lad of three, rode over this trestle still visible in the countryside. (Thanks to my author friend Lynn, who had spotted it previously.) Farther on, the train used a tunnel now filled with bats, since in the early 1940s, the military dismantled the tracks and used them for the war effort.

With the help of a local woman, we located the former depot and got a feel for the spot where Everett and his family disembarked for the trip to Loyal Valley. After crossing the Atlantic, searching out a suitable property while staying with a friend in New York, and traveling all the way down to the Hill Country, they were more than ready for their new home.

If they hadn’t been able to move in, Loyal Valley offered rooms at this hotel, still standing today.

An Anfractuous Novel

Plots and paths can be anfractuous. They twist and turn but do not break (the English word comes ultimately from the Latin verb frangere, meaning “to break.”) Fracture, fraction, fragment, and frail all stem from Frangere.  But one of the steps between frangere and anfractuous is the Latin anfractus, meaning “coil, bend.” The prefix an- here means “around.”

At first, anfractuous was used to describe our ears and the auditory canal’s curves. In modern times, we speak of an anfractuous thought process or an anfractuous shoreline. With summer yarrow in full bloom, we might quip, “Oh those anfractuous blossoms that defy description!”

The novel I’m writing could be called anfractuous. Most plots wind around until they reach their conclusion, and I don’t often know the end when I begin. But this time–let’s just say I thought this story was finished about a month ago. And then. . . . well, I discovered a few more twists to make before we could write THE END.

Enjoy some photos from the ghost town called Loyal Valley, the setting for this story. Above is Hickory Creek, ear Stone Mountain, a gargantuan granite escarpment near the town. Our rancher guide told tales of climbing up there in his youth–his angel was definitely on duty!

John Muesebach, a German immigrant in the 1840’s, named Loyal Valley Cold Springs at first, but changed the name during the Civil War to prove the community’s patriotism to the Union. I wish I could be a travel-time mouse and view the gardens this industrious American planted–everything from peaches to olive trees. He definitely had a gift for growing.

I fell in love with the name LOYAL VALLEY right from the start and began to discover how much this little spot in Texas Hill Country certainly has to teach us.

Here, Lynn Dean and I pose with John’s statue as he makes peace with the warring Comanches of the area. In this highly significant act, he opened up a whole new world for thousands of fellow-immigrants waiting in the wings.

Much more to come about LAND THAT I LOVE.

Trip Tidbits

Back in North Iowa after five days in Texas Hill Country, I have photos! I’m very grateful to several people who made my research so easy and intriguing. First of all, Lynn Dean, who drove me around like a professional chauffeur. Here’s a photo of her with John Byerley, whom I cannot thank enough for showing us around Loyal Valley.

In front of the Loyal Valley Schoolhouse, John is taping the sole of Lynn’s boot.

This one-room schoolhouse, now owned by John, is where Donnie, one of the characters in my novel to be released in early September, went to school during World War II. His father, Everett, brought him to the U.S. along with his butler friend in 1938.

And here is the actual spot where German pioneer immigrant John Meusebach established his home in the mid-1800s, with fruit trees he planted still visible in the background. This incredible pioneer established many communities in the Hill Country, first by forging a treaty with the warring Comanche tribe.

This powerful leader led the way for thousands of immigrants to purchase land and make a living. As Donnie’s father gets to know this country, he realizes how much John Meusebach has to teach him from a century earlier.

We visited John’s gravesite, where the engraved logo, Tenax Propositi, declares what was required of these intrepid early settlers. Tenacious of Purpose. His life testifies to the incredible difference one person’s courage and fortitude can make.

More to come soon!