Posted 9/19/14 at 9:06 AM | Audra Jennings
What happens when you bring the truth of who you are and where you’ve been into the light? In her impressive debut novel, The Sea House (St. Martin’s Press/April 15, 2014/ISBN: 978-1250043344/$25.99), author Elisabeth Gifford introduces readers to characters who are forced to dig up the pain and secrets of their past in order to let the fresh air of faith and grace purify and heal the broken places in their heart.
Gifford was inspired to write The Sea House after coming across a letter in The Times archives from 1809, in which a Scottish schoolmaster claimed to have spotted a mermaid. Weaving the ancient Gaelic myth of the selkies into her story, she has created a sweeping tale of hope and redemption that is an ode to the healing readers can find when they acknowledge the truth about themselves.
Q: Your new release, The Sea House, is a fascinating historical mystery that was born out of a letter you found from an old edition of The Times. Can you tell us about the letter?
The Sea House is based on a real letter written to The Times newspaper in 1809 by a Scottish schoolmaster, reporting a mermaid sighting. There were lots of mermaid sightings up to 200 years ago around Scotland and even a recorded mermaid funeral in the islands. There were also persistent legends of selkies, seals who could take off their sealskins on land to become human. I thought these were simply old fairy tales from a more credulous time, but it may be that these sightings and legends were connected to something very real. For thousands of years the native Sea Sami used to kayak down to Scotland from Norway using Eskimo technology. Their sealskin kayaks would become waterlogged after a few hours and lie just below the sea surface looking like a wavering tail. On land, they removed their sealskin jackets and became human — just as described in the legend of the selkies. Some must have married locals and stayed on the islands, giving rise to certain families such as the MacOdrums, who were said to have come from the seal people
It’s a theory that’s hard to prove, as the Sea Sami tribe was forcibly assimilated into Norwegian culture 200 years ago and disappeared — at exactly the same time the mermaid sightings stopped. The only evidence we have left is The Times mermaid letter, a kayak held in Aberdeen museum with Norwegian pine struts inside instead of the usual Eskimo baleen and of course the old legends of mermaids and seal men.
Q: One major theme in the book is the power of acknowledging and telling your story. Why do you think this is such an important part of finding personal healing?
You meet people who have had terrible childhoods yet still emerged loving and positive people. Other people become very bitter about relatively common hurts. I wanted to look at what makes the difference. My father was a neglected orphan, and I saw how his faith gave him the means to remain a very contented, loving and patient father and pastor. The way we see our history and tell our story affects how we live.
I read Talking of Love on the Edge of the Precipice, which is known as “the book that healed France.” Boris Cyrulnik, the author, was Jewish and as a child was left hidden and neglected in a farm loft for years during World War II. He also lost all his family. Now he helps trauma victims retell their sad stories in terms of a bigger arc that includes a source of love and allows their story to end in hope. For Christians, we have the option of rewriting our stories around the extravagant love shown to us on the cross, if we choose to.
Q: One character in the book is a woman in the process of building her dream home with her husband. However, a discovery buried under their house mars her perfect plans, causing her to confront her painful past. In what way is her discovery a metaphor?
The baby buried beneath the house was inspired by a real case of a baby discovered beneath a croft house in Orkney. It is a metaphor for the way Ruth has to acknowledge her past, just as she needs to understand why the child is there in her home. I also wanted to convey to the reader the kind of physical fear people sometimes experience when coping with the effects of poorly understood or unacknowledged trauma, as well as showing there is a way to get beyond that fear. It’s really up to the reader to work out what they think is the truth behind the story. A story is a drama and is all about the choices people make. The metaphors and similes have to be earned in the story and come naturally. In a way, a story itself is a kind of life metaphor.
Q: In The Sea House, we also meet a vicar who must confront his own ideas about his relationship with God. What lessons about faith can we learn from his spiritual journey?
In classic fairy stories, the hero works out how to win the princess and is pretty pleased with himself. Then about halfway through the story, it all goes wrong, and what used to work isn’t enough. At this point the hero has to go deep into his character to save the day.
While Alexander says he believes in grace, he really believes in a formula where his particular failures cannot be forgiven. So he tries incredibly hard to become a better person. Only after he sees how miserably he fails as a pastor does he let go and accept the mystery of grace. In many ways, he follows a pretty common Christian path from an early faith in our ability to “become good” to a mature and knocked-about faith relying on grace and love.
Q: What parallels can be drawn between the storyline of The Sea House and the Gospel message?
The thing that hit me when I began writing was the image of a seal man unable ever to return home. This mirrored how, for many people, something happens that means they can’t find a home for the person they are. It’s the same for Moira, who gets evicted from her village in the clearances, and with Ruth in the cold children’s home. They represent the longing for a true home that often sets people on their way to a faith.
It’s also interesting to note that a lot of the Gospel teaching is in the form of stories. Stories show us a lot about how choices pan out, about character and about what is of real value. In The Sea House, Ruth and Alex have to battle to work out what is true and what is not true and then choose what they will believe about who they are and where home is. We all live by stories about how the world is. Not all of them are true — but some are, and they may be the ones that sound quite unlikely at first!
Q: The characters in The Sea House discover much of their redemption comes from reconnecting with their personal pasts and their family history. Why do you think this is so important?
I suppose there’s a human impulse to invent a better self so other people, and even God, will like us more and not turn away from us. That can lead to us living two different lives. In some cases, prominent Christians actually have complete double lives. Jesus came to a very real and ordinary world, and that’s where God meets us. He sees all of us and doesn’t turn away. Facing up to who we are and where we came from is a form of accountability, and the “real you” is the only person who can form genuine relationships and be happy and fulfilled. And that is only if we are willing to accept the grace and love of others.
Q: This is your debut novel, but you’ve been a writer for some time and have an M.A. in creative writing. What is your favorite part of the fiction-writing process?
It’s very exciting when you find the voice for a new character and they begin to live on the page. They can become quite opinionated about the plot. I also get really excited by story structure and the way it gives the reader a chance to live other lives and develop insight and empathy. I also love evoking real places and their physical impact, so writing about the very beautiful Hebrides was pure pleasure.
Q: The Sea House is rich in history and Gaelic myth. What kind of research did you do in preparation to write the novel?
It started when my family fell in love with the beautiful and remote Hebridean islands in North Scotland. I was feeling very stressed at the time, and when we saw an advertisement for a white cottage on a remote island, we decided to rent it. We became hooked on the area’s quiet beauty and its continuity with old ways, customs and legends. The Gaelic Outer Hebrides are something of a time capsule where the old crofting ways and Gaelic still cling on. While we were there, I talked to Harris artist Willie Fulton, who shared his stories of living in a crofting village throughout the past half-century and the remarkable people there. I read all of the books I could get my hands on about the time period and met with John MacAulay, who wrote Seal Folk and Ocean Paddlers, an historical account about what really lies behind the seal people legends. He gave me permission to use his research in the novel. In the islands the past always feels very present.
Q: Have you always had a fascination with mermaids?
I initially became interested in the selkie and seal people myths when I heard the children’s story from my daughter while we were in Harris. Standing on a remote island shore on a deserted beach facing the Atlantic, it seemed very possible a seal man might appear. The mermaid legends were first told in Gaelic, legends going back thousands of years, but they are still told and sung today, especially on Uist island. The folk singer Julie Fowlis, who sang the Gaelic songs on Disney’s Brave soundtrack, came to the Glasgow book launch and sang a song taught to her on her island of Uist. That song was written more than 200 years ago by John MacOdrum, who was said to be a seal man’s descendent. Due to the clearances where villagers were evicted from the land, the MacOdrum clan descendants are now only found in the US and Canada. I’ve been in contact with some of them.
Q: What is the message you hope readers walk away with after they close the covers of The Sea House?
Hope . . . and the power of love and grace. We don’t just get to choose how we tell our past stories, but we can also choose how our future story will be written.
Posted 9/18/14 at 9:33 AM | Tim Challies
We are sinful people. We are sinful, forgiven people, who long to live in a way that pleases God. And there are few better tools for battling and overcoming sin than a close reading and application of John Owen’s classic work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. I have been reading through the book and came this week to a chapter on the critical importance of the Holy Spirit.
Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.
Here is a brief outline of his argument:
Those who read the chapter with me will have seen that much of what Owen writes here is meant to oppose Roman Catholicism, the chief enemy of true faith in his day. But the main points of the chapter remain easily applicable. While I may not be Catholic, I still feel the temptation to allow my man-centered desires to interfere with God’s gracious work. Maybe this is what Owen means when he writes of “the natural popery in man.” I may not wear rough garments or take vows and orders as an attempt to destroy sin, but I may still look to myself and my homespun remedies rather than to God and his remedies. Just as Catholicism has invented ways of putting sin to death, I may also invent ways and means, and find them just as powerless to bring about true and lasting change. FULL POST
Posted 9/17/14 at 4:15 PM | Audra Jennings
Where do you turn when a dream you’ve cherished in your heart for your entire life is completely shattered? In her new release, Hidden in the Stars (Quilts of Love series from Abingdon Press/September 16, 2014/ISBN:9781426773600/$13.99), Robin Caroll introduces us to a young woman who must find the strength to continue living after losing everything she cares about.
At 21 years old, Sophia Montgomery has been working toward the goal of becoming an Olympic gymnast since she was a young girl, but everything changes one night when she is attacked in her mother’s home. Her attacker leaves her with career-ending injuries and the inability to speak. Most tragically, he snuffs out her beloved mother’s life. Reeling from the loss of her mother and her dreams, Sophia has no choice but to accept her estranged grandmother’s invitation to come and live in their family home. FULL POST
Posted 9/16/14 at 12:08 PM | Audra Jennings
Three of the most beloved Christian authors of World War II-era fiction have come together to gift their readers with the new Christmas release, Where Treetops Glisten (WaterBrook Press/September 16, 2014/ISBN: 978-1601426482/$14.99), a collection of three Christmas novellas.
Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman and Sarah Sundin invite readers to turn back the clock to days gone by as they listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow and get to know the Turner family. Each of the three siblings is forging their own paths in their own love story filled with the wonder of Christmas. Hailing from the heart of America in Lafayette, Indiana, these characters will never be the same as the reality of America’s involvement in World War II hits incredibly close to home.
The collaboration was unique and enjoyable for the writing trio. “We started in the brainstorming phase, throwing out character and family ideas and making them mesh,” explains Sundin. “The collaboration was challenging since our stories are more tightly connected than in most novella collections, but it was a lot of fun.”
In Putman’s White Christmas, college student Abigail Turner loses a beau to the war and is skittish about romance, until a young man with a serious problem needs her help. Pete Turner, a former fighter pilot in Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, is trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. In Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner (or “Merry” to those who know her best) is using her skills as a combat nurse in the Netherlands. She’ll have to face the deepest kind of betrayal a world away from her family, but that could be precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.
The unsettled World War II era may not at first glance seem like a backdrop for love to flourish. “Our purpose is to remind readers of the importance of family, of home, and of togetherness,” Goyer reveals. “Even in a time of war we can remain strong because of the love of God and the love of those we serve.”
Will the Turner family be able to absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for their futures even in such a tumultuous time? “There’s a freshness and sense of wonder to Christmas,” Putman says. “The idea that God would send His Son to earth as a newborn is an incredibly humbling thought. Combine that with great music, tradition and the love of family, and it becomes a magical time where almost anything seems possible.”
Readers will be able to feel the crunch of newly fallen snow under their feet as they get caught up in these stories of love and loss set against one of the most pivotal times in world history.
About the Authors
Tricia Goyer is the bestselling author of more than 45 books, including fictional tales delighting and entertaining readers and non-fiction titles offering encouragement and hope. She is a two-time Carol Award winner, as well as a Christy and ECPA Award Nominee. A popular blogger, Goyer contributes to a number of homeschooling and Christian parenting sites. She and her husband, John, live in Little Rock, AR, and are the parents of six.
Cara Putman, the award-winning author of 19 books, including Shadowed by Grace, graduated high school at 16, graduated college at 20 and completed her law degree at 27. She is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University and also practices law. Putman is currently pursuing her Master’s in Business Administration at Krannert. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.
Sarah Sundin is the author of six historical novels, including In Perfect Time (Revell, August 2014). Her novel On Distant Shores was a double finalist for the 2014 Golden Scroll Awards. Sarah lives in northern California with her husband and three children, works on-call as a hospital pharmacist, and teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible studies.
Posted 9/16/14 at 9:39 AM | Tim Challies
I have found that for short stretches of time I can convince myself that I am being faithful to God if I define faithfulness in terms of only one behavior.” That is an insight from Nate Larkin, author of Samson and the Pirate Monks, and I think he is on to something. We all have a desire to be seen as good and faithful and righteous, yet we cannot deny that we are bad and unfaithful and unrighteous. We are neither who nor what we want to be.
Our lack of faithfulness leaves us in a predicament. Either we deal with it by crying out to One who can forgive and redeem us, or we define-down faithfulness to a standard that is manageable. We choose a behavior we are good at, or perhaps a behavior that addresses a major source of guilt in life, and we define faithfulness to God in that narrow way. As long as we do that thing, or as long as we succumb to its opposite, we are convinced that we remain in God’s graces, that he is pleased with us. FULL POST
Posted 9/15/14 at 9:05 AM | Justin Buzzard
I have been so impressed with Stephen Smallman’s book, The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus, that I decided to interview Stephen here on the blog. I hope this brief interview persuades you to buy Stephen’s book.
Here is Tim Keller’s endorsement for the book:
This is the fruit of a lifetime of experience in ministry. I recommend this warm, practical, gospel-centered, and very useful manual on discipleship.
Stephen has served for over forty years in pastoral ministry and has served as executive director for World Harvest Mission. He currently teaches for CityNet Ministries of Philadelphia. You can learn more about Stephen at his website, Birthline Ministries. FULL POST
Posted 9/11/14 at 11:01 AM | Audra Jennings
Best-selling, award winning author Suzanne Woods Fisher invites readers to celebrate Christmas with her this year by hosting a Christmas at Rose Hill Farm (Revell/September 2, 2014/ISBN: 978-0800721930/ hardcover/$15.99) themed brunch. Between now and September 29, readers can sign up on the author’s website at suzannewoodsfisher.com/book-club-brunch to host. Hosts will be able to choose their celebration day between November 1 and December 23.
Hosts will be selected and notified via email on October 3. From the entries received, 50 hosts will be chosen to receive a party kit, which includes:
The brunch is the perfect opportunity for Amish fiction fans, as well as garden lovers, to get together, enjoy the holiday season, and discuss Fisher’s latest release.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, Fisher encourages hosts to collect non-perishable food items from their guests to be donated to the host’s choice of local food banks or community shelters. For each group that collects 50 items on the day of their event, Fisher will donate $10 to one of her favorite local charities, Shephard’s Gate, a shelter for abused women and children.
“There’s an unusual character named George in this Christmas story,” Fisher said, “who has a knack for helping Billy see a bigger picture and get back on track. We all need someone like George in our lives—and we need to be ‘George-like’ to others. That’s the motive behind this food drive. It’s a way to help others make a fresh start and to remind them they’re not alone. To me, that’s the very best gift of Christmas. ‘Emmanuel. God is with us.’”
Billy Lapp is far away from his Amish roots working as a rose rustler for Penn State and wants nothing to do with Stoney Ridge. And that suits Bess Riehl just fine. Why should she think twice about a man who left without a word of explanation? It’s time she moved on with her life, and that meant saying yes when Billy's cousin Amos proposed — for the third time — and beginning to plan for her Christmas wedding.
When a “lost” rose is discovered in a forgotten corner of the greenhouse at Rose Hill Farm, Billy is sent to track down its origins. His plan is to get in, identify the rose, and get out. The only catch is that he’s having a hard time narrowing down the identity of the lost rose — and he can’t get Bess Riehl out of his mind.
As the history of the lost rose is pieced together, it reminds Bess and Billy — and Amos too — that Christmas truly is the season of miracles.
About the Author
Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling, award winning author of Amish fiction and non-fiction and a columnist for The Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She has won a Carol award, been a finalist for the Christy Award, and was a two-time finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year.
Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She travels back east a couple of times each year for research. Fisher has a great admiration for the Plain people and believes they provide wonderful examples to the world. She has an underlying belief in her books — you don’t have to “go Amish” to incorporate many of their principles into your life: simplicity, living with less, appreciating nature, forgiving others more readily, trusting in God.
When Fisher isn’t writing, playing tennis or bragging to her friends about her grandbabies, she is raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Posted 9/11/14 at 8:23 AM | Tim Challies
If you read what I’ve written here today, it will deepen your hatred for sin and spark your love for holiness. At least, I think it will. All I’ve done is summarize chapter two of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a book that has been precious to generations of Christians as they have battled sin and pursued holiness. Read on!
Here is Owen’s thesis for the chapter: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify [“kill” or “put to death”] the indwelling power of sin.” In other words, Christians battle sin and put it to death. They battle sin every day until the day they die. They never stop. They never let up.
And so Owen asks you:
“Do you mortify?
Do you make it your daily work?
Be always at it while you live.
Cease not a day from this work.
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” FULL POST
Posted 9/10/14 at 2:39 PM | Audra Jennings
Best-selling author Mary Connealy invites readers to join her for what is sure to be a fun-filled evening on September 23 at 8:00 PM EST when she will be hosting a webcast. The live online event will celebrate the release of Connealy’s latest release, Tried & True (Bethany House Publishers/September 2, 2014/ISBN 0764211782/$14.99), which kicks off the new Wild at Heart series.
“The last webcast I had was so fun I can’t wait for another one,” Connealy quips. “I’m hoping to know what I’m doing a bit more so whoever is watching and listening to me isn’t primarily motivated to be kind . . . out of pity!”
During the live online event, Connealy will be talking to readers about Tried & True, previewing the next installment of the Wild at Heart series and answering reader questions. Throughout the hour, readers will have an opportunity to chat with other fans, answer trivia about the book and submit their own questions for Connealy to answer during the evening. A number of prizes will be given away to those participating in the discussion, including copies of Connealy’s books and gift cards. At the end of the webcast, the winner of a Kindle Fire HDX will be announced. The Kindle giveaway is being held in conjunction with the Tried & True blog tour being coordinated by Litfuse Publicity Group during the month of September.
“Whenever we ask our authors what their favorite part of the writing process is, they almost always say the same thing: connecting with readers,” reveals Noelle Buss, marketing manager at Bethany House. “In Mary’s case, that includes sharing a laugh with them too — or a whole webcast’s worth of laughs. Mary is one of those people who writes funny because she does funny really well in real life!”
Publishers Weekly’s review of Tried & True states, “Connealy’s style is fast-paced and spritely and sure to keep drawing fans.” This new series featuring the three Wilde sisters is sure to entertain. The sisters fought in the Civil War disguised as men, pressured into fighting by their father, who was crazed to avenge his son, their older brother, who died in battle. After all those years, without being revealed as women, they now qualify for homesteading. That is, as long as they don’t get caught!
The Tried & True webcast will be hosted on Connealy’s Facebook page, as well as the Litfuse Publicity Group website for readers without a Facebook account. Leading up to the webcast, readers can RSVP for the event and sign up to receive an email reminder. From September 8–25, fans can also enter the contest for the Kindle Fire HDX via the author’s Facebook page.
About Tried & True:
Saddle up for a wildly fun ride with the Wilde sisters!
Kylie Wilde is the youngest sister—and the most civilized. Her older sisters might be happy dressing in trousers and posing as men, but Kylie has grown her hair long and wears skirts every chance she gets. It’s a risk—they are homesteading using the special exemptions they earned serving in the Civil War as “boys”—but Kylie plans to make the most of the years before she can sell her property and return to the luxuries of life back East.
Local land agent Aaron Masterson is fascinated with Kylie from the moment her long hair falls from her cap. But now that he knows her secret, can he in good conscience defraud the U.S. government? And when someone tries to force Kylie off her land, does he have any hope of convincing her that marrying him and settling on the frontier is the better option for her future?
About the Wild at Heart series:
Three sisters fought in the Civil War disguised as men. They were pressured into fighting by their father who was crazed to avenge his son, their older brother, who died in battle. After all those years, without being revealed as women, they now qualify for homesteading, with their years of fighting reducing the years needed to prove up on a homestead.
Living in western Wyoming on 160 acres each, with their father owning the fourth homestead, they have a real nice spread tucked into the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, a remote area where they can live as they please and no one needs to notice the Wilde family is made up of three sisters.
They’ve gotten away with it by staying to themselves. They homesteaded in the fall, spent the Wyoming winter mostly snowed in, but now it’s summer and they’ve avoided town. They’ll have to spend their lives as hermits to get away with this.
And maybe they could do that, except they’ve stepped on the toes of a big rancher who wants to drive the nesters off his land. Tried & True will be followed by the release of Now & Forever and Fire & Ice.
About Mary Connealy:
Mary Connealy writes romantic comedy with cowboys. She is a Carol Award winner and a RITA, Christy and IRCC Award Finalist. She is the author of the Trouble in Texas, Lassoed in Texas, Montana Marriages and Sophie’s Daughters series, Cowboy Christmas, Black Hills Blessing, and Nosy in Nebraska and has contributed to several novella collections. Her latest release, Tried & True, kicks off the Wild at Heart series.
Connealy is a contributor to the Seekerville and Pistols and Petticoats blogs. She lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her husband, Ivan, and has four grown daughters and a growing bevy of grandchildren to boot.
The new Young Adult historical fiction novel,Fighting for Freedom and George Washington, has been named to the Mamie Eisenhower Library Project’s (MELP) Recommended Book List. The MELP is the National Federation of Republican Women’s oldest program, celebrating more than 45 years of book donations from an approved list to schools and libraries. Lee’s book will join a list of notable titles including America the Beautiful by Ben Carson, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson as well as another historical fiction novel for kids, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh. Lee, an immigrant whose family escaped communist China, wrote the book because of his concern for what his kids were learning in school about American history.
“It became apparent to me that my kids were not learning enough about the glory of our country’s founding and the honor of our founding fathers in their history classes,” says Lee. “To remedy that, I tried to teach my children at home. But then I realized that a more effective way would be to put my teachings in the form of the kind of book they most enjoy reading-- adventure stories. I believe many immigrants who arrived here as children, as I did, do not take our freedoms for granted. As I grew older and learned about the atrocities that my parents escaped in Mao’s China, my own appreciation for America intensified. I literally thank God daily that I was blessed to grow up on American soil. However, I am acutely aware that my children and their entire generation may not have that same appreciation for our nation’s struggles and triumphs.” FULL POST