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This historical Christian fiction by one of my favorite authors, Michelle Griep, was published by Shiloh Run Press, an imprint of Barbour Publishing Inc., in March of this year (2018). Although a stand alone, this book has a slight connection to a previous novel, Brentwood’s Ward, as its main characters are associates. This is a nice addition for those of us who have read the former book.

Johanna Langley is fighting a losing battle to preserve the Blue Hedge Inn; it’s all that stands between her family—Johanna, her mother and her young brother—and the workhouse. The realities of 1808 England are harsh: no social welfare, no government handouts, no adequate health care, no prisoners’ rights, etc. All things we take for granted.

When Alexander Morton shows up to stay at the decrepit Blue Hedge Inn, he wonders why his “handler” has sent him there, but he soon becomes interested in the feisty Johanna.

A series of unfortunate incidents and accidents prevents Johanna from coming up with the money needed to pay off the debt against the inn. Alex assists when he can, but he is unaware of the details, and is otherwise engaged in his own assignment. He risks his life to find the person or persons involved in suspected treason, to the point of jeopardizing his growing relationship with Johanna. Who is the real traitor, who can be trusted, how much risk is too much?

I enjoyed The Innkeeper’s Daughter for many reasons, not the least of which is Griep’s skill in creating fascinating characters. No one is as they seem, not even Johanna’s old “mam.” She is the source of my favorite quote: “God is not sitting about, watching impassive. Our tears are His. You never—ever—cry alone.” (Location 3489)

Two of the quirkiest characters, Mr. Nutbrown and his puppet, Nixie, are a great pacing agent for the intense plot, as Mr. Nutbrown can apparently only speak to others through Nixie. This obviously causes mixed responses from his various associates.

The author is a pro at using figures of speech to engage the reader. Her description of a terrible in-house band at the inn reads thus: “an off-key violin, a bodhran that could use a good tightening, and two mandolins dueling to the death…a voice jagged enough to weather the whitewash on the plaster” (Location 365)

She personifies the weather as: “Bird chatter was as loud as a gathering of washerwomen. The only thing amiss was the pewter sky, clouds bullying down with grey fists.” (Location 1557)

Similes and metaphors apropos of the times abound: “Her mind was as dodgy as a pickpocket’s fingers.” (Location 402) “The two were close as scabs on a pox victim.” (Location 516) And another of my favorite quotes: “Without so much as a flinch, Alex stared down the barrel of the loaded question.” (Location 1704)

The intriguing plot of this book is well-researched and fits the time and setting perfectly.

My takeaway from this story, beyond the obvious enjoyment of reading it, was that people are not always (or often) what they seem, and that even when the going is tough, God is ultimately in control. Thanks, Michelle, for another great read.

 

Michelle Griep

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Website: http://www.michellegriep.com

Twitter: michellegriep

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Influences: Bronte, Peretti, Sandburg

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/michellegriep

Short Bio:  I hear voices. Loud. Incessant. And very real. Which basically gives me two options: choke back massive amounts of Prozac or write fiction. I chose the latter. Way cheaper. I’ve been writing since I discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. I seek to glorify God in all that I write…except for that graffiti phase I went through as a teenager. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

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I re-read this little volume one day in the first week of this New Year: The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life by Brother Lawrence (1605-1691). It impressed me in its simplicity, profoundness and encouragement.Practice of the Presence of God

I’d like to share of few of Brother Lawrence’s insights over the next weeks, written so many years ago in the form of conversations and letters to friends. I’m not a philosopher or a theologian; the following are my simple understandings of Brother Lawrence’s writings. I welcome your insights and comments.

 

 

First Conversation:

Concept: We need to be satisfied in God’s presence, always aware of Him and never ceasing to pray to Him. If we truly believe in His absolute greatness and love, we should be filled with trust in Him and His ways, no matter what comes to us in this life. Brother Lawrence believed that we need to rid ourselves of trivial thoughts and worries and focus on God’s presence, His greatness, His plan for us, and to accept both “suffering and consolation, for all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.”

Our Response: First off, I think if we are to be satisfied in God’s presence, we need to know Him. This, of course, is something that will take a lifetime and an eternity and still not be complete, but we can learn to know God better through daily reading and meditating on His Word, and praying that God’s Spirit will enlighten us and show us who it is we worship. And, I think, in obedience to Him. I believe that as we obey the voice of God, we will begin to recognize it more readily. It’s an ongoing response.

Personally, I find it difficult to cleanse my mind of the trivial. I must still be concerned about my family, my home, my work, making meals, keeping commitments. But these will need to find a balance, a sense of being turned over to God. It’s a daily decision.

I like the idea of accepting both good and bad “as equal to a soul truly resigned” to God’s will in the knowledge of His love for us, but this too will take a lot of faith and practice. Moment by moment, day by day.

Today, I commit to listening for God’s voice as I read His word, pray to Him, listen for His voice, obey Him, and continue to practice the presence of God.

 

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praying_on_bible_red
A couple of weeks ago our community celebrated the life of an amazing woman. I’ll call her Molly. We knew each other mostly through the friendship of our daughters.

Molly came here from the Philippines some thirty years ago, on her own, to find a job and a home. Two years later the love of her life followed and they were married and eventually blessed with four daughters.

Molly and her husband both had successful careers, but you’d never notice it in their clothes or their home. They kept enough to live on and sent the rest back to their homeland to support their extended family, and to establish organizations for the needy. After Molly and her husband retired, they spent six months of every year in the land of their birth working with the institutions and missions that had become so important to them.

Then, quite suddenly, Molly was called to her heavenly reward. We rejoice with her but also mourn with the family and friends left behind. It’s one of the inevitable emotional rollercoasters of life.

What impressed me most about Molly’s life was her selfless generosity. She didn’t hoard finances for herself or her home. She didn’t look for praise. She just did what God asked of her. I believe Molly had a balanced perspective on life. She realized that life wasn’t about her, but about what God had for her to do. She had the wisdom to know that any wealth she and her husband had attained did not belong to them anyway. It was a gift from God to be used where it was needed.

I pray that we, in our society where everything is available, may recognize the difference between what we need and what we want. To learn, as did Molly, as the apostle Paul did, to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves. To practice generosity in our daily lives in order to bless others as well as to obey God. And to recognize the brevity of life and that what we need to do should be done now.

Thanks for your example, Molly.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain” I Timothy 6:6.

 

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For the past several weeks, our prairie skies have been constantly crisscrossed by vees of migrating Canada geese. The subtle throb of beating wings is almost hidden by their constant honking, which continues from first light to coyote’s call. Apparently, the incessant honking is an encouragement to the front-flyers to keep it up.flying geese

Geese are smarter than we give them credit for. They travel in groups, having chosen the opportune time for their journey. They have a goal—finding warmer climates—and an incentive—leaving chilly temperatures behind them—that keeps them motivated. They are innately aware that they need to encourage each other, and especially those in the lead.

We are all on a journey in a sometimes-difficult life, at least one that does not promise clear sailing. We often try to go it alone, without the expertise of the more experienced or even the encouragement of those traveling in the same direction.

We tend to forget that eternity calls, reminding us of fair havens ahead.

We often fail to encourage one another en route. Encouragement is as simple as telling someone you’re praying for them, or sending a card or email note just to let them know they’re not alone.

Let’s be more like Canada geese. Let’s keep winging our way toward the goal. There’s better weather ahead and we need not fly alone.

God bless you on your journey.

II Thessalonians 2:15-17 (NIV)

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

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open BibleI love reading the Old Testament. Probably because I love history, and the O.T. is the history of Israel with all its glory and disgrace mixed together. But how can I apply these stories to my life? Can they make a difference in me?

I’ve reached the book of Nehemiah. If you’d asked me a few days ago what my takeaway from this little book could be, I might have suggested Nehemiah’s commitment to prayer, his organizational skills, his gift of delegating. All good things.

What I found in this morning’s reading exceeded my expectations. In chapter nine I discovered (not for the first time, since the margins of my Bible are filled with notes) an extensive catalogue of the characteristics of God.

I’ll give you some examples. God is:

– eternal (v. 5)

– glorious (v. 5)

– creator (v. 6)

– faithful (v. 8)

– righteous (v.8)

– merciful (v. 9)

– just (v. 27)

– patient (v. 30)

I’ve only listed a few of the characteristics I found, but even these are enough to remind me of the greatness of the God I follow, and how essential Bible reading and study is to my faith. Nothing is wasted. Every one of the sixty-six books is important and beneficial.

As writers, we read all the time. I suggest that our most important reading each day should be from the Word of the One who has called us to be his pen in this time and place.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”

II Timothy 3:16.

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Marcia Lee Laycock

Marcia Lee Laycock

Marcia Lee Laycock, interviewed in last week’s blogpost, writes in various genres.

For many years Marcia wrote a column called “The Spur” for local newspapers. 41kNxY+SJCL._AA160_Her articles look at daily events in her not-so-ordinary life, meditations that draw the reader to God. She later compiled these inspirational articles into a book titled Spur of the Moment. This volume won an Award of Merit in the God Uses Ink Christian writing conference in 2003.

In 2006, Marcia won the Best New Canadian Author Award from Write! Canada’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards with her first novel, One Smooth Stone, subsequently published by Castle Quay Books.

One Smooth StoneThis novel follows Alex Donnelly, a young man trying to disappear into the vastness of the Yukon after a life of abandonment and abuse. When an unexpected inheritance draws him back to civilization, Alex discovers more about his past than he bargained for. Yet, through all his painful experiences, Christian people show him love and understanding and the father-heart of God.

Laycock tells this story with literary skill and a caring heart. The characters become real on the page, the plot twists to engage the reader, and the writing flows smoothly and swiftly to a satisfying ending.

A Tumbled StoneLaycock has also written a sequel, A Tumbled Stone, the story of Andrea Calvert, a young woman in trouble, who takes circumstances into her own hands and runs away to protect her family from shame. Little does she know that God is waiting for her at every turn, and cares for her through Evie, an unlikely angel who understands more than Andrea guesses. There are many forces at work in Andrea’s life, and as she is buffeted on every side by decisions and unexpected situations, the Lord surrounds her with love and protection.

Again, the author has created a believable world of good and evil, of forgiveness and fear. The characters move through the intricate plot to arrive at surprising conclusions. Well worth the read.

Besides fiction, Marcia Lee Laycock writes blogs, book reviews, short stories and poetry. Her work has appeared in the compilations Hot Apple Cider, A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider and InScribed.

Marcia is also a popular speaker. For more information on Marcia and her writing, check out her website at: http://marcialeelaycock.com.

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Let’s begin our interview with Marcia’s photo and bio:

Unknown

I was raised on an island off the north shore of Lake Huron, ran away to Alaska and then the Yukon, had a “road to Mayo” conversion in 1982, leaped by faith into Briercrest Bible College with my husband in 1985 and landed in the “promised land” of central Alberta in 1988.

I’ve also had the privilege of living a few miles south of the Arctic Circle (Dawson City Yukon) and a couple of degrees south of the equator (Papua New Guinea).

I suppose that’s why my writing is steeped in the imagery of winter with the odd palm tree thrown in.

For the past thirty some years, I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caretaker of two dogs, two cats and sundry fish, and oh, yes, a freelance writer.

The writing began in the attic of my parent’s house where I wrote stories for my dolls. None of them complained, so I kept it up. The Lord has abundantly blessed, challenged, rebuked, healed and restored me through the process of writing and being involved with writers. I now have two award-winning novels in print as well as three devotional books. My ebooks are available on www.smashwords.com and some on Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.

I am honored to have served on the executive of Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, been a long-time member of The Word Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers, and been privileged to teach for some of these groups.

I am also a sought-after speaker for women’s retreats and one day events. I have spoken widely for Stonecroft Ministries.

Janice: Hi Marcia. Welcome to my blog. Glad you could stop by today. Marcia (pronounced Mar-SEE-ah), you are a multi-genre writer, as well as being very involved in Christian ministry. Tell us a little about your various involvements and how they came to be.

MARCIA: Well, it seems that the Lord often just drops things into my lap. I began writing for publication when we first moved to Alberta. My husband took over as the senior pastor of a good-sized church and one of the things he was told he had to do was write a faith column for the local newspaper. He was already overwhelmed with everything else on his “to do” list so asked if I would do it. I put together a short piece and took it to the editor. He was happy with it and that was the beginning of writing for local and provincial papers for more than 20 years. About that same time I sent off my first short story to a magazine and received a cheque in the mail. Then began writing short stories for Sunday school publications and my hobby became a career.

I have always been very involved in women’s ministries since becoming a believer at the age of 32, so when I heard about Stonecroft’s Christian Women’s Clubs it seemed a good fit. I took their speaker training and began travelling around Alberta and Saskatchewan, speaking to women. That has led to invitations to speak at retreats and other events. I’ve since had further training under Carol Kent. I love speaking and teaching and God has blessed me abundantly with this ministry.

Janice: How do you balance your writing and personal life?

MARCIA: It’s not always easy. When my kids were young I spent mornings doing housework etc and most afternoons at my keyboard at a small desk in our living room, until the girls came home from school. As they grew that time increased and now that they are grown I am able to spend as much time as I like writing. My husband has become very supportive over the years. I’m blessed to have family who understand and support my ministry. I am quite active in our small church as well, so there are days when there aren’t enough hours, but I love being busy. My challenge sometimes is learning when to say no, when to take time to just be with the Lord. In 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the next two years in treatment and recovery, a time that was a blessing in many ways as the Lord taught me to draw close to Him. That time changed my perspective on many things and helped me to see the importance of being still and focusing on Jesus.

Janice: When did you first take an interest in writing and what sparked that interest?

MARCIA: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I was always scribbling something or other, leading my mom to say she thought I was born with a pencil in my hand. But at the age of eleven an aunt gave me a copy of Emily of New Moon, by Lucy Maude Montgomery. As I read it I was thrilled to discover that you could actually call yourself a writer and determined at that time that’s what I would be. I was blessed to have some wonderful teachers who encouraged me in that pursuit. When I became a believer it was another blessing to realize that I could write for the kingdom of God.

Janice: What prompted you to branch out from non-fiction to fiction?

MARCIA: I had always written fiction – mostly short stories and poetry when I was young, but I knew you couldn’t make a living doing that, especially in Canada, so I decided to go to Carleton University to study journalism. I discovered fairly quickly that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, but I received some good training there that has come in handy over the years. I did a fair bit of journalistic writing for local newspapers when we first came out to Alberta, while still writing fiction on the side – mostly children’s short stories. Fiction really was my “first love” as far as writing was concerned, so it was a dream come true when I won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award and One Smooth Stone was published.

Janice: You’ve had interesting experiences with regard to publication. What have you learned on the journey?

MARCIA: A great deal! Some of the highlights:

1 – the industry is always changing and you have to try to keep up by following blogs and staying in touch with other writers, editors and publishers.

2 – when you view publication as a ministry as well as a business, you begin to realize that it’s not all about selling books. It’s about relationships. I’ve been blessed to have developed some wonderful relationships that have made the journey a joy.

3 – you never know when a door may open so you need to be ready and willing to jump through it. For instance, when the Sunday devotional columnist at Novel Rocket.com had to quit, I emailed the woman who owned the blog and offered my services (with fear and trembling I might add!). I’ve been writing for them for several years now and that has opened doors for me with people in the industry. The blog has been on Writers’ Digest’s list of best 100 blogs for writers for some time.

4 – never “despise the day of small things.”(Zech. 4:10). A small thing in God’s hand is a mighty sword.

Janice: What social media do you use and which do you find most effective?

MARCIA: I love Facebook and have made some good connections there. I use twitter a bit, but probably not as much as I should and am now investigating Google + and Goodreads. I think as far as marketing goes it has really helped to do a lot of guest posts on other blogs besides my own. It’s been a thrill to see some of my posts picked up by people in the industry who have huge followings. I try to keep in touch with members of writers’ groups, comment in forums etc.

Janice: When you begin a novel project, what comes first: characters, theme, plot?

MARCIA: Usually the characters and often one or two single scenes will spark a project. The theme emerges as I write, as does the plot.

Janice: What prompted you to write One Smooth Stone and A Tumbled Stone? One Smooth Stone A Tumbled Stone

MARCIA: A woman from a local crisis pregnancy centre was speaking at our church. I chatted with her afterwards and she said something that stuck in my mind: “Can you imagine what it would be like for someone to discover his mother had tried to abort him?” I did imagine, and the character of Alex Donnelly in One Smooth Stone emerged.  When I came to the end of that book I wasn’t ready to let go of the characters so talked with my publisher about a second book and wrote an epilogue that led into it. The character of Andrea, Alex’s sister, formed quite quickly. A Tumbled Stone had a rather drawn out journey to publication and there were many times when I thought it would not happen, but the Lord had a plan and it was an exciting day when that book arrived on my doorstep.

Janice: I have to tell you, I loved your Christmas short story, An Unexpected Glory. It’s such a “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” kind of tale. How did you come up with the idea?

MARCIA: I’ve always had a soft spot for Christmas pageants (you can read a bit about that here) and I like playing with the idea that God’s “economy” is so very different from ours, so when Kathi Macias asked me to write the novella, I jumped at the chance, even though I had a few other things on the burner at the time. That story seemed to almost download itself into my brain. I had a lot of fun writing it and have been really thrilled that so many people have referred to it as a “Christmas classic.” Many have mentioned the Best Christmas Pageant Ever when they refer to An Unexpected Glory and I’m kind of ashamed to say I’ve never read that story – but I plan to! 🙂

Janice: What kinds of books do you most enjoy reading? What format do you read in most?

MARCIA: I love a good story, no matter the genre and I tend to read quite widely across genres. I tend to like books that are more ‘literary’ in style, with strong characterization and setting. If I had to pick, I might say the mystery and fantasy genres are my favourites.

I won a Kindle a few years ago and got to really like it, especially for travelling. I now own an ipad mini so use it for reading at times, using a Kindle app, but I love the feel of a real book in my hands and do most of my reading in a comfortable corner of our living room.

Janice: What hobbies or special interests do you have and how do they affect (or not affect) your writing?

MARCIA: I’m intrigued by technology and science, but that doesn’t seem to have affected what I write – though I love sci-fi and may write a novel in that genre someday. I also love horses but have never written much about them, other than a few children’s short stories for Scripture Press that were set in cowboy country. My main hobby is reading and I do enjoy watching some TV, which I think has made my writing more visual and fast-paced.

Janice: How important are writing conferences, in your opinion? Writers’ groups?

MARCIA: Essential. If you are serious about a writing career I think it’s vital to join a writers’ group, connect with other writers and attend conferences whenever you can to meet editors and publishers. I have been an active member in InScribe for many years and have gotten to know many writers across Canada through The Word Guild as well. I attend both of their conferences each year.

Janice: From your perspective, what is the most difficult aspect of writing? And the best?

MARCIA: The most difficult for me has been the isolation and facing the lack of understanding from some Christians in our churches who don’t realize that writing is my ministry. I have faced a frustrating lack of support from some churches who seem to look on a writing career as something frivolous that has no value.

The best part is hearing from people whose lives have been changed in some way by what I’ve written. I’ve had some amazing emails, letters and phone calls from all over the world that tell me that God has a purpose for what I write and He often uses it in powerful ways. That keeps me going.

Janice: How do you write? Are you an outline person? Do you work better alone or in a busy place?

MARCIA: I’m in the ‘seat-of-the-pants’ category – I jump right in and then outline a bit as I go. At some point I’ll stop and do a bit of a time-line but that’s about it.

I know writers who do their best work in Starbucks, but I need a quiet place with little distraction. That’s been a challenge since we planted the church we are in now, because my husband and I share an office in our home. We are literally back to back so it can be interesting. 🙂

Janice: How do you research your books? What is the importance of research, in your opinion?

MARCIA: My two novels did not take a lot of research since they were set in places and dealt with things with which I was very familiar. But I do try to be careful to get the details right. I think it’s vital to the credibility of a story. For instance, when I was writing One Smooth Stone I woke in the middle of the night in a panic because I realized I had to check some details about the use of radio phones and cell phones in the Yukon. We had used a radio phone a lot when we lived there but I had to find out if they were still used and if it were possible to connect from that to a cell phone. I had no idea where to find that information so I simply called a telephone operator and asked to be connected to a Yukon operator. She was very helpful and gave me all the information I needed to know. I’ve read stories where those kinds of details are wrong and they really throw me off the story. I edited a romance once that was set in the north. The writer had the heroine walking along a sandy beach in the Yukon, staring at the stars with her romantic interest. The problem was that there are very few, if any, sandy beaches in the Yukon and it’s impossible to see the stars in the middle of the summer due to the twenty-four hour daylight. Those kinds of mistakes are deadly. Research is important.

Janice: If you were to give three writing tips, what would they be?

MARCIA:

1. Write every day, even if it’s just for a few moments squeezed into a busy schedule.

2. Read widely and read good writing.

3. Never quit, even in the face of discouragement. God has a purpose for your work.

Janice: Thanks so much, Marcia. I enjoyed visiting with you today, and I’m sure my readers will also. All the best in your future writing career.

MARCIA: Thanks for having me, Jan. It was fun. 🙂

Connect with Marcia at the following links:

Website & Blog – www.marcialeelaycock.com

Facebook – www.facebook.com/marcialeelaycock

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/MarciaLeeLaycock

Blog for Reviews – www.writer-lee.blogspot.ca

Twitter – @marcialaycock

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