A Servant’s Heart is Here!

Beautiful young woman with bouquet of lilac in spring garden

I am pleased to share that my Christian historical romance, A Servant’s Heart, is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle. This is the long-awaited story whose original title was River Farm. 

Idealistic, independent, and utterly alone, seventeen-year-old Catherine Abbott arrives in the Virginia colony in the spring of 1774. Now an indentured servant, she is determined to leave her painful past behind and build a new life.Dr. James Craig has lost his entire family and his fiancée. He immerses himself in his work and surrounds himself with a surrogate family of employees and servants to assuage his loneliness. When he hires Catherine and she comes to live at his farm on the Potomac River, it seems as if God has brought them together for a reason. But has He?

As the colonies teeter on the brink of war, the future is uncertain. James joins the Continental Army as a surgeon and is shaken by the suffering and death he witnesses. As Catherine’s steadfast faith draws her closer to God, James finds himself doubting God’s goodness.

A Servant’s Heart affirms that God is present and working for good even when we can’t understand the process or know the outcome. It is the story of a woman searching for a home, a man standing in the way of his own happiness, love thwarted by the course of history, and a message of hope about the power of God.

 

 

Writing Contests Aren’t About Winning

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Writing contests aren’t for winning or for losing, they’re for learning. I’ve entered a few writing contests in my life, but none that felt like they had more significance than the ones I’ve entered in the past two months. At first they felt significant because I wanted to win. Pitch Wars? I wanted that mentor. Pit Mad? I wanted an agent to “favorite” my tweet. Pitch Slam? I wanted to go before the Jedi Council and ROCK IT. I wanted the validation that came with having someone notice me. I wanted to stop writing blind and have someone tell me the words I have worked so hard to produce are not rubbish. I want to feel like I might, someday, see my beautiful book baby in print.

But now? All those things would be nice, terrific, f-bombing fantastic, in fact. But they are no longer my greatest aspirations. Why? Because writing contests like these are more like writing conventions—bringing together like-minded individuals with common hopes, dreams, and goals, to support and encourage, to teach and learn, to invigorate and inspire. How many times has a writer heard the words, find your tribe? Ten times? A hundred times? More? Listen. No instructions, advice, or wisdom you hear will be more important. Your mom thinks you’re a great writer. Your spouse is cheering you on. Your best friend is super proud of you. Yes. Of course. Sure. But who knows how hard it is to sit down and write? Who knows the epic struggle when the words won’t come? Who knows the utter exhilaration when everything comes together just right? Who knows the bitter sting of rejection?

Another writer, that’s who.

When writing contests allow you to jump into the trenches with others who do as you do, something beautiful happens. Newbies become more confident. Struggling writers encourage one another. Agented and published writers share their hard-won knowledge. Everyone shows off their battle scars. These contests are hard. The work is real and the deadlines are real and the self-doubt is very, very real. But these contests are so valuable, too. Because if I can coalesce my 90K+ manuscript into a 140-character Twitter pitch or a 35-word pitch or make an agent want to go to war for my pages after reading just one query or my first 250 words, well, I can do just about anything, right?

Starting can be daunting. I thought I could never write a 35-word pitch. I thought I could never pitch my story in 140 characters (minus the required hashtags, for goodness sake!). But over the course of several days I have written more than 50 different 35-word pitches. Okay, sometimes they were 41 words and sometimes they were 33 words, but I did it. I’ve backspaced over words, letter by letter, in my Twitter text box trying to reach the Holy Grail of that beautiful zero until my fingers ached. I traded this word for that word, relentlessly hunted down and hacked adverbs and made sure I SHOWED rather than TOLD until my eyes crossed.

What am I left with? Confidence. Pride. Gratitude. And friends. Lots and lots of friends who will tweet me some encouragement. Laugh with me. Send virtual hugs. Tell me my pitch makes no sense. Share the hard truth that my 250 is weak. Or high-five me because, darn it, my 250 is awesome. We do all these things and we are better for it. And for those mentors and judges and agents and volunteers behind the scenes who take time from their lives, their families, their manuscripts and their own hopes and dreams to give others a hand up, I am so grateful. Contests build communities. That is their true value. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s simply that you play the game. Write on, my friends. Write on!

Job’s Daughters and the Futility of Fear

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Job’s Daughters International is an organization for young women who are related to, or sponsored for membership by, a Master Mason. It offers a fantastic opportunity for girls to learn leadership skills and life lessons that will bolster their confidence and success for the rest of their lives. I was lucky enough to be a member of Job’s Daughters when I was a girl and I am so grateful for the experience. I have been wanting to write something about the organization for a very long time but I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be. Finally, I just decided to start writing. I hope there are lessons here for former, current and future members, as well as for those who have never heard of Job’s Daughters. Thank you for reading!

“On the edge of an Arabian desert . . .” So begins the story of Job, as told by the members of Job’s Daughters International. When I hear these words I never fail to imagine some desolate and windswept place; the edge of the desert might as well be the edge of the world. And at the edge of this desert, just on the other side, is a place capable of sustaining life: a man, his wife, their seven sons and three daughters, their servants, their flocks of sheep and beasts of burden, fields and gardens, orchards, perhaps even vineyards. The place at the edge of the desert is hospitable, even beautiful. But the fact that it is on the edge of a desert, a place incapable of sustaining all but the most specialized life forms, gives it a precarious and tenuous feel. It hints at the trials and tribulations to come.

Though we wait upon God’s mercies, though we rely on his protection and redeeming love, we live in an imperfect world where fortunes can change in an instant, where all that we have, all that we have worked for and worried over, can disappear. Life on the edge of a desert, or life on the edge, they are really the same thing. God never promised that life would be easy. He never asserted that pain and suffering would not be part of our earthly journey. Deep unhappiness, disappointment, accidents, injuries, poverty, strife, loss, death, are all inextricable and even necessary parts of the human experience. Learning and accepting these hard truths is, in my opinion, the greatest lesson the Book of Job teaches us. God watches over us and is with us through every trial. He feels our pain and counts every tear. He loves us unconditionally and sends comfort and hope to us in a thousand different ways, both seen and unseen.

That doesn’t make these experiences less painful, it simply gives them meaning.

I am so blessed to have been a member of the wonderful organization that is Job’s Daughters, as my mother was before me, as my sister was alongside me, as I hope my own daughters will be someday. It makes me sad when I hear other women say they will not encourage their daughters to engage in any particular activity, whether it is Job’s Daughters, sports, cheerleading, a spelling bee or math competition, chorus tryouts, band, even summer camp or babysitting, because of bad experiences they had when they were girls. I don’t believe everything is ever all bad, or all good, either. Life isn’t like that. Even moments of deepest happiness can be overshadowed by memories of grief or loss or pain. Even in our darkest hours we can find instances of hope and light. I would never judge another person’s decision or try to quantify the weight or measure of the pain they have felt. But I do know that bad experiences can happen anywhere. At school. On the job. Within one’s own family. At the grocery store. Trying to hide from what we fear might happen, trying to protect ourselves and others from what we worry could happen diminish our lives and our purpose.

I like to think that Job’s Daughters is where we can learn the truest lessons of life: that people can be mean, that not everyone will like you, that some decisions are impossible to make, that sometimes, nothing you can do is right, that this journey is fraught with difficulty. Many, many people learn these lessons in a very hard school and it makes them bitter, cynical, and afraid to reach out to people and for experiences that can ultimately heal and enrich them. It is better, I believe, to learn these lessons sooner rather than later, and to do so surrounded by a network of sisters, adults, and most of all, parents—family, who can guide and advise. To navigate pain and heartache and disappointment with a safety net, as it were.

Job’s Daughters is a wonderful organization. It is not perfect. A Daughter gets out of it what she puts in. Often she gets more than she expects, in ways both good and bad. When something is imperfect, it can feel like the only choice is to walk away. But the best choice is to walk on—to let your way out be your way through. To hold your head high, struggle through the desolate places, and come out on the other side of that desert, into the beautiful garden of God’s perfect love. Just as Job was led to a life “rich in blessings” after his trials and through his unwavering faith in God, so, too, will we be enriched and strengthened, both by what new and joyous experiences we welcome, and by the trials and tribulations we survive, with hope and with His grace.

My Pitch Wars Bio

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About Me

Hello! My name is Lonna. I’m a writer. My daughters told their teacher that their Mommy’s a writer so it must be true. Seriously proud moment there. Halloween is my favorite holiday. I am obsessed with polka dots. I am an expert parallel parker and I play a mean game of jacks.

My Writing

I love to write, except when I hate to write, and I am so happy that I found out about the amazing opportunity that is Pitch Wars. I have spent a lot of time, I mean a lot of time revising, editing, slicing, dicing, adding and subtracting and I would love the chance to get some fresh new eyes looking at my work. That old truth that you can’t see what needs to be fixed in your own work is so true. How else could I have been on my fifth edit before I realized I used the same word twice in two sentences? I mean, really. I can definitely use help with showing versus telling, active versus passive voice, head hopping, and making sure that my story isn’t an unqualified bore. As a writer what I fear most is indifference and being called self-indulgent.

I am an incredibly hard worker and I will never balk at criticism or shut down in the face of constructive feedback. I am an eager student and I will not only be open to suggestions and commands, I will go out of my way to make sure I understand what is being suggested or commanded, so I can do it better next time. I make a conscious effort to practice gratitude at all times. I strive to have a positive attitude and an open mind. My life’s philosophy is to never wish anything away.

I have been a writer for a very long time. Like, most-of-my-life long time. I wrote my first story when I was six, about a little girl who stops to help an elephant who hurt his elbow when he fell off his skateboard. It was called “The Hurt Funnybone.” Boy, was I surprised and embarrassed when my classmates laughed and laughed at my title. Peasants! When I was a high school freshman I entered a “scary story” contest my local newspaper was running. My story was called “All in a Day’s Work,” after a phrase in a Sidney Sheldon book, thank you very much, and I thought I was all that when I won second place in my age group.

What Else I Do

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I am an archaeologist with about two decades of professional museum work under my belt. I worked at the Smithsonian for more than ten years (some of those years in anthropology and others in public affairs) and I have put in more than my share of volunteer and paid hours at a number of historic house museums—my first love. I’ve been a tour guide, educator, and curator, done first-person historical interpretation, demonstrated needlework, butter making and hearth cooking, but I was never able to master spinning and weaving. Lately I am a mom and a preschool teacher.

I have a unique perspective for writing historical fiction because I know lots about actual history! Here is Elizabeth Hager (it’s really me) in her husband’s frontier trading post (historic house museum) in 1739 (but really 1992):

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GIFs? What GIFs?

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Giff? Jiff? I have no idea. I am not technically savvy at all. The fact that I have a blog is a minor miracle. That I am on Twitter is still a source of amazement to me. Computers were not a big part of my childhood. I wrote my high school, college, and first semester of graduate school papers on an IBM Actionwriter-One typewriter. I first used e-mail around 1995. I am a hopeless romantic, lover of history and used to wear Laura Ashley dresses with petticoats under them and cameos pinned to the oh-so-modest necklines. I was brought kicking and screaming into the digital age and I’m still not sure I’m happy to be here. And is it even called that anymore?

Books I Love

I grew up in a house filled, and I do mean filled, with books and I am a voracious reader. My favorite children’s books are Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, Leaf Magic by Margaret Mahy, The Secret of the Sachem’s Tree by F.N. Monjo, Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman by Barbara K. Walter and Nate the Great and the Lost List by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. I love children’s books so much that I often write about them on my blog.

When I got a little older my favorites included My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Homecoming and Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt and The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla.

Adult books I love include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

TV? Not Me!

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I don’t have time for TV, but after stopping to watch Andrew Davies’ War and Peace earlier this year I make it a point to see BBC’s The Musketeers whenever I can. Because Tom Burke. Right?

My Book. My Book. (I typed that twice because it looks so very lovely!)

River Farm is an historical romance. A beautiful young indentured servant and wealthy doctor living on an idyllic Virginia farm fall in love on the eve of the American Revolution. Their love must survive the ravages of war, and triumph over the battles they are fighting in their own hearts.

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Catherine Abbott arrives in the Virginia colony in 1774. Recently orphaned and reeling from a suitor’s betrayal she is determined to build a new life. As an indentured servant for hire she unwittingly draws the attention of a dangerous man with a frightening reputation. When the wealthy and handsome doctor, James Craig, rescues her from this situation they discover an overwhelming mutual attraction. Catherine falls hopelessly in love but the doctor, himself the victim of a difficult past and haunted by his memories of the battlefields of the American Revolution, cannot make a commitment. Together they must survive the return of Catherine’s dangerous admirer, overcome the ravages of war, and triumph over their personal demons before they can find true happiness. With appearances by George Washington, the irresistible romance of Colonial dancing and holiday celebrations, glimpses of Continental Army encampments along the banks of the Delaware and at Valley Forge, and a Potomac River setting of dazzling natural beauty, River Farm is the story of one couple’s winding and unlikely path to love.

And Last

That’s the name of the last chapter of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, another book I absolutely adore. This is where I should just wrap everything up. Okay. This was my Pitch Wars bio. If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading. If you’re a mentor, I would be honored if you would pick me. If you’re a potential mentee, I wish you the best of luck in this competition and with your writing. I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to be friends. You can find me right here on my blog, on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/lonnaseibertwriter and on Twitter @lonnaseibert

Please visit http://www.lanapattinson.com/pitchwars-2016-pimpmybio/ to see all the mentee-hopeful bios!

 

 

Husking Corn

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When I was a little girl my family spent every weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. By the time I came along my grandfather was retired and had sold his farm, but he still had apple, peach, pear and plum trees, grape arbors, a strawberry patch, and a huge garden. In the summer he would bring in armloads of paper grocery bags bursting with fresh Silver Queen corn, still warm from his field. My brother, sister and I would stand around a big, old-fashioned metal trash can on the back porch under the shelter of the tin roof of the carport and shuck the corn for dinner. There were seven of us back then and we could eat a lot of corn, so this was a major undertaking. The window air conditioning unit blasted its hot air into the sultry summer day, combining with the warmth of the day to create a heat so strong we could even smell the unmistakable scent of the paper bags rising around us. We would talk and shuck and laugh and see who could grab a husk near the top and, with just one tug, reveal the corn underneath. We’d pull silk until our fingers ached. Our forearms would get itchy, our palms sticky and our foreheads and napes of necks would run with sweat. When we were finally done with our task the reward was to go back inside, where my Nana, who was always too warm, kept the temperature icy. The difference between the air conditioned house and the sweltering porch was jarring in the most blessedly beautiful way. I still love fresh corn on the cob and I still enjoy husking it, as the process always takes me back to my grandparents’ porch. But I have never tasted any corn as good as that corn was. No lesson here, just a beautiful memory.

Henry and the Monstrous Din – A Cautionary Tale?

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I am not a political person and I try to avoid controversy. But the state of our great nation and the direction we seem to be heading scare me. To say nothing at all is just as bad as spewing hatred. I don’t hate anyone, but I do question the choices and doctrines of those who may soon be leading us. So, when the dissonant noise of the political campaign trail, the biased reporting of the media, and the hurtful agendas of bigoted and narrow-minded people are applauded and championed, we must stop the noise, and use our own minds and hearts to decide what is right. And so I present, “Henry and the Monstrous Din,” an innocent children’s story written in 1966 with a great deal to say to us in 2016.

Henry and the Monstrous Din is Russell Hoban’s story of an imaginative little boy who, early one morning, begins to make a little noise. Before he knows it, the noise has grown and grown until it takes the form of a monstrous din, a living creature with a bass drum for a body, the twin bells of a traditional alarm clock for eyes, a steam whistle on the top of its head, and many other parts designed for raucous and ultimate noise-making. This monstrous din precedes to take his creator, Henry, for a long ride past his school, much to the principal’s dismay, and off into the countryside for an all-night adventure that includes a double-feature at the drive-in with plenty of popcorn and ice cream. As the monstrous din begins to get tired Henry is eventually able to convince it to take him home, and he subdues it once and for all by repeating the noises that first created it, in reverse, and more and more softly, until the din is gone.

I loved this story so much when I was a child. The idea that I might have the ability within me to create something so powerful, even if it was something I couldn’t at first control, was irresistible. Lillian Hoban’s pictures are so imaginative and fun to look at and her conceptualization of the din’s physical appearance is delightful to see. The language is incredibly detailed and evocative. The descriptions of the din’s noises are wonderfully descriptive, including my favorite: “like fire engines and bulldozers crashing into a piano warehouse.” The most beautiful language of all, though, comes when Henry and the din’s journey is described. “They galloped past fields and farms on faraway roads.” I love this! I was always drawn to assonance in books when I was a child, and this sentence fed that love, while also filling me with a sense of adventure and a longing to see those fields, those farms, to travel those roads.

The reader is never entirely certain whether this event takes place in Henry’s head, or if it is real. By the time he and the din return, it is still the same morning of the same day they left. The hole the din made in the side of the house closes magically and Henry’s parents are completely unaware that anything unusual—aside from a bit of noise—has happened. I like to imagine that Henry and his new friend did indeed go off on a wonderful adventure, and to think that Henry can bring his din back to keep him company whenever he likes.

This book shows us what we already know—that we can create things.

Our words and actions—our noises and even our silences, can have a tremendous impact on the people around us, and on events and the bigger world.

Henry cannot at first control what he has created and although it is just noise, there is the potential for harm. Every time Henry’s din encounters opposition, it drowns out those who would stop it with deafening and appalling noise. Noise can confuse us. It can bewitch us or frighten us. It can drown out our own inner dialogue, and muddle our perceptions of right and wrong. Noise can be distracting. It can be hurtful. And it can sweep us along with a strength that cannot be resisted. Whatever we create, whatever words or actions or noise we put into the world, we should be asking ourselves if we are right, if our creations are worthy, if we are kind, and whether we mean them for good, or for harm. We must always question our purpose and measure the effect we have on others and on the world. Otherwise the noise, the clamor of hatred and intolerance, hurts not only our ears, but our sensibilities and eventually, our very humanity.

Archaeology and God’s Perfect Plan

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In 1984 I was a few months shy of twelve years old. My favorite thing to read was a National Geographic magazine with a cover story on the archaeological excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the aftermath of the A.D. 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I carried that magazine with me everywhere, reading the article over and over again and poring over the poignant images of artifacts and human remains. I was utterly fascinated. Always interested in dinosaurs, the Civil War, house museums, and the First Ladies’ gowns at the Smithsonian, I found a new love in the pages of that magazine, and less than ten years later I embarked on my own career as an archaeologist. And I still have that magazine.

I have participated in many archaeological digs over the years and although I am now primarily a stay-at-home mom, my love for the process, the science, the art, of archaeology is with me still. For me, my very best experiences in the field were at Ashkelon, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Carrying out archaeological investigations in the Holy Land, the land of the Bible, was, for me, a devout and devoted Christian, the proverbial dream come true. Born into the church of my parents and grandparents, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t attend Sunday school. I used to hang on every word of my teachers, of my ministers, of the liturgists, as they uttered strange and unfamiliar place names that fired my imagination. There was a poetry and a mysticism to the words of the Scriptures, to the names of the locations of the births, and deaths, struggles and miracles recounted in the pages of the Bible. Galilee was a beautiful name. Jericho sounded imposing and grand. Gethsemane was peaceful, yet sad. Jerusalem, Judea, Calvary, Bethlehem . . . so far away and so unattainable. They didn’t seem quite real and I was certain these were places I would never see.

I was wrong, and happy to be wrong. Spending time in Israel is still one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. Helping to uncover evidence of civilizations that predate the birth of Jesus by hundreds of years was humbling, awesome, and something I regard as one of God’s precious gifts to me. Just one year after the publication of the National Geographic article was the very first season of the Leon Levy Expedition, in cooperation with the Harvard Semitic Museum. I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but it was that same expedition that I was to join up with later, as a fledgling archaeologist. It is strange and wonderful how God directs our footsteps, how His plan is perfect and leads us exactly where we are meant to be.

I find myself now in a time of waiting for Him, a time of uncertainty as I watch and wonder and pray. I am full of hope for my writing career, for my as-yet unpublished novel. I often feel doubt, and even despair. But then I remember that God’s will is not mine, and when He answers my prayers, even when the answers are not the ones I want, He is never wrong. And so I pray, and I wait. And in the praying and the waiting my faith is strengthened. Are you struggling now? Are you waiting for His perfect time? Be calm and full of joy and rest in His promise. Above all try not to worry, He has not forgotten you. For I have plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.

 

France

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Today, as my stay in my hometown continued, I drove out to visit my high school. I had one purpose in visiting this particular location: to enjoy the view, which is breathtaking. I did not enjoy high school. Those four years were some of the hardest and unhappiest of my life. I don’t care a bit for the building or most of the memories it holds. I was there today only for what I could see when my back was turned away from that drab brick structure. And now, as I ponder the sad and senseless tragedy in Nice, France on this Bastille Day, I find myself thinking of high school. Realizing that my mind would turn to thoughts of high school even if I hadn’t been on site this very day. Why? Because it was in that building where I learned to speak French. I learned about French culture and sampled French cuisine. It was in a history classroom in that school where I learned about France’s recognition of and assistance to the fledgling United States during the American Revolution. Where I became aware of the mutual admiration and close friendship between George Washington and the Marquis de LaFayette. Where I watched a documentary on the origins and history of the French Revolution. I read Le Petit Prince and played Mille Bournes, and was elected French Club vice president. I studied in France during my sophomore year with my best friend as my roommate and travel companion.

France has been our country’s ally and friend from the beginning. I am heartsick over what has happened in Nice. I am devastated and disgusted over the state of our nation, and the world. I am sad and angry and confused. I want to wake up from this nightmare that keeps playing out over and over again in different places. I cannot begin to understand the hearts and minds of those who would kill innocent people. I don’t know why such hatred exists in the world. It is easy to question why God doesn’t seem to be stepping in to avert the plans of those who would kill and destroy, why He isn’t doing more to stop terrorism and stamp out animosity and evil. The better question is, why aren’t we?