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The Third Grace on our Third Book Trailer Friday

>> Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Friday, people. This particular Friday has a bittersweet flavour, marking the last summer long weekend. 

Another school year jostles in the gate and the promise of pumpkins and fall weather are right around the corner. But today you can look forward to another Thistle Book Trailer Friday! 

We catch a glimpse of The Third Grace on our third official TBTD, a unique, lush novel by a fellow Canadian. I met Deb Elkink (virtually) through the Word Guild, a massive group of writers and editors in the Canadian Christian writing community. 

When her debut book trailer made the rounds in our email loop the sumptuous look and feel instantly intrigued me. After browsing through her website—www.debelkink.com—I was hooked. Her literary voice is vibrant, hinting at an intelligent, classy woman. And although nary a tartan could be found, Deb’s refreshing work is spiced with European influence. Close enough for me!

The Word Guild awarded Deb’s debut novel, The Third Grace, with the 2012 Book of the Year and Deb nabbed this year’s Grace Irwin Award. 

Check out the trailer, and read on for a short interview with author Deb Elkink.

Di – Thanks for visiting Thistle & That today, Deb, and congrats on your award-winning novel. The Third Grace has an intriguing feel, a mix of the familiar and exotic. What's "familiar" to you? Do you relate to the simple farm life of Mary Grace or the sophistication of Aglaia? And do you think that viewpoint comes out in the novel?

Deb - I was born and raised an aesthetic city girl in Winnipeg, attended college in the metropolis of Minnesota's Twin Cities, travelled to Japan and other far-flung places, and then transplanted myself upon marriage to an isolated Saskatchewan cattle ranch at the end of a long gravel road, an hour from doctor and grocery store. 

So I consider myself a true hybrid. 

I thrive on the excitement and stimulation of Paris, Istanbul, Barcelona--but my day-to-day life in the tranquil prairie countryside suits me perfectly. The two contrasting aspects of my "split personality" are foundational to the novel and show the tension between sophisticated Aglaia and her farm-girl alter ego, Mary Grace.   

Di – Gotta love a girl who appreciates both the glamour of Paris and the peacefulness of the Canadian prairies. A few reviews tagged The Third Grace as Women's Fiction. What genre label would you use to tag your novel?

Deb - It's "Jodi Picoult sips Water for Elephants while eating Chocolat and whispering about The Secret Life of Bees." Oh, not a recognized genre? Then I guess I might call it "Literary Relationship Fiction" if my publisher weren't set on insisting it's plain old "Contemporary Fiction."

Di – Oooooh, I like your genre label, but probably because you mentioned chocolate. Reviews state that this novel is for "thinking readers" and "open minded readers." Do you agree and if so, why?

Deb - I would agree. Just this past month, several fans have reported that they're reading the novel for the third time! I take this as a compliment; there's enough substance in the plot and style to interest them intellectually, and enough excitement within the relationships to challenge them emotionally and sensually. 

Di – But does it have a happy ending? Or did we decide that leaving loose ends is more intriguing, readers? Deb, what do you have next on your writing agenda?

Deb - I'm just about to re-enter the rough-drafting phase of my abandoned second novel and hope to be fully immersed in it within a couple of weeks. I'm very excited about this story of a Minneapolis salesclerk (being harassed by a bag lady) who's on the verge of her first home purchase, while her best friend is begging her instead to travel along to “sacred sites” around the world. It's partially set in a mansion museum in North Dakota and deals with the true meaning of home.    

Di – Sounds great! We all know that home is where the chocolate is, but perhaps things are different in North Dakota. Please let us know when the book trailer is ready. And thanks again for taking the time to chat with my readers.

What do you think of the trailer, peeps? Putting this one on your TBR list? I know I am. Deb’s novel is available in both print and e-formats from the usual suspects – Amazon, Chapters and other major online book retailers. Give it a look-see.

Dreaming of Paris Yet Content in my Country Village,


Can You Live Without Happy Endings?

>> Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's nearly euphoric, that feeling of utter satisfaction when you reach a happy ending in your current read. We're not talking about all-tied-up-in-a-pretty-pink-bow endings (blech), but rather those stories that grab you, get you emotionally involved and drag you through the pits of despair in conflict after conflict, only to place you gently on the mountaintop in those last few paragraphs.


I think of Belle dancing with her Beastly (human) prince in the ballroom. Or of Darcy’s marriage proposal to Elizabeth. Basically the opposite of the despair and emotional gutter ride readers experience at the end of Shakespearean tragedies. (My apologies to purists – I’m a fan of Romeo and Juliet, but still cannot stomach King Lear.)

Authors want to please their readers, and often assume that all readers want a happy ending. I’ll admit that I’m kinda partial to them and those unhappy endings stick like a burr in my romantic mind. But I’m curious about you all.

Can you live without happy endings? Can you ever forgive an author if the hero ends up six feet under or the heroine cannot win the day and save her fill-in-the-blank? Must your romance novels always end with nuptials or your mystery novels with a cracked case?

Why We Love Happy Endings

Story arcs map the path of a novel’s characters, and serve as an instant replay for readers as those characters fail, learn, develop and move forward. We root for our favourite characters and heap dark hopes onto those characters we love to hate. So it makes sense that we want to be the victor in the end, correct in our leanings and wearing the winner’s jersey.

But we know that life isn’t like that. Pause for thought… or maybe that knowledge is precisely why we crave happy endings.

I’m dancing in circles, and obviously need to fetch a coffee and sit down.

Creating a happy ending can be complicated when your story is set in a dark time or contains dark events. Readers raged over the way Suzanne Collins ended the Hunger Games trilogy, but the theme and plot of those books left no room for marshmallows and long stem roses. What we got was the best happy ending possible, given the story.

Writers who deal in tragic settings also deal with this issue. And their work may even be considered trite or insensitive if they overshadow the tragedy by creating too happy of an ending. Shrug. How’s that one going to work out?

What say you, readers? Are happy endings ALWAYS necessary, and why or why not?

Hoping Your Day Ends Happily,


Titanic Sets Sail on Book Trailer Friday

>> Friday, August 24, 2012

It's Friday! And that means Book Trailer Day here at Thistle and That.

I have a few trailers lined up for the next few weeks, with debut authors, old favourites and a couple of juicy surprises in store.

This week we're looking at a Christian romance novel set on that fateful 1912 transAtlantic journey. Written by multi-published author Tricia Goyer, By the Light of the Silvery Moon tells the story of Titanic passenger Amelia Gladstone.

Amelia hopes that her Titanic journey will lead to a heartfelt family reunion and an all new love. But her heart is torn between two men and disaster is set to strike the "unsinkable ocean liner."

Check out the trailer...

What do you think? A little reminiscent of Jack and Rose (cheers for Kate Winslet!) but there's bound to be a few unrevealed twists. And this tragic setting never fails to draw readers in.

Tricia Goyer has a decent selection of historical Christian fiction, including a series set in the Civil War and a few novels set in WWII. Grab a cup o' java and browse her website at www.triciagoyer.com for more details.

Now Singing My Heart Will Go On,


Rescued by a Fully Clothed Prince

>> Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let’s start with a confession, shall we? 

My name is Diana and I am a massive, slobbering fan of the British monarchy. Now that my lovely and truly Scottish pal Gordon has stopped reading, we can continue.

I won’t get into Prince Harry’s recent rumpus in Vegas, except to say that, “Dude, get a clue.”

Prince William, on the other hand, is the epitome of dashing and heroic. I mean the guy is a Search and Rescue helicopter pilot. Talk about a modern day fairy tale.

Imagine Will dashing flying in on his steed helicopter to save me the damsel from laundry unspeakable horrors. (Special note--in my imagination that damsel, who totally isn’t me, can tame a wild steed, swing a broadsword over her head and soothe a colicky baby. And she can do it all before breakfast, thank you very much. The Prince is nevertheless welcome and greatly admired.)

And in startling contrast to his younger brother’s exploits, Prince William quite literally flew in to the Welsh hills on Monday to save an injured Canadian woman. Can you feel the goosebumps?

Fifty-eight-year-old Barrie, Ontario resident Darlene Burton was hiking with her husband Lawrence near Angesley when she fell and broke her leg. Serious bummer. Picture her stuck in a mountainous region, leg badly broken, husband unwilling or unable to leave her and get help. The sound of those chopper blades must have been heavenly.

And then who jumps out of the heli with that blazing smile and classy British charm? The Duke of Cambridge, fer cryin’ out loud.

Chances are he did not gently wipe her hair from her forehead before lifting her gracefully in his strong, muscled arms. But it must have been a Facebook-status-worthy moment, to say the least.

What would you tell people?

“Broke my leg hiking over Snowdon Mountain. Prince Willy came to my rescue. Who needs painkillers?”

“Was swept away by a prince today, after suffering through a hike with my husband.”

“Rescued from a hiking nightmare by a true prince. Now hubby wants to take helicopter flying lessons.”

However it went down for Will, Darlene and Lawrence, I’m sure they were all exceptionally polite and grateful. Apparently Darlene is scheduled for surgery and refuses to speak to the media. Smart girl. Cherish those private memories of your princely rescue.

That’s a whole lot classier than clogging up the web with smart phone pics of a prince’s naked rear.

Still Loving the Royals,


Historical Fiction vs Contemporary Fiction

>> Monday, August 20, 2012

Good novels are like chocolate--rich, sweet and meant to be savored and remembered long after the experience is over. But we all have our favourite genres, and what makes a good novel for me may trigger your gag reflex.

thanks for the pic - sxc/kaeska
Tastes run the gamut, but good storytelling stands tall in any genre. Do you think that quality storytelling can be done better in historical fiction? Or does contemporary fiction provide a more relevant backdrop for today's reader? How about sci fi and fantasy--it's tough to beat the world building and heroic adventures found in that genre.

I often bounce between historical fiction and contemporary fiction (maybe that's why I love time-travel stuff, it satisfies all of my personalities). Most of my bookshelves are stuffed with epic novels set in eras past, but I also have a healthy appreciation for kick-butt stories by Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler, not to mention my array of favourite YA novels mainly set in the modern age.

Stuck in the Past

What I love about historical fiction, and history in general, are the connections. It's like character development on a grand scale, where human nature or a specific culture starts with a story goal, encounters conflict and reaches an epiphany before finally touching my own heart in some way.

History is magical, while contemporary often feels so rushed to me, so immediate. Contemporary fiction is like a coffee on the road, instead of a coffee enjoyed from the garden swing where the view is expansive and refreshing. Both have their place (and both taste amazing on any given day), but I am not moved in the same way by the events of today. And the future seems far too distant; love me some dysotopia and Star Wars, but that's as far as my appreciation for futuristic goes.

Connections - 70's Style

Have you ever watched the BBC documentary series entitled "Connections?" Hosted by a scientist historian (which is like, my dream guy) named James Burke, these programs follow a meandering, often random path through history, mapping connections up to the present-day (well, what was the present day in the 1970's). Fascinating and fun, this series shows how my imagination chews over a good historical novel.

I tend apply the novel's themes to our culture today, but end up fascinated by the development. Maybe that's why I'm not into modern politics. I'm too busy analyzing how the politics of the past have transformed our modern culture. Yeah, you can say it. I'm a total dork.

How about you, dear readers? Historical fiction or contemporary fiction? Or neither? What toots your horn and why?

Loving a Good Long Look at the Past,

Speaking of fantastic storytelling, Hunger Games came out on DVD this weekend. And my pal Sherry Castlelluccio is hosting a chapter-by-chapter blog discussion of the book. Brilliant idea! Come and join in the fun at Written In Ink. Tell her Di sent you and she might share her chocolate.


Book Trailers at a Blog Near You

>> Friday, August 17, 2012

I love movie trailers. I love them so much that I actually insist on being EARLY for a movie (gasp!) so that I can comfortably watch Every. Single. Trailer. Honestly, my movie-going mottos are:

  • Leaving your garbage in the theatre is like littering. Don't do it.
  • Skittles at a movie counts as two of your daily fruit servings. 
  • No trailer gets left behind.

Imagine my delight to discover that book trailers can be just as entertaining, not to mention being accessible at any time of the day or night via Youtube.

Perhaps this is a result of excess coffee on a Friday, or the fault of my prolific friend Kathy (poke, poke), but I am hereby designating Friday as the official TBTD (or Thistle Book Trailer Day).

Since I'm all into inspirational historical romance, we'll start off with a book from my TBD list. Released earlier this year from novelist Jamie Carie, the Guardian Duke is a Regency romance with a jolt of adventure, high stakes hunting and a romantic seed planted and nurtured through handwritten letters. Special note, they used those super cool feather pens and wax seals. (I know, let's sigh together. Sigh.)

Without further ado, here's the book trailer for the Guardian Duke.

What say you, readers? Does it look good enough to put on your TBD list?

Stuck on Youtube for the Next Two Hours,


A Peek Into the World of my WIP

>> Tuesday, August 14, 2012

For as long as I can remember the serene beauty of Scotland has fueled my romantic imagination. It only makes sense that my current WIP, a historical Christian romance, take place in Sutherland, a northern county of the UK.

A current pic of Strathnaver

Want a look inside the world that inspired the story of Maisie and Will - a story of love strong enough to shatter barriers and deep enough to overcome betrayal?

Grab a snack (preferably something chocolate) and come along for a quick tour.

Maisie's home is near Strathnaver in Sutherland, a desolate place today. This land was well populated before the infamous Highland Clearances, dotted with hard working crofters and their families. Clan MacKay roots grew deep in Strathnaver, although the Countess of Sutherland eventually purchased the area and absorbed it into her larger, surrounding estate.

Ruins at Rosal, near Maisie's village
Ruins mark the places where homes were burned and families turned out, a tragic portion of Scottish history not easily forgotten.

Dunrobin Castle, near Golspie

Will, the (fictional) second son of the Countess of Sutherland, split his time between Edinburgh and Dunrobin Castle, located near Golspie in Sutherland. It's a fairy tale castle, ideal for a family that lived in a fairy tale world - pristine, yet detached.

You can visit the actual Dunrobin Castle today and see the gardens Will would have walked in. Or stop at the Duke of Sutherland's (Will's fictional father) statue near Golspie.

statue of the Duke of Sutherland
The Strathnaver walk currently guides adventurous hikers from the north shores of Sutherland down along the River Naver. This area remains sparsely populated, having never recovered from the tragedies of the Highland Clearances.

Now I'm off to work on Maisie and Will's story, weaving their love from the ashes of ambition and injustice.

Ever Dreaming of the Highlands,


My Top Ten Favourite Scottish Novels

>> Friday, August 10, 2012

My obsession with all things Scotland is no secret. Come by my house sometime to view aged maps, recent snapshots, pocketed rocks and other miscellanea from that bonny nation.

After we’ve snacked on shortbread and sipped our tea (shhhh, please don’t reveal that I’m actually drinking coffee – it spoils the atmosphere), it’s time to peruse the bookshelves.

Would you like a recommendation? How about something set in, centered on or peppered with Scotland?

Here are my top ten lovelies about the home-of-my-heart:

Um, you can't really look inside
Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon – you could call this novel “the one that started it all.” Although I did have a growing interest in Scottish history, this story of time travelling, sharp-witted Claire Beauchamp and the passionate Jamie Fraser sealed the deal. Fierce battles, fiery tempers, kilted men and action on every page makes this series a must-read. My personal fav was number two – Dragonfly in Amber – but all of them are fantastic.

Here Burns My Candle series by Liz Curtis Higgs – a gripping historical romance set in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion (a time period also featured in Outlander), this first of two books won my heart from page one. Higgs creates characters with an unmatched grace, and weaves this semi-modern retelling of the biblical account of Ruth with gentleness. Elizabeth Kerr was an inspiration. Both books weave a wonderful Christian romance, even for readers who aren’t gaga over Scotland (puh-lease, people).

Thorn in My Heart series by Liz Curtis Higgs – another superb series by Higgs, set in Galloway (southwestern part of Scotland). This three-book series takes on the story of Jacob, with a nasty brother and two wives (who happen to be sisters) thrown into the mix. Honestly, I had little faith that Higgs could pull this story off in a believable way. But she proved me dead wrong and went so deeply into the biblical account I found myself referencing Genesis as I read through the novels.

The Forest Laird by Jack Whyte – a unique account of William Wallace, by one of my all-time favourite historical authors (Whyte is a native Scot, now living in Canada!) This novel is not one of Whyte’s best (please read his A Dream of Eagles series – an Arthurian gem), but delivers an intriguing twist on this familiar hero. It’s the first in a series of three novels covering three of Scotland’s heroes – Wallace, the Bruce and Andrew Murray.

Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George – one of the many tragic figures in Scotland’s bloody history, Mary Stewart faced incredible odds… and lost. This account by a brilliant novelist (I could do an entire list on George) looks deep into Mary’s choices and sheds light on her desperation, Stewart pride and inevitable failure. Gripping.

Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson – a tissue-worthy account of the Glencoe Massacre, this short novel centers on a romance between Dair MacDonald and Cat Campbell. It’s a Scottish version of Romeo and Juliet, with a little less flowery passages and a lot more men in kilts.

The Wallace by Nigel Tranter – another historical account of William Wallace, written by one of the most famous historical novelists in the UK. Tranter remains hard to beat, but be warned – his novels take commitment. You may be overwhelmed with Tranter’s masculine, clipped style, but once it gets rolling, this story is a treasure. I loved the movie Braveheart (who doesn’t?), but this novel gave me a better view of Wallace and his path to fame.

A Flame to the Fire by Nigel Tranter – this Tranter tome centers on the slightly obscure story of James IV and his mistress Janet Kennedy. It’s fierce and full of heartbreaking romance, weaving together Scottish history and a simple story of love.

Rhanna series by Christine Marion Fraser – it’s been years since I read these touching stories, but I still long to visit the Hebrides. Fraser fills her romances with quirky characters, authentic dialogue (you’ll learn a few phrases that simply roll off the tongue) and emotional suspense. Maybe it’s time to have a read-through again.

SilverFin by Charlie Higson – it may be strange to see a YA action novel on this list, but you know me – strange doesn’t begin to describe it. I tore through the entire Young Bond series last summer, but this first novel in the bunch wins top honours. Set in Scotland, it includes crazy science experiments, Bond’s backstory and a redhead named Red for good measure. If you have teen boys (or just love spy stories), get this one. The Scottish aspect is purely a bonus.

That’s it people. Get thee to the local library or bookshop and head to Scotland in your imagination.

Anybody else have recommendations?

Och, Aye and Dinna Fash,


Dealing With 50 Shades of Grey Areas When Writing Christian Romance

>> Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Romance novels come in all shapes and sizes, spanning a broad range from historical to contemporary, futuristic and sci fi. Many people think of Fabio, hunky pirates and fair maidens in distress when the words "romance novel" are thrown into a conversation. But rest assured, my dear readers, romance novels go far beyond the stereotypes (as do most worthwhile things).

One of the latest crazes in the romantic fiction department is 50 Shades of Grey, an erotic series by EL James. This type of novel encapsulates one corner of the romance section in your local book store, but misses the mark for many readers (yanno, the ones looking for something they can read without breaking into sweat).

Christian fiction along the vein of Love Comes Softly and the ultra popular Amish genre hold fast in the opposite corner. And to be honest, those novels miss the mark for many other readers (like those who need a little hot sauce at the dinner table).

So how does a writer of Christian romance hit a target hovering somewhere between these two? How can we navigate those "Grey" areas and create meaningful fiction that the market will read?

Know Your Reader

It's a secret that we writers hear over and over. Borrow a page from Apple's business strategy - know what your reader wants and deliver it in a slick package, all before they even recognize the desire to have it.

Does your reader want a squeaky clean romance that brings the hero & heroine to the altar for their first kiss? Or does your reader need a closer glimpse into the sexual tension and desires of the main characters?

A good rule of thumb is to be selective based on your characters, and make sure that any physical affection is instrumental for character development. I'm not here to debate about what constitutes "Christian romance," only exploring how authors create worthwhile romance that deals realistically with sex. The publishing industry is shifting, and although publishers continue to define the genres, authors are pushing the envelope and morphing reader expectations in surprising directions.

Classical romance, like say Jane Austen and Shakespeare, ride the line between sweaty and squeaky very well. Readers can sense the tension and feel the thrill of romance - both physical and emotional - but nothing explicit hits the pages, allowing readers of any taste to partake and enjoy. Maybe that's why historical romance continues to sell. Can this style of exposure be easily translated into contemporary fiction?

Your Own Comfort Levels

But how about the author? Don't we have a say in this? And where does conviction come into play?

It's safe to assume that writers need to feel comfortable with what they are writing, and how far they are taking characters down the romance pathway. Our own convictions about sexual purity and our own areas of temptation definitely come into the mix. Writers need to remember that their name is on the book cover, and that personal stamp creates a responsibility that each writer must handle in their own way.

As a reader and a writer, I get a little weary of grey areas. Let me know what to expect and most times I can make a discerning choice. I also think that story trumps all. Give me a pair of fantastic characters thrown into a harrowing situation and MAKE ME CARE ABOUT THEM. Compel me to continue turning the pages until my coffee grows cold.

I'd rather read about a naked soul than a naked body. And I'd rather create that kind of connection with my reader, truly reach their heart and leave a mark, rather than just make them blush a little.

What do you think about romance and blushing in Christian romance?

Still in Love With Stories,


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