Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hidden Literary Gems Part 1: How A Search for Peter Rabbit Led to Dunkeld and Birnam in Scotland

Why are we smiling?

Because on our trip to Europe earlier this summer, we discovered the most delightful little treasures, two small Scottish towns with big literary connections, tucked along the banks of the beautiful Tay River.

The best part of this discovery is that we made it quite by accident. We were about an hour our of Edinburgh, driving north to Loch Ness, when I saw a roadside sign that said something about a Beatrix Potter exhibit. The sign went by so fast that I wasn’t even sure if it was at the next exit, but I talked my family into making the detour, just in case.

We pulled off the main road but saw no other signage for the exhibit, so we just kept going straight until we found ourselves crossing a gorgeous river and entering the picturesque little Scottish town of Dunkeld.

In this era of smartphones and GPS, we so rarely let ourselves get lost anymore, but on this trip we were essentially phoneless, so we did things the old fashioned way. After exploring the area briefly by car, we all agreed that this beautiful place deserved a closer look on foot, whether the exhibit we’d been seeking was here or not.

The Cathedral on the Riverbank

First stop was a rack of maps and brochures and other information right there next to the parking area. Taking a look, we learned some history of the town, including the fact that Dunkeld emerged as a center of Christianity in the 7th century and by the 9th century was the hub of the Celtic Church. In 1318, construction began on the magnificent Dunkeld Cathedral, and though it was partially destroyed in the reformation in 1560, it still stands today in a mix of ruins, which are preserved as an Ancient Monument of Historic Scotland, and a finished portion, which is used as a regular house of worship.

The public is welcome to wander the grounds, so we gave it a shot, heading along a wooded path until we emerged into a more open area and saw ahead a massive, gorgeous cathedral that looked like something out of a storybook. The grounds were just as beautiful, grassy and well maintained, sloping gently to the river. Truly, we could’ve spent a whole day there, just exploring the ruins, relishing the view of the water and the nearby Bridge at Dunkeld, and taking turns posing for pictures.

I won’t force you to look at all my vacation photos, haha, but here’s a quick slideshow of a few highlights from this particular pit stop…

Though we saw plenty of rabbits on the grounds of the cathedral, we had yet to track down the Beatrix Potter exhibit. We decided to ask about it in town, but on the way we learned that she wasn’t the only literary connection to this area.

The Surprising Author of Auld Lang Syne 

As we strolled back into town, we came across an adorable little house, bearing this sign on the fence out front.

Known both for the strength of his compositions and his gifts as a performer, Neil Gow was the most famous Scottish fiddler of the 18th century. (You can hear one of his most popular songs at this link.) Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. (You can read all of his works at this link.)

So what brought these two men together in Dunkeld? As it turns out, Robert Burns wasn’t just a poet but also a prolific songwriter. According to the Burns Encyclopedia, Neil Gow was “the best known of the Scots fiddle composers, from whose dance tunes Burns drew many of the airs for his songs.” 

I knew that Robert Burns had written A Red Red Rose, which includes these familiar lines:

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

He also coined the phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men” in his poem To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785). What I didn’t know, however, was that Robert Burns also wrote the song Auld Lang Syne. Go figure!

Even Shakespeare was Here

Further in town, we took a break, stopping for coffee and treats in a local shop.

While there, we learned of yet another literary tie-in to this lovely region. Dunkeld and Birnam are situated in an area of Scotland known as Perthshire Big Tree Country, which is famous for its beauty—and its mention in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

In the play, the character of Macbeth is nervous about what the future holds, and so he seeks a prophecy from three witches. They tell him not to worry, that he won’t be vanquished until the forest storms his castle:

Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him. (Act 4, Scene 1, p. 60)

Macbeth greets this news with tremendous relief, since he knows that a forest can’t move:

That will never be.
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements, good! (Act 4, Scene 1, p. 60)

Unfortunately for Macbeth, the witches’ prophecy comes true when his enemy sneaks up on him by hiding in the forest, obscured by limbs and leaves. When the attack finally comes, it is as if the trees themselves are storming the castle.

Apparently, Shakespeare found inspiration for the above during a visit to the area of Dunkeld and Birnam in 1599. He went there with a troupe of comedians who’d been sent to the region by Elizabeth I, in response to a request by King James VI for entertainers. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth seven years later, in 1606, and I have a feeling the idea of using such a strikingly beautiful location in one of his stories had been rolling around in his mind the whole time. I'm no Shakespeare, but that's certainly how my brain works!

As we strolled the lovely streets and shops of the town, I couldn’t help but think that I was walking where the great Shakespeare himself may once have trod. 

From Bard to Bunnies

Eventually, we asked a shopkeeper about “the Beatrix Potter thing” I’d seen on a road sign, and she directed us to the neighboring town of Birnam, just across the river. So back over the bridge we went, and soon we were winding along a charming country road, on our way at last to the exhibit we’d been searching for all along.

Come back next week to learn what we found and to see some more fun photos, including a close encounter with Peter Rabbit himself.

Do you ever miss the old days and how finding your way without the aid of GPS sometimes led to delightful discoveries? What fun place have you happened upon purely by accident?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Civil War "Housewife"

Ever heard of a “soldier’s housewife"? According to this display, which I happened upon in a museum while researching My Daughter's Legacy, that was the term for a sewing kit carried by soldiers during the Civil War. Here’s one such kit:

And here’s the description provided by the museum:

I don't think this item made it into the final version of the book, but I still thought it was interesting enough to share here. I'm always fascinated by the little things I learn while researching, whether I'm able to work them into my story or not!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reader’s Roundup of Mindy’s Latest Links

Lately it seems like my co-author Leslie Gould and I have been all over the Internet, mostly talking about My Daughter's Legacy but also dishing about our writing lives, our hobbies, our families, and more. Beyond that, we’ve shared photos of our TBR piles and our current works in progress, offered up interviews with two of our characters, and shared all sorts of behind-the-scenes info on our blogs.

It makes for some fun reading, and though I’ve posted links on my Facebook page to many of these as they’ve popped up, I thought it might be helpful to pull together a list of the most recent ones here for a handy recap…

Fun Photos

What’s on our bedside tables? Take a look at the books Leslie and I each have on our to-be-read piles

Excuse the messy desk as you check out what Leslie and I are working on now.

Author Spotlight

Leslie and I go deep into the collaborative process for A Christian Writer's World.

Character Interviews

Read the exclusive interview with Therese Jennings of My Daughter's Legacy fame.

Behind the Scenes with the Authors

Explore the Civil War Museum in New Orleans with me.

Read all about Leslie's time travel.

Almost everything in my novels is intentional—including the types of cars they drive. Discover how I choose the perfect car.

Be as inspired as I was by this incredible kneeling rail.

See if you and Leslie share some of the same favorite historical sites.

And the Verdict is In

As long as I’m sharing, here are a few reviews you may want to check out as well. Be sure to poke around on the various sites while you’re there, because they offer great places to learn about all sorts of other new books too:

I hope you enjoyed this roundup. Thanks for clicking!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 2017 Christian Fiction Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


Imperfect Lies by Elizabeth Noyes -- When another woman emerges from the past to claim Mallory Cameron's happily ever after, she cuts her losses and sets out to find a headline-worthy story to launch her journalism career. She embarks on a whirlwind journey that takes her across the United States, to the blue-green waters of the Caribbean, on to sunny Mexico, and deep into the dangerous parts of Africa where terror reigns. James Evers turned his back on a life of power and privilege to carve a place in the world for himself. Now that he's finally discovered his niche as a small-town sheriff and found the woman he wants in his future, a past indiscretion struts in on high heels and sends his newfound love fleeing headlong into peril. His mission: neutralize old enemies, defuse new threats, resolve past mistakes, settle family disputes, and—most importantly—find and rescue his woman from terrorists before the unthinkable happens. (Action/Adventure from Write Integrity Press)

Contemporary Romance:

The Bachelor's Unexpected Family by Lisa Carter -- Young widow Kristina Montgomery moves to Kiptohanock, Virginia, hoping it will give her and her teenage son, Gray, a fresh start. She longs for the peace and quiet only a small town can provide. But her plans are thwarted by her new neighbor, Canyon Collier, a former Coast Guard pilot and a crop duster. Gray is instantly drawn to the pilot and his teenage niece, Jade—and Kristina's not far behind. She and Canyon are soon bonding over parenting their charges and their spark becomes undeniable. Could it be that the spirited pilot is just what Kristina needs to teach her heart to soar again? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Gift of the Magpie by Zoe M. McCarthy -- Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia, has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, Amanda’s heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high-school Valentine’s Day date. Camden may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong. (Contemporary Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Mother For Leah by Rachel L. Miller --It’s been ten years since Leah Fisher’s mother died in a buggy accident. But when Leah’s father shows interest in Naomi Yoder, Leah isn’t ready for a new mother. Will Leah be able to let go of her own ideas and realize that God truly does know best for her or will she allow love to slip through her fingers, destroying Samuel Fisher and Naomi Yoder's happiness at the same time? (Contemporary from S & G Publishing)

General Contemporary:

Freedom's Ring by Heidi Chiavaroli -- An antique ring reunites a Boston Marathon bombing survivor with the man who saved her. Together they unearth the two-hundred-year- old history of a woman who suffered tremendous loss in the Boston Massacre, a woman torn between the love of two men – one a patriot, one a Redcoat. (General Contemporary from Tyndale House)

Fresh Faith by Elise Phillips -- Joy Abbott had been trying to start her life over for years -- and failing. Then a letter summoned her to Texas and everything changed. (General Contemporary from Desert Breeze Publishing)


Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson -- In the spring of 1958, Jenny Winter embarks on a two-month adventure to a quaint village in England’s magical Lake District. With a new camera and an eye for capturing the beauty others miss, she can’t wait to explore the heathery fells and mystical waters. Adrian Kemp, a handsome and enigmatic local, makes the sightseeing even more beguiling. When Adrian shows Jenny his late father’s abandoned dream, a deserted island amusement park, she glimpses a kindred spirit in this reckless, haunted young man. Yet as she opens her heart to Adrian, the two stumble into a mystery leading back a generation to an unforgettable romance and an unsolved murder. As long-held secrets come to light, it’s left to Jenny and Adrian to put the past to rest and restore a lost dream. (Historical from Waterfall Press)

Titus: The Aristocrat by Katheryn Maddox Haddad -- Titus intends to become a famous lawyer in the Roman Empire. Instead, he is sent by Paul to arbitrate between arch enemies in wild Corinth, wilder Crete, and wildest Dalmatia. In each place he suffers. But, long before that, he suffers from guilt over the death of his mother when he was eleven years old. How does Titus survive it all? (Historical from Northern Lights Publishing House)

Historical Romance:

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander -- With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society's expectations must work together to achieve their dreams - provided the truth doesn't tear them apart first. (Historical Romance from Zondervan)

The Second Chance Brides Collection by Lauralee Bliss, Angela Breidenbach, Ramona K. Cecil, Pamela Griffin, Grace Hitchcock, Pam Hillman, Laura V. Hilton, Tiffany Amber Stockton, and Liz Tolsma -- Meet nine women who each believe their chance for lifelong love has passed them by. From the girls who lost their beaus to war, to the wallflowers overshadowed by others, and the widows deeply hurt by their loss, the desire to love and be loved spans American history from 1777 to 1944. Experience the sweet pull of romance on each life and the blossom of faith that leads them to brighter futures. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman -- Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O’Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he’s sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he’ll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady. The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella’s shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured. Even with Connor’s help, Isabella fears she’ll lose her family’s plantation. Despite her growing feelings for the handsome Irish carpenter, she seriously considers accepting her wealthy and influential neighbor’s proposal of marriage. Soon, though, Connor realizes someone is out to eliminate the Bartholomew family. Can he set aside his own feelings to keep Isabella safe? (Historical Romance from Tyndale House)

Romantic Suspense:

Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason -- When a photo leads investigators in West Ireland to open a twenty-five-year-old cold case, Elite Guardians bodyguard Haley Callaghan's life is suddenly in danger. Haley knows how to take care of herself; after all, she's made a career out of taking care of others. But after she has an uncomfortably close call, Detective Steven Rothwell takes it upon himself to stay with her--and the young client she has taken under her wing. A protector at heart, he's not about to let Haley fight this battle alone. In a sweeping plot that takes them into long-buried memories--and the depths of the heart--Haley and Steven will have to solve the mystery of Haley's past while dodging bullets, bombs, and bad guys who just won't quit. (Romantic Suspense from Revell [Baker])

Plain Retribution by Dana R. Lynn -- Ten years ago while on rumspringa, Rebecca Miller and her friends were kidnapped and held captive…and now, living in the English world, she's nearly abducted again. One by one her friends who once helped send their abductor to jail are targeted, and she is next…unless police officer Miles Olsen can stop a killer. Deaf since birth, the only person on the force that Rebecca can communicate with is Miles, and he needs this case to redeem himself of past mistakes. When the relentless killer tracks them deep into the heart of Amish country, protecting Rebecca must be Miles's sole focus. Because a mistake this time will cost something worth more to him than his job—the woman he's falling for. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Cold Blooded by Anne Patrick -- Detective Gwen Jamison has the highest closure rate in her division, but a string of armed robberies is about to take over her life. Not only will her job be on the line, but the troubling case also wreaks havoc on her personal life. Lieutenant Ian McKean knew he would have his hands full when he took over leadership of the detectives unit. He wasn't prepared for the headstrong Detective Jamison, though, who quickly becomes a thorn in his side. If they can stop butting heads long enough they might realize they are more alike than either imagined. (Romantic Suspense from Anne Patrick)