Friday, November 30, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Kiersti Plog - England

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight

PennerKiersti Plog of California
Location: Oxford, England

Me and the Narnia lamppost
Springtime in Narnia? That’s what I thought when I saw this lamppost, sprouting in a field of blooming daffodils and crocuses on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. I couldn’t resist taking a picture!

This outing to Henry VIII’s impressive stomping grounds came during a semester I spent studying in Oxford, England my junior year of college. It didn’t prove one of my favorite field trips overall—that six-wived king’s overbearing personality seemed rather to pervade the massive brick walls and ornate interior of the palace, situated not far from London. But I loved the spring-flowered grounds.

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford
It was something I’d scarcely dreamed of until it happened, spending a term studying in the city of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, where John Wesley preached and Thomas Cranmer lost his life at the stake during the Reformation. But Oxford, and the England that nestles it, burrowed deep into my heart during those four months. Sometimes I still miss passing the ancient golden-stoned buildings to study at the Bodleian Library, worshipping in stonewalled churches where believers in Christ have gathered for hundreds of years, shopping at little corner stores or the farmer’s market in Gloucester Green square—and walking everywhere. In England I realized our legs can truly be a very useful form of transportation!

“The City of Dreaming Spires,” Oxford is lovingly called—you can see why in this photo (above left) taken from the medieval tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. I’m so grateful God gave me the gift of living there for a little while.

Have you studied abroad like Kiersti did? Did you have a brush with literature while in England? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.

A lover of story and His-story, Kiersti Plog writes, tutors, and enjoys her family in southern California. She is a member of ACFW and currently working on her second historical novel, centered around a Navajo mission boarding school in the early 1900s.

You can find her blogging at “Pioneer Diaries,”


Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Favorite Things

I'm just going to throw out a guess that if someone has not watched Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical phenomenon, The Sound of Music, (which rose Julie Andrews to an even greater Hollywood status) then they have at least heard of it. This week since we started out on Monday featuring children's things I thought I would write about one of my favorite childhood movies, "The Sound of Music." In particular, I'm drawing from one of the film's most memorable songs, "My Favorite Things."

Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria (as in "The Sound of Music")

A brief background of the motion picture includes the story of a young woman named Maria who lives in a convent in Austria and finds she is not suited for the quiet and reserved life of a nun.

Mother Superior, the head of the convent, understands and suggests she become a governess for a wealthy retired naval officer who is widowed with seven children. She does and at first the children play tricks on her as they did to get rid of their other governesses, but Maria is tough and clever.

Through her free spirit and genuine kindness, they eventually adore her as she reawakens music and song in their home. During a thunderstorm, Maria cheers the children up by singing of her favorite things such as raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, snowflakes and apple streudels, to name a few.

Wax figures in a Salzburg souvenir shop
Later on in the storyline, Maria has fallen in love with their father, the Captain, who is pretty handsome, secretly fun-loving and kind under his hard military exterior but yet regrettably engaged.

The Captain realizes that he loves Maria too after she resigns as governess due to confusion over her feelings for him. He pursues her at the convent and they are married, but the happy ending does not arrive because Germany’s Third Reich is now expanding to take over Austria. They demand that the Captain join their military campaign.

He refuses and the family of nine must now flee their beloved country to hide out in Switzerland. On their way out of Salzburg, they are apprehended by Nazi officers, but they undermine them during an impromptu singing competition, are hidden by the nuns at the convent and barely escape to the hills alive with “the sound of music.”

The song, “My Favorite Things,” shows one of many things about life. It is the simple things that can mean the most to you. Optimism is needed in daily life whether it is obtained through spending time with family or friends or doing or thinking of one of your favorite things.

Me on the Mirabell Garden steps that the Von Trapp children hopped down during "Do Re Mi"
My version of my favorite things includes:

Mexican hammocks (I slept in one for a week one time), pens & notebooks (I’m a writer…enough said), my passport (the more stamps, the better), photographs (memories in print), my Bible (because God’s Word gives important instruction for my life), Skittles (the blue or orange packs only) and green Interstate signs (always a reminder of road trips).
I also like bluegrass & folk music (I find it relaxing), my grandmother’s cooking (Chicken & Dumplings, rice and gravy, homemade pecan pie...hungry yet?), riding in a boat or party barge on a lake (I reminds me of my hometown), spending time with family and friends and scarves of all kinds (I have about every color).
More of my favorite things include: hot fruit tea (like raspberry tea from the Jane Austen tea room in Bath, England) as well Middle Eastern sage tea served in little ornate glass cups (drank it all the time in Jordan), maps and globes (If you've visited my office, you know it.), cats (such vibrant personalities), desserts (ice cream, cheesecake and confetti cake.) and movies and music of all kinds (I have eclectic taste).

Having new experiences is another favorite of mine. I also like snapdragons and peach roses, peanut butter on pancakes (and really next time I'm in New Orleans I must try the bacon peanut butter hamburger from Yo-Mama's Bar & Grill), singing in my car, hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows. Reading, writing and traveling are a given.
I know there are still a lot of other things that I like and I am sure, Reader, there are things we have in common and don't. I encourage you to do things you love when you can whether it is eating a scoop of your favorite ice cream, calling your best friend or singing along in your car to a song on the radio.

Just remember when the dog bites (or the bills pile up), when the bee stings (you, spouse or child gets sick) and when you’re feeling sad (from financial or physical stress, etc)…simply remember your favorite things and then you won't feel so bad.

What are some of your favorite things? What do you like to do to destress and remember the simple things of life? I feel as a writer I must take time to just observe life around me. Be observant and you never know what story is bound to pop up.

Here's proof of how cheesy I am. (Ha!) I made this video for my best friend, Sarah. We always sang and danced along with "The Sound of Music" when we were kids. Who am I kidding? We still sing them. :)


Friday, November 23, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Natalie Walters - Germany

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Penner's Spotlight

Penner: Natalie Walters of New Mexico
(currently lives in Cairo, Egypt)

Location: Schwangau, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle

A lifelong fan of anything Disney, it came as no surprise to my family when I told them I had booked a tour to see Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle is said to be the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland and is perched high upon a hillside with breathtaking views of Bavaria.
Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle – Fairy tale castle in the snow
We boarded a bus full of tourists grateful they weren’t navigating the winding roads from Garmisch and two hours later we pulled up to a small village overrun with holiday travelers. We had three options for making our way up to the castle—horse and carriage, bus, or walking. My active family of five chose to enjoy the scenery and get some exercise and so we walked.

“Hurray, I made it!” pose at the castle’s main entrance after their climb
The fresh air pierced our lungs and our breath came out in quick wisps of white as we walked up the paved but very steep two-mile journey. I ignored any vain attempts by my children to hop on the carriages as they passed us and instead told them to enjoy the spectacular view of royalty.

Evergreens with fresh snow heavy on their limbs stood sentry and above our labored breathing you could hear the babbling brook cascading down the mountain as we made our way to the castle. We stopped and took pictures at any and all lookout points along the way and promised the kids a warm apple strudel as a sweet reward for their journey. My journey was rewarded when we finally made our way to the front steps of the castle.

Towering white limestone, marble and sandstone created a refuge for a reclusive King Ludwig II, but what I saw was a beautiful sanctuary that left me in awe. It’s no wonder why Walt Disney was inspired, my trip to the castle was a dream come true.

Have or do you live overseas? Have you taken in the sights of Germany before? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.

Natalie Walters is married to a wonderful husband and blessed with three rambunctious children. They are a dedicated military family that has moved all over the country and now the world as they are currently stationed in Cairo, Egypt.

She says her life is full of surprises and adventures that give her an abundance of ideas for characters and stories. Her desire is to use her God-given talent to take those ideas and use them to write stories that are relatable, inspiring, and entertaining.

For more information about Natalie, her travels and her life in a military family, check out her blog,

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Year since Deutschland

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Just under a year ago today, this writer returned home after a wonderful 12-day trip to Germany and Austria. It was an unforgettable whirlwind of culture, language, history and fun and my third visit to Europe.

I’m not a last-minute type of person, so booking my plane ticket the month before I left was not something I’m used to. The idea for the trip began when some interesting visitors came to where I live in Jena, Louisiana. They were from Jena, Germany. 
On top of Salzburg Castle in Austria
Last September, I met these visitors, whom extended an invitation for me to visit Jena, Germany whenever I could. I had no idea it would be sooner than later…for I boarded my flight on November 17, 2011.

I began my journey by flying to Munich. I spent the majority of my time there and then headed north to pay my own visit to Jena, Germany. In all, I was able to spend time in Munich, Berlin, Dachau, Nuremberg, Füssen, Schwangau, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm and Salzburg, Austria. It was a full itinerary, but the pace wasn’t bad and I saw nearly everything I had planned to see. In fact, several Germany natives told me that I’ve seen more of their country then they have.

I was in Germany, not only to see the country though, but to visit a friend from college in Munich and my new friends in Jena. I was very lucky to have native guides for the whole trip, which made it extra memorable. The end of November may not seem like the ideal time to visit Europe due to the bare trees and beginnings of a usual wet and cold winter, but it was a perfect time for me. One reason being the weather was unusually warm—mostly sunny with no rain in sight.

The world famous Nuremberg Christmas market
The other reason is an amazing seasonal experience: the opening of the Christmas markets. Just about every city, town and village has one (large cities have dozens). Christmas markets, which are usually held in a prominent outdoor area, open the last week of November and run through Christmas. Locals and tourists alike bundle up and go to buy handmade gifts such as hand-carved wooden toys, glass ornaments and small lit-up ceramic houses and enjoy the atmosphere while sampling a large array of sweets, roasted nuts and a steaming cup of Glühwein to stay warm.  

Stefanie and I wearing dirndls at the Kathrein Dance
I was able to visit Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt on opening day, which is the most famous one in Germany. I tried the city’s famous bratwurst that are small enough to fit through a Medieval keyhole—according to old custom—as well as popular Lebkuchen (gingerbread). It’s made fresh at the Handwerkerhof, a Medieval-style marketplace inside the city’s walls completed in 1452.

There were so many memorable experiences from my trip such as my visit to Dachau’s former concentration camp amid heavy fog and icy cold conditions that sent a tingle down your spine, seeing the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein, or being the only non-German waltzing at the Katherine dance and wearing a traditional women’s dress called a dirndl. (See a short video of the Kathrein dance at the bottom of this post.) 

Since we have just celebrated Thanksgiving though, the memory that comes to mind is spending Thanksgiving crammed into a Jena apartment with two-dozen people of varying nationalities – many Germans, four Americans and two Canadians. It has to be the closest I will ever be to experiencing what the first Thanksgiving was like: a blending of cultures and traditions.

Thanksgiving in Jena
I was blessed when asked to pray before the meal. I never had to tell the couple that I’m a Christian. They apparently knew from what I said about my life, God and perhaps they just saw how I live my life. That makes my heart glad because I want to live my life in such a way that others will see Christ in me.

It was so strange going to Jena, especially when my train arrived and I saw the signs. I was in Jena, but thousands of miles from home. Jena is a university city located in central Germany with a population of over 100,000 people and surrounded by mountains. It’s lovely and I enjoyed my visit there so much.

Recently, I had a pleasant surprise when two more visitors from Jena, Germany found their way to our town. I was notified and got to spend a few minutes with Alex and Norman at town hall to answer their questions and tell them a little bit about my journey to their Jena.

Alex and Norman - Visitors from Jena, Germany to Jena, La.
I never thought I’d feel such a connection to Germany, but seeing these two visitors felt like a bit of a homecoming. Sure, it could just be a reminder of my wonderful trip, but I believe it goes further than that with a connection between the two Jenas and me. I would have not traveled to Germany without meeting those Jena visitors and received their invitation and I would have missed the blessing to go there and the inspiration to write my debut novel that came out of the trip. 
My mementos from Deutschland
When I think of Germany, one word comes to mind: “Gemütlichkeit.” The word represents a sense of belonging and home. That’s the way I feel about Germany and I hope to return someday soon.

Is there some place you have been where you feel a strong connection? What place/s have you been to that inspired your writing?

A video from the traditional Kathrein dance I attended in Munich.
Don't get dizzy. :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Penning Board 2012-4

The Penning Board Items of the Week

Vlog: Happy Travels! Thanks for watching! Also Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Sneak Peek for the Week: Wednesday and Friday posts involve Germany! woohoo! :)

Movie: “Robin Hood” (2010) with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett
I have always been intrigued by the legend of Robin Hood. I'm a big fan of the movies too from this latest film to Kevin Costner and Sean Connery to the Disney and Cary Elwes' Men in Tights versions. That's why I'm planning to go to Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, England next year! :) I can't wait!
Interesting News: Tourists swim in Venice square as heavy rain pounds Italy

Swimming attractions in about the square? Tourists had an odd extra sight-seeing activity recently when the current heavy rains that have descended upon Italy left Venice flooding. Tourists were seen swimming in the middle of a Venice square in several feet of water. There have been several deaths relating to the flood waters. See pictures at the link below.

Book: "The Regal Rules for Girls" by Jerramy Fine

This book caught my eye at the library and I had to pick it up. I had heard of the author and the subject was intriguing - how to act as a British royal...when you're not, well royal. lol. It was an interesting read and now has a prominent spot as a research tool for a future novel I'm working on involving young British royalty in the 21st century. It's a fascinating book filled with nearly everything you need to know to either blend in with royals or snag one for a date.

Bible Verse: “In the same way, let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

Quote: “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Song: “Someone Like You” by Shawn Colvin

So I'm pretty sure this is my favorite travel-related song ever! Just listen to the words. What do you think? Ever since I heard this song years ago, it has had a special place in my heart. It's quite romantic and I must say I will definitely play it at my wedding.
Listen to it here. (The fan-made video is sweet and a bit cheesy...but just listen to the song.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Max Elliot Anderson - Papua New Guinea

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight

Penner: Max Elliot Anderson of Illinois

Location: Hauna Village, Papua New Guinea

These pictures come from the dramatic feature film, “Second Step.” I was shooting this scene next to a dugout canoe in Hauna Village, Papua New Guinea. Hauna Village is located on the Sepik River, about 110 miles up river from the town of Ambunti.

Parents in this village wait for a full year before naming a new baby because so many don’t live that long. Sickness can take many of them due to dirty water, insect bites, parasites, and crocodiles. It isn’t uncommon for a crocodile to pull a man or woman from a canoe and kill them under the water. And fruit bats flying through the air look as big as 747's; of course they aren’t really that large.
Soon after we arrived, torrential rains fell, swelling the river far over its banks. No wonder the people live in houses high up on stilts.
We slept in tents just a few feet away from dense jungle. Our advance people told us that headhunters still lived only 50 miles farther up river.
Some members of our crew contracted malaria, and I brought home with a large ulcer on one ankle. My doctor said it probably came from something in those floodwaters. Powerful antibiotics finally cleared that up.

For more information about Papua New Guinea or traveling there, visit their tourism website (

Have you paid a visit to Papua New Guinea or its surrounding area? Do you record video footage when you travel? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.
Max Elliot Anderson writes action-adventures and mysteries for readers 8 and up. Using his extensive experience in dramatic film, video, and television commercial production all over the world, in locations like this, he tries to bring that same visual excitement, and heart-pounding action, to each adventure and mystery he writes.

At this point, 10 books are published and 10 more are contracted. A free catalog is available in a PDF file by emailing
To learn more about Max and his travels and books, check out:

Max's books

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Traveling through Medieval Times

The Grand Entry way into the medieval village of Albright
This writer recently caught a glimpse of medieval times—in Louisiana to be exact—when I spent a weekend at the Louisiana Renaissance Faire near Hammond (in south Louisiana). I didn’t even know it existed until last year when my brother and sister-in-law went for the weekend. I was easily sold when they came back with a good report on the event. I’m always up for something new and interesting.

The Royal Parade
According to the website (, the Louisiana Renaissance Festival is a mini-theme park that uses the European Renaissance as a jumping off point for popular entertainment, shopping, and education. With over fifty scheduled shows everyday, such as jousting and falconry, you will be entertained with comedy, drama, and action. You can meet history in person including peasants, merchants, nobles, knights, even Queen Elizabeth I, and an occasional village idiot. Over 100 shops provide very unique gifts such as real swords, handmade candles, and even the glassblowing demonstration pieces.

Weaving demonstrations
Thus I paid a visit to the Village of Albright. It is quite remarkable with dozens of permanent structures around a small lake. There are seven stages, over 100 merchants selling all kinds of wares and a cast and crew of over 300. There is so much to see and experience. It was not only perfect for a unique weekend destination but for hands-on book research. I have a future novel that will involve a Renaissance faire. :) I came away from the weekend quite inspired.

Queen Elizabeth I and me
“Dressing up” is not required, but I could not help myself. I’m an actress and I love to wear costumes of all sorts. I did plan on renting a medieval-style dress while there, but the prices were pretty steep. I plan to acquire a dress to wear for next year. This year though, I wore what I had and went as a Huntress—think the female member of Robin Hood’s gang of outlaws. Costumes are not required, but it is quite interesting to see how many people do dress up and what time period they choose to represent.

Our group of five spent Friday and Saturday nights camping at the campgrounds right next door to the medieval village. In fact, many of the faire’s entertainers stayed there as well in tents and RVs. A huge group of them gathered around a large campfire on Friday night to play music and watch the belly dancers perform. It was quite interesting and gave me a tiny glimpse of what you would think the old traveling caravans and carnivals of old were like after hours.

The Robin Hood & Maid Marian show

Our first full day was Friday and we spent most of it wandering the expansive grounds, browsing all the merchants’ shops and tents and just soaking in everything. It wasn’t until Saturday that we actually attended the shows such as jousting, falconry, glass blowing and bagpipes performance—though I did see the Robin Hood and Maid Marian show the day before and really enjoyed it.

My brother and I doing archery
Each day when the faire opens, everyone waits at the main gate to be welcomed in by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I and her court. As you enter the gate, you are handed a program of shows for the weekend as well as a map of the grounds. The main actors greet you as you begin to explore.

I did not know what I would see, but I certainly did not expect running into two friends of mine. It was unexpected and a pleasant surprise.

Me and my friend, Shaun the Scotsman

Though I did enjoy the shows, I really liked trying different foods such as a galley roll (a pastry stuffed with pepperoni and cheese), falafel (a Middle Eastern food that reminds me of a hush puppy), apple streudel (lovely European pastry with caramel and apples), a sundried tomato tortilla filled with grilled chicken and vegetables and cucumber mayo and an assortment of beverages such as lemon and ginger tea, Royal Root Beer, Wizard’s Wine (fruit punch), Cream Ale (cream soda), Orange cream soda and Raspberry Lemonade. Visitors can purchase a large blue glass bottle for $10 and receive free refills all weekend long. That’s how I tried all those flavors of soft drink.

The shows were entertaining and the demonstrations of glass blowing, weaving, candle making, etc. were fascinating. I quite enjoyed myself and I cannot wait until next year to return to the lovely village of Albright.

Have you ever been to a Renaissance faire? What unique events like this one have you attended? For writers, what unique opportunities have you had to do writing research? Please share. :)

For more information about the Louisiana Renaissance Faire which runs all weekends of November and the first two of December, visit

To find a renaissance fair/festival near you, visit: 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Penning Board 2012-3

The Penning Board Items of the Week

Vlog: Sorry the vlog ended so abruptly. Still a work-in-progress. :) Happy Travels! Thanks for watching!


Happy Veterans Day to all our vets! I appreciate your service and sacrifice! God Bless you!

Me in New Mexico with World War II Veterans, who were Navajo Code Talkers
Movie: “National Treasure” (2004) with Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha and Jon Voight

I am so impressed with this movie. Sure it's not Oscar-worthy or anything, but the fact that a great movie about treasure hunting that involves U.S. history has been made is incredible. Usually these type movies are set in Egypt or South America, etc. It was fantastic to showcase our own nation's history. A current rumor is that there will be a National Treasure 3 in the works next year. Let's hope so!

Interesting News: The Welsch sisters, 10 and 12, are controversial endurance all stars

Pre-teen sisters from Texas have competed in over 160 adult endurance races over the past two years. In one women's race, they placed first and third. Wow...that is impressive. Their parents are catching criticism for allowing their daughters to run in these events, but the girls seem to enjoy it. What do you think? I think these girls may be wearing gold and silver Olympic medals around their necks in the near future.

Book: "1,000 Places to See Before You Die"

I must say this is one of my favorite books of all time. lol. In my copy of it, I have marked all the places I have been and the things I have done. I love to have an overview of the world's best in my hand. It's quite an adventure just to see what's out there. :)

Bible Verse: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” - Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

Quote: “There’s no comparison between what’s lost by not trying and what’s lost by not succeeding.”- Francis Bacon

Song: “Home” by Michael Buble

Paris Trip with my best friend
Such a great song and singer! I especially love the references to Paris and Rome... This song serves as reminder that no matter how far I travel, there will always be a place I call "home"--wherever my loved ones are. :)

Check out the song here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Carole Lehr Johnson - England

 Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight
Penner: Carole Lehr Johnson of Louisiana
Location: Chawton, England
United Kingdom

Chawton, the small village most noted for being the home of Jane Austen, can be a bit troublesome to get to. You may take a train from Waterloo Station in London to the town of Alton, then travel by bus to Chawton. Note that it is a separate train system than the countrywide British rail system ( The bus schedules are a little on the tricky side--not always running on time. Renting a car is another option if you don't mind the adventure of left-side driving.

My travel companions and I chose to take the nation-wide train system from London's Victoria Station to Winchester. We then hired a car from the station to take us to Chawton, arranging for our driver to return at a specified time and pick us up.

I would recommend taking a full day to see Chawton--or better--spend the night. But that's an entirely different article to write in order to explore the possibilities! We only just had enough time to see Jane Austen's home and have lunch across the street at Cassandra's Cup (named after Jane Austen's sister). It serves a fine lunch and afternoon tea. Arrive before 2:00 p.m. if you want to get in on the daily lunch special. Their baked goods are a real treat. We did a quick 'walk-through' of the village with its thatched cottages and rural atmosphere of rolling green hills.

There is a 16th-century building which houses a local pub, the Greyfriar. A pleasant walk down the road will take you to the Chawton House Library. There are tours of the library, house, and gardens. The house is over 400 years old with an impressive history (

The Walk to the Library
Enjoy a tranquil visit to Chawton and get away from the busy streets of London for a day or two. You won't regret it.

Do you enjoy Jane Austen, tea, long walks or all the above? Have you spent time in an English village? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.

Carole Lehr Johnson is a veteran travel agent of over 30 years and currently serves as the head of genealogy at her local library. Her travel writing and photography has been featured in International Living Magazine and Schmap. She is a historical novelist currently seeking representation. Her interests include writing, gardening, reading, photography, sewing, painting and working with her church’s local homeless ministry.

For more information about Carole and her travels to England and the U.K. as well as check out her latest book reviews, visit her website ( and her blog (

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The 411 on Writers Conference

Well, I’ve now checked another item off my to-do list: be a speaker at a writers conference. I was thrilled to be asked to present the “Writing for Newspapers” class at the East Texas Christian Writers Conference a few weekends ago in Marshall, Texas. It was a great experience and I hope to continue to be involved with this conference for years to come as well as expand to teach at others.

I attended this wonderful conference for the first time last year and gained valuable insight into the publishing world and how to build a solid foundation as a beginning novelist. This year, since I was a presenter, I was not able to attend as many classes as I would have liked, but the ones I did attend were wonderful.

One class I attended was “Secrets My Editors Taught Me” by national bestselling author Lisa Wingate. She is an award-winning journalist, magazine columnist, popular inspirational speaker, author of 16 books and one of a select group of authors to find success in both the Christian and mainstream markets.

Bestselling author Lisa Wingate and I with her ACFW Carol Award-winning book, "Dandelion Summer"
It was so nice to meet her and to congratulate her for having the first ACFW Carol Award winning book (Dandelion Summer) to receive a perfect score from the judges. I also got to meet with her for a one-on-one consultation, which provided answers to many of my further publishing and writer platform questions. You can check out her website here for more about her books and writing tips.

Some of what she said in her class:
“Standing out in the publishing industry, we are not to have the mindset of writing something that has not been done. It‘s not impossible, but it's much harder to get a first sell if it's something out of the box (with no defined genre/market).”

“Know your brand and fit in it. Mine is women’s fiction and deals with things like female relationships (friends, mother-daughter, etc.). Your branding helps editors determine advertising, book covers, etc.”

“In your book, you want a character that is relatable and has the right type of language/voice.”

The two-hour pre-conference workshop I attended was taught by Literary agent and author Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency. He answered all sorts of our questions from reasons he rejects manuscripts to how he became an agent. For more about Terry, visit his agent profile here.

A few of the things he said:
“Publishing is not a selection process but a survival one.”

“A good book is not enough. We [agents and editors] are looking for exceptional. That’s why 80% of all submissions get rejected.”

“The difference between a good and a great book is flow. You may not have everything in its proper place.”

The other class I was able to attend was author Judy Christie’s “Build a Better Writing Life.” Judy is from Louisiana like me and we hit it off right away, especially since I was reading a copy of her book, “Gone to Green.” She’s super nice and so encouraging. To check out her books and writing tips, go here.

Louisiana author Judy Christie and I with her book, "Gone to Green"
Some things she said:
“You must acknowledge ‘writing’ as a priority in your life and carve out time for it, then stick to it.”

“To keep organized, it’s good to identify your writing goal by keeping some sort of a journal or notebook and list every writing project you have.”

“How to become a consistent writer involves figuring out when you write, recording how much you write and having accountability.”

“If you’re not excited about writing a book, then you need to rethink writing it.”

Tips for Attending Your First Writers Conference/s
Attending writers conference can be overwhelming. I would suggest that before attending a larger one like the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference you look for smaller ones in the surrounding area. I have also attended the Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was wonderful.

A good piece of advice that Terry Burns gave first-time conference goers was that you must develop a “filter” to only take in the limited amount of information you need at this particular part of your writing journey, because you can easily be overwhelmed and miss what you need to know right now.

Interested in Attending?

The East Texas Christian Writers Conference is held each year on the last weekend in October at the East Texas Baptist University campus in Marshall. On Friday, there is a pre-conference with a two-hour workshop and dinner with a keynote speaker, plus the opportunity to mingle with presenters and fellow attendees before the full day of the conference, which is on Saturday. The pre-conference event costs extra, yet--even with the full conference--the cost is just over $100. That’s what I call “bang for your buck.” If you have not checked this conference out, check out the website at

My First Giveaway
The Giveaway Winner - Sarah Hudson Pierce

I had another great first experience as well with my first ever giveaway for this blog. I held a drawing for a basket filled with all kinds of travel-related goodies: a journal, book lovers calendar and snacks from around the world. Sarah Hudson Pierce was the winner!

My Giveaway Table :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Morgan Tarpley - Ireland

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight
Penner: Morgan Tarpley of Louisiana
Location: Blarney, Ireland
Blarney Castle

Trudging up the path to Blarney Castle, one must pause to admire the scenery—an ancient stone relic surrounded by lush green grass and battlements near the fluffy treetops of a nearby forest. Our journey led up the castle’s cramped twisting staircase to the famous Blarney Stone, which a centuries-old legend states will bestow the gift of eloquent speech to its kisser.

Blarney Castle
To kiss the stone, you must sit and lean backwards to kiss it while upside down. There is no fear of falling, because there is a man whose sole job is to hold onto the kisser. The man there had held the job for 10 years. (I had to ask!)

Though that part of my safety was resolved, there was still a rumor to consider—that locals have peed on the stone at night. Even if it is true, it would not stop me for I had a plan. I smeared a thick coat of lip gloss on my lips, smacked the stone when it was my turn, and wiped my mouth off afterward. It had not come all that way to not kiss that stone.

Me kissing the Blarney Stone!
As we allowed for our “gift of gab” to set in, the castle’s extensive and tranquil grounds beckoned us with a quiet country lane lined by a low stone fence, a sparkling lake in view of the lovely Blarney House and the cool pathway of a shady forest trail. The castle was a must-see and I am so glad to have not only seen it but taken in its surrounding land. I would recommend the journey from Cork to Blarney to any traveler in the area for you may pick up more than just a bit more eloquent speech but an unforgettable experience. For more information about the Blarney Stone, visit this website.

Have you traveled somewhere just to take part of a local custom? Have you visited the Emerald Isles? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.

Morgan Tarpley is a Christ follower and an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation.

Besides traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include reading, acting in her local theater, photography, and singing.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Note: So this is an example of the "Penner's Spotlight." I hope there will be many of you who want to become "Penners." I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's just about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," read this.