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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Where is Your Hope in a World Full of Hopelessness?

As Hurricane Harvey moves out of Texas, the destruction left in its wake is unimaginable. From our favorite little seaside town of Port Aransas that took a severe beating from winds and surf, to the huge metropolis of Houston where friends and family have suffered the loss of homes, businesses, work, school, and all the comforts of life we take for granted. Sadly, even some precious lives have been lost in the flooding and destruction.
When faced with the uncertainties of the future, it's easy to get fearful. Very easy, in fact.

That's when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and you have to ask yourself, "In whom do I trust?" In whom do you place your trust? In man? In jobs? In houses? As we've witnessed in Houston and Port Aransas this past week, "things" of this world are all too easily lost. A terrible storm. An illness. A fire. A flood. It's obvious to me that putting ones faith in a job, a house, money, and people is foolish.

The older I get, the more I realize there is only ONE place to put my hope, and that is in GOD. Earlier this year I was reading in Psalm 33. At the end of the chapter I wrote, "Words for 2017!" I had no idea what 2017 would hold for me, but I was determined to put my trust and hope in God. He knew we would be looking for a new job and a new home a few months after I wrote those words. I didn't, but he did.

"We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you." Psalm 33:20-22

There is a song with a chorus that goes, "If I have you and nothing else, I have everything." I've said it before and I'll say it again now: Jesus is my everything! Right now I don't have a job or a home, but you know what? I have everything  I need! God continues to bless me and my hubby, and we will wait on Him to open the right doors at the right time.

For all who are feeling hopeless today, I pray you find real, true hope in the Lord. In John 16:33 Jesus said we will have trouble in this world. I think we can all agree he was right. But getting to the other side of the trouble IS possible. I've been there, done that, and I will do it again ... and again ... and again. Not until the day Jesus takes me Home to be with him will I be free from the troubles of this world. But take heart, dear friend! Jesus has overcome the world and all its troubles! Not even death kept him in the grave.

Today is a new day! Like the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 118:24: "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!"

If you are feeling hopeless and need prayer, please email me at AuthorMichelleShocklee @gmail.com. It would be my honor to pray with you.

Blessings,

~Michelle




Monday, August 28, 2017

Redirection: When God Changes Your Plans

Merriam Webster defines redirection as "to change the path or direction (of something)." Sound familiar? Let me see a show of hands of anyone who has experienced redirection in their life. Mine is waving, high and proud. I imagine yours is too.

Life is full of redirection. Sometimes they are good. Sometimes not so much. I look back on my life and see many times when things didn't work out the way I thought they would or should. Some were by my own making, others I had no control over. But almost always, on the other side of it, I see why the redirection had to happen. It wasn't always obvious right away. Sometimes it takes years to understand, and in some instances we may never know why life went in a completely different direction than we intended.

As a follower of God, I sincerely believe he has plans and purposes for our lives. I don't think he has every minute of every day planned out for us. We are not puppets in his hands. But Psalm 139:16 tells us that "all the days ordained for me were written in your book." God knows the day we'll be born and the day we'll die. He also knows everything in between and it matters to him. What we do with our lives matters.

So when redirection comes, especially the kind we have no control over, we have to trust that our Heavenly Father is up to something. I've experienced this and I know how scary it can feel. When my husband lost his job in 2008 after being with a company for over 23 years, we didn't know what the future held for us. We would have never imagined that four years later we'd accept a job that allowed us to live, work, and play on a 400-acre ranch in the hill country. Fast forward five years and we are once again facing redirection. Are we anxious? Kinda, but I'm praying that my trust will have no borders. God is up to something good! I just need to be patient and wait on the Lord.

In the Book of Acts, Paul and Timothy are going from town to town, region to region, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. I'm sure they had plans and dreams and ideas of where to go and who to see. But in Acts 16:6-8 we see redirection:

"Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas." 

Redirection at its finest. What awaited Paul and Timothy in Bithynia? We don't know, but Jesus knew and redirected them. Has that ever happened to you? Don't go there, go here instead. Don't marry that person, marry this one. Don't take that job, take this one. Even diseases like cancer force redirection. Like Paul, we have a choice when we are redirected. We can choose to embrace it and trust God with our future, or we can fight against it, mourn what we feel we are losing, and even derail everything by ignoring it all together.

I am learning to trust redirection. It isn't always easy. It isn't always fun. I can be a bit stubborn sometimes, but God is a patient Father, thankfully. And I can say with complete confidence that no redirection ever hurt me. Yes, they tested me. Yes, they stretched me. But I have always, always come out on the other side better for it and even thankful for the new direction.

If you are experiencing redirection, hang in there! I am! God has great plans for you and me!

Blessings,

~Michelle



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Peace ... In Spite of ...

"PEACE does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the middle of all these things and STILL be calm in your heart." Peace "in spite of." ~ KLOVE devotional from years ago. 

I've kept the clipping of this devotional in my Bible for years because life can be hard at times, and I need the reminder of what peace truly means. The devotional was accompanied by a story about a painting of peace. You might think it was of a calm, serene scene, but it wasn't. The painting was a picture of a wild storm raging, with an angry waterfall flooding down jagged rocks. Not a peaceful image, huh? But there in the rocks, the artist had painted a Mother bird sitting on her nest "in spite of" the storm that raged all around her. I love the imagery of that picture. 
Look closely and you'll see the bird in the rocks

So many life events can rob us of our peace. A health crisis. A marriage crisis. A job crisis. In our 30+ years of marriage, we've been through great times, hard times, sad times, happy times. Right now we're in a place of praying about the future and where God wants us to land. I'm determined not to let the enemy steal my peace. My peace is not found in a job or a house or anything one believes they need to survive on this planet. My peace and my hope is found in one place: In the arms of my God, my Lord, my Jesus.

So we'll keep trusting, keep praying, keep praising, and keep believing. Because when this life and all its trials and tribulations is over, I want to stand before my Lord knowing I never doubted that He would take care of me. A God who is willing to die upon a cross for my sins is a God who cares about the smallest and biggest details of my life.

Friends, if you're going through some rough waters in life right now, take heart that the God who loves you will see you through them. Sometimes the water gets all the way up to our noses and we feel like we might drown, but that's when you've got to cling to the Savior with both hands and know in your heart of hearts that it is well. It is well with your body and with your soul.

My prayer for all my friends and family today is that you have peace. True peace found in the arms of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 💜


Blessings, 

~Michelle


Thursday, July 20, 2017

God and Storms

I have a wonderful quote written down in my Bible, right inside the cover where I see it every morning when I open God's word for my devotion time.

"Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes He lets the storm rage but calms the child." 




I have no idea who said this or even where I copied it from, but it struck me in such a way that I knew I wanted to remember it. Because in this life, we will encounter storms. Jesus said it best in John 16:33:

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Trouble. Storms. Whatever you want to call it, you can be assured it will find you. Whether it be relationship problems, financial problems, parenting problems, physical problems, and on and on. Life is filled with trouble. With storms. What you do when those storms come up, however, will determine whether you survive them or not.

The woman in Luke 8:43 had a bleeding issue for twelve long years. She'd tried everything and every doctor, to no avail. I would imagine she wanted to simply give up on life. I can imagine her depression over her poor health. She may have even been shunned by friends and family, fearing they too might be cursed if they interacted with her. But one day Jesus came to town. This woman made a decision to seek his help. Possibly a last ditch effort, but still, an effort on her part. She made her way to Jesus, boldly touched his cloak, and was healed. What if she'd just stayed home feeling sorry for herself?

Blind Bartimaeus sat in the same place day after day, begging. Can you imagine the monotony of such a life? The hopelessness? One day he heard a commotion. Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Bartimaeus made a decision. He would call out to this Jesus, hoping all the stories he'd heard about the miracles were true. They were true, of course, and he was healed. What if Bart had stayed silent and simply let Jesus pass by? (Mark 10)

Health, marriage, jobs, finances, raising kids. I've seen a storm or two in each of these areas. Some days you simply want to give up. Some days it's just too hard to fight, to struggle. But other days, by the grace of God, you persevere. You cry out, "Lord, help!" and He does. Like the beacon of hope from a lighthouse in the midst of a fierce gale, He is there, leading you to safety. You take one step at a time through the storm, through the trouble, and suddenly, you're on the other side looking back. You survived! It's an amazing feeling.

Could I have survived the storm on my own? Doubtful. I needed help from the God who said, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) He is the One who gave me peace when we went through a rough time in our marriage. He is the One who gave me assurance that we would be provided for when my husband lost his job. He is the One who put joy in my heart despite learning my Mom had Alzheimer's. Lots of other storms, lots of other times when God saw me through.

Why does God let the storm rage sometimes? I can't say for sure, but I know that in the midst of my storms, I've learned valuable lessons. Lessons about God, about trust, about faith. I bet the woman with the bleeding issue and Blind Bartimaeus would agree.

As with any earthly storm, like a hurricane or tornado, they do pass. They do come to an end. If you're in the middle of a storm, take heart. Jesus has overcome every storm imaginable. Just trust Him!

Hang in there, friend! I'd love to pray for you and share your burden, so feel free to send me a prayer request at MichelleShocklee@MichelleShocklee dot com or leave a comment here.

Be blessed!

~Michelle

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Juneteenth: A day to celebrate


As an author of historical fiction, particularly fiction set in Texas during slavery times, June 19, 1865 has become a date I won't soon forget. On that date, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, General Gordon Granger read aloud the contents of "General Order No. 3", announcing the total emancipation of slaves:

Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
What amazing words those must have been for over 250,000 Texas slaves still in bondage to hear! Freedom! After a lifetime of slavery, they were free! Of course it would be weeks and even months before all the slaves in Texas heard those life-changing words. Union Army troops carried the message across the state to plantations, farms, and towns, but without our modern means of communication, it was a slow process.

In the book I Was Born in Slavery, the research book I relied upon most heavily while writing The Planter's Daughter, nearly all of the former Texas slaves recalled that historic day. Lu Lee, a woman whose grandparents came from Africa, remembered how the plantation owner, Master Davy, had all the slaves gathered to hear the proclamation read aloud. A man named George cried out in a powerful voice: "Free, free my Lord! Oh, free, free my Lord!" Wow!


Book 2 in my historical series The Women of Rose Hill brings Juneteenth to life. The Widow of Rose Hill begins on a hot June day in 1865 with the residents of Rose Hill plantation tending to their normal daily drudgery. The war, to their knowledge, continues to rage in the east, bringing death, financial loss, and hardship even to the residents of Texas. When Union troops arrive on the plantation bearing a proclamation that will free the slaves, nothing will ever be the same.

Our hero in The Widow of Rose Hill is Colonel Levi Maish, a Union Army officer who loathes slavery and slaveholders. Here is a tiny excerpt from the scene where he happily delivers the proclamation to the owner of Rose Hill:

Levi removed his gloves and took the folded sheet of paper from his pocket. He’d read these same words to slave owners many times over the past week, but each time they brought a sense of satisfaction to his very soul. This is what he’d fought for. This was why men had died. He cleared his throat. “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

May we never take for granted the freedoms we enjoy and may we never forget the precious people who lived in bondage nor the men and women who fought for freedom!

If you haven't grabbed a copy of The Planter's Daughter yet, click HERE to find out why readers say they can't put it down! And stay tuned for news about The Widow of Rose Hill, set to release in February 2018! I can't wait to share Levi's story with you!

Blessings,

~Michelle

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Adele: The Woman I Named My Heroine After

As an author of historical fiction, history is my passion. Reading about events and people from the past feeds my very active imagination in a way contemporary stories can't. The question, "What was it like to live back then?" is always on my mind. Whether I'm visiting a museum, a pioneer farm, or reading one of my favorite Civil War research books, the lives of people who came before us play out in my head like a movie, complete with drama, romance, and intrigue.

My husband and I are blessed to live and work on a 400-acre ranch in the Texas hill country. We often wonder if various Indian tribes might have lived on this land before settlers arrived in the 1820s when Stephen Austin gained Mexico's permission to bring Americans into Texas. We've found a few broken arrowheads here and there, so we feel fairly certain there were natives living off the land here at one time.

Adele's resting place on the ranch
But sometime in the 1800s, a settler named Adele lived here. Adele is actually her middle name. We can't read her first or last names on her headstone as the weather has worn them off over the past 100+ years. We don't have much information on her despite attempts to track it down. We don't know when she arrived in Texas nor how long she actually lived on this property. But the few facts we do know about her have stirred my imagination to the point I had to name the heroine in my historical novel THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER in her honor.

So let me tell you a little bit about Adele.

Adele was born in Switzerland on July 23, 1837. She was the wife of Henry James. I believe she was preceded in death by at least two children because the inscription at the bottom of her headstone makes reference to "her babies." She died in 1885 and her resting place now sits beside a small pond just down the hill from our caretakers house. Every morning when I look out our picture windows to greet the day, I see Adele. We call her "our neighbor" since we can't see any other houses from our location.
You can clearly make out "Switzerland" beneath the metal bar
that is part of the protective covering over her headstone

Early morning with Adele and a foggy pond
 
Adele's life here in the hill country would not have been easy. We've often wondered what her husband did for a living, as cattle ranching in these rocky hills would have been extremely difficult. Farming is completely out of the question. This property is not located near any large cities and the nearest town was probably little more than a wide spot in the road (and it still is). Perhaps the town had a mercantile and a few other businesses, but even then it would have taken several hours for Adele and her family to reach it by wagon or horseback.

We've tried to figure out exactly where her house stood, but other than finding some old square-headed nails and a few other small items, we haven't come to a positive conclusion. I feel certain it wouldn't have been too far from her grave, so we've narrowed the location down to a couple different areas due to their being the only flat patches of ground around.



Pioneer home located on the LBJ Ranch
Here is where my imagination takes over. I envision Adele and her family living in a cabin made from logs cut from the property. There are lots of live oak trees, cedar, and other varieties that would have been available in the 1800s. If her husband Henry was young and strong, he might have gathered rocks from the abundance on the property and built a house similar to this one located on the LBJ Ranch a few hours from here. It boasts four rooms in a "dogtrot" style. There was of course no indoor plumbing, so an outhouse would have been situated not too far from the cabin. A washbasin similar to the one pictured no doubt sat near the door for easy access. It gets mighty hot here in Texas, so splashing ones face with cool water would have felt really good after a long day of work. Henry would have dug a well and they probably had a windmill. Despite the land not being suited for raising herds of cattle, they would have had animals like pigs, chickens, and horses. A herd of goats would have done well on the rocky terrain and might have provided milk and cheese. A garden full of fresh vegetables might have been planted in the same location as mine.

Every now and then I'll walk down to Adele's and just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet and think about her life here. I'd like to plant some wild flowers in her little graveyard, but between the deer, the sheep and the llamas, they probably wouldn't last long.


I think Adele would be quite surprised by the changes that have taken place on her old homestead. She could have never imagined the grand house, pool, and tennis court that now sit atop a beautiful mesa overlooking the valley. But I also think she'd be happy to know the owner's and their family, as well as my husband and I, truly enjoy living here.

Someday we'll be gone too. In a hundred years, someone will poke around the property, wondering about the people who came before them. Maybe I'll bury a time capsule with a copy of my book and some pictures of what the place looks like now for someone to find.

If you'd like to meet Adella Rose, the character named after Adele, go HERE to order your copy. THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER is getting lots of great reviews and is currently holding at 5-stars on Amazon! Adella's life in Texas was no doubt different from Adele's, but they would have faced many of the same struggles, had many of the same hopes and dreams. I think Adele would be tickled to learn I named my character after her.

It's funny to think the life we are living right now will one day be history! I'm determined to make it interesting!

Have a fabulous day as you make your own history!

~Michelle



Monday, May 8, 2017

Be Still ...

Some days I feel like a hamster on a wheel, going around and around and around yet not getting anywhere! I imagine most of you know that feeling from time to time. Life is just so dadgum busy these days!! Emails, cell phones, computers, apps, jobs, kids, marriage, home life, church life, life life ... it can be all-consuming at times. There are days when I get so frustrated and overwhelmed I want to scream, "Get me off this wheel!" The ride ceased being fun.


I'm in a season of life I've looked forward to for a very long time. After writing and submitting and writing and submitting for more years than I care to admit, my first novel, The Planter's Daughter released in March. Many of my author friends who've walked the road to publication ahead of me warned that the work doesn't stop once your book is published. Nope. One might go so far as to say that's when the hardest work begins! The work of marketing and selling is just as challenging as the work of writing, editing, and submitting. In the latter case, you're trying to get a publisher to buy your work. After publication, you're trying to get the public to buy your work. Both can be daunting. Add to that the amazing blessing of two more book contracts, both with release dates in February 2018, you can color me one busy--and blissfully happy!--writer!

I think that's why Psalm 46:10 is so meaningful to me these days: "Be still, and know that I am God." It's hard to be still when you're on a hamster wheel going ninety-nine miles per hour and barely hanging on! It's hard to be still when life is so full you can't catch your breath from all the running, plotting, working, playing.

This past week Psalm 46:10 has come to my attention three different times in three different ways. I hadn't connected the dots until today, and now I'm wondering if perhaps God has been trying to get my attention, reminding me to be still so He can move in my life. How can I know what God is up to if I'm not listening to him?


I have a plaque hanging above our door that a dear friend gave me with Psalm 46:10 on it. I read it most every day as I walk by, thinking, "Yes, Lord. I hear you!" and then go about my business. A few days ago I discovered this journal (pictured) in a junk drawer. I'd purchased it several years ago but only wrote on two pages. I needed a new journal to takes notes at church and this was perfect. I read the verse aloud and said, "Yes, Lord. I hear you." I put the journal with my Bible and kept on truckin'.

It wasn't until we were at church yesterday that it finally stuck! Pastor Max Lucado asked the congregation to join him in "40 days of listening prayer." He said, "Pray and then be still. Listen." Jokingly, he added that we go into prayer with two ears and one mouth. Use them wisely.

So today I'm trying to be still. To listen. To pray ... and then shut my mouth! Thankfully our God is a patient God. My babbling won't turn his ear away from me, but I also believe he has things to teach me in the silence.


I'm determined to stay off that ol' hamster wheel! How about you? I invite you to join me in 40 days of listening prayer. I'll check back here from time to time throughout these next weeks and post my progress, what God is teaching me, and see how you're doing. Feel free to share in the comments.

Have a wonderfully still day!

~Michelle

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Slave Bills of Sale and Other Research

I'm deep into the edits of Book 2 in The Women of Rose Hill historical fiction series. The sequel to The Planter's Daughter, this book is set on the same Texas cotton plantation and takes place five years after the first book. If you know your Texas history, you'll recognize the date of June 18, 1865. That was the day Union Army troops landed in Galveston, bringing with them the Emancipation Proclamation that freed over 250,000 slaves still in bondage despite the end of the Civil War. As you can imagine, many changes will take place on Rose Hill plantation, so stay tuned to find out when the release date will be! If you haven't read The Planter's Daughter, click HERE to order your copy! History, romance, drama, slavery! It has it all and more, and is getting lots of 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads! I think you'll enjoy it! 😄

Since Book 2 won't be out for a while, I thought I'd share some of the research I've done with you to whet your appetite. It was truly a fascinating time in our nation's history!

One item that comes into play in the story is a Bill of Sale. A Bill of Sale was a document given to the purchaser of a slave to prove ownership. When we buy a car these days, we receive a title that shows the car belongs to us. That is what a Bill of Sale did regarding a slave. They were often handwritten, but some slave traders and brokers actually had forms printed and simply filled in the blanks. It is unreal to me that the document pictured below represented the sale of a human being. That human being was named George and he was 23 years old.


In Texas, the largest slave market was located in Galveston. Smaller ones existed in San Antonio and Houston, but because Galveston is a port city, it made sense that slave traders would set up business there. Thousands upon thousands of slaves were bought and sold there. I won't go into the horrific details of what a slave might have endured during these transactions, but suffice it to say animals often fared better.

I've posted about this little book before, but it deserves to be mentioned again because I could not have written about slavery in Texas without it. I Was Born in Slavery provides true narratives of former Texas slaves. In 1936, our government sent out-of-work writers south to interview former slaves so we would have record of their stories. Most were in their 80s, 90s, and 100s, so it was important to hear in their own words what life was like as a slave before we lost the chance. Some of them shared stories about the day "Freedom" came to Texas, and I've incorporated many of their words and reactions into my book. Staying true to the slaves' actual lives and experiences is extremely important to me as an author of historical fiction.


A new character who arrives at Rose Hill in Book 2 is Corporal William Banks. Corporal Banks lands in Galveston with the Union Troops, eager to help set Texas slaves free. As a black Federal soldier, he would have been especially satisfied to see slaves walk off plantations and farms. The young man pictured below looks just like how I imagine Corporal Banks would have looked when he rides into Rose Hill plantation with Colonel Levi Maish, our new hero. I think readers of The Planter's Daughter will be pleased with his story.



So there is just a sneak peek at Book 2!  Go HERE to see some of the pictures on Pinterest that give me inspiration as I'm writing. I truly love all the new characters in the book as well as the returning characters from The Planter's Daughter.  I think you'll love them too! Of course, the book's hero and heroine (a daughter of Rose Hill and returning character) will experience all kinds of difficulties, heart-throbbing romance, and important growth within themselves, just as the characters in Book 1 did. Readers will not be disappointed! I'll let you know the release date soon! In the meantime, be sure to get your copy of The Planter's Daughter HERE. Kindle copies are only $2.99!! Enjoy!

Blessings,

~Michelle

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Liendo Plantation -- A Real Texas Plantation




One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is the research! I positively adore immersing myself in history, usually from the nineteenth century. I especially enjoy it if I can work in a research trip. Whether it's to a pioneer farm, a museum, or an old West fort, I'm always ready for a road-trip! Thankfully, my fabulous chauffeur (aka my sweet hubby!) is a willing participant.

While writing The Planter's Daughter, we visited Liendo Plantation, located in Hempstead,Texas, about 4 hours from where we live in the hill country. The plantation house is privately owned, but the owner graciously opens it to the public once a month for tours. On the weekend before Thanksgiving they have a Civil War re-enactment on the grounds with vendors, food, and a ton of fun!

Since you can't join me on a research trip, I thought I'd share some of my pictures of the plantation with you. Readers of The Planter's Daughter might recognize the house from the description of the fictional Rose Hill Manor I use in the book with a few minor changes.

Liendo Plantation house was built by slaves in 1853. The porch on Rose Hill Manor
wraps all the way around, but I can still envision Adella Rose standing on 
this porch, can't you? 

The back of the house. Again, the porch on Rose Hill Manor would have circled
the entire bottom floor. Also, the kitchen is detached from the main house
in the book. 

Guests attending the pre-wedding gala for George & Natalie might have sat
here to catch a cool breeze

The brick wall fascinated me. I kept imagining
slaves laboring over the laying of each brick.

This reminds me of the scene where Adella Rose
is sitting on the porch with her family one evening.
Her father does something that shocks her.

Readers, can't you picture Adella Rose hurrying
down these steps, barefoot of course, to greet
her father in Chapter One?

Even though I don't have a peacock in
The Planter's Daughter, I thought this guy was
beautiful!


























This is an actual slave cabin. Jeptha, Mammy, and the other Rose Hill slaves would
have had very crowded living conditions, considering there were nearly
one hundred slaves on the plantation.


Perhaps some of the guests who attend George & Natalie's
wedding looked like this.

I hope you enjoyed your brief research trip back to 1859 Texas. I've included lots of historical details about Texas, plantations, and slavery in The Planter's Daughter. If you haven't purchased your copy yet, click here and experience what life was like on a Texas plantation through the lives of Adella Rose, Seth, Jeptha, and more! It's getting lots of 5-stars on Amazon and Goodreads, and many readers say it's a "page-turner-can't-put-it-down" kind of book!


Happy reading!

~Michelle

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Prince of Wales Cake -- Authentic Civil War era recipe

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know how many cooking-type posts I've written: NONE! There is a reason for that. Ninety-six percent of the time I do not enjoy cooking. However, one-hundred percent of the time I enjoy eating, so it does become necessary if I don't want to starve. But cooking has never been something pleasurable to me. Instead, its a chore. And I don't know about you, but chores ain't no fun.

Every once in a while, though, I get inspired to cook or bake something special!

In my new historical novel The Planter's Daughter, a story set on a Texas cotton plantation in 1859, one of the scenes involves baking a cake called Prince of Wales cake. Adella Rose, our heroine, is in the kitchen with Aunt Lu, the head house slave. They are making this cake for Natalie, the soon-to-be-mistress of Rose Hill plantation. At one point, Aunt Lu grumbles about the Prince and his "high an' mighty ways" because this cake is unlike anything she's ever made. She worries she won't get it right, thus coming under the master's displeasure, a valid concern of every slave back in those days.

Ever since I wrote that scene, I've wanted to make Prince of Wales cake. Readers of The Planter's Daughter will be happy to hear yesterday was the day!

First, I gathered the ingredients, all of which would have been readily available in 1859.


Next, I used my trusty dusty KitchenAid mixer (which sadly would not have been readily available in 1859!) to cream together the butter and sugar of the first batter. This KitchenAid is near and dear to my heart, because my dad gave it to my mom for Christmas many years ago. I still remember how Daddy smiled and smiled when he presented it to Mom.


Following the recipe just as Aunt Lu would have done, I added the other ingredients to create a light colored batter. I can almost picture Adella Rose sneaking tastes of it!


Then I made the second batter, which is darker due to the molasses and spices.


Now it's time to combine the two batters into one pan. Aunt Lu was confused by these instructions. She thinks they should bake two separate cakes, but Adella reminds her the recipe calls for combining the batters. I have to admit, I wondered if Aunt Lu was right, but like her, I followed the instructions to a T.



 The recipe called for a large fluted pan. I had a Bundt pan, so I assumed that would be good enough. Wrong! When they say "large" pan, they mean a LARGE pan!! I had far more batter than could fit in my pan. I'm embarrassed to admit I went ahead and filled it to the brim. Don't do this! It spilled over while baking and made a very stinky mess on the bottom of my oven.

I took my knife and swirled the batters together as told, and while I did, I smiled, thinking of Aunt Lu with her elbow raised like an artist creating a masterpiece.

Admittedly, once it was all layered and swirled and ready to go into the oven, I was rather pleased with myself. Just like Adella Rose, I took a spoon and scraped the bowls, taste-testing each batter. Yummmm!



I slid the pan into the oven, set the timer for one hour and twenty minutes, and waited with high expectations!!

A word to the wise baker: Definitely flour your pans. I didn't. I used cooking spray, but the cake unfortunately stuck to the pan. Waaa. I'd hope to have a lovely photograph of my Prince of Wales cake on this pretty glass cake stand I own and have never used. But I had to settle for simply showing you a couple slices.

Aren't they pretty?



The cake is not too sweet and has a bit of a spice cake taste to it. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar and it is ready to serve!! Delicious! Just like folks ate on Rose Hill Plantation in 1859.

If you'd like to make Prince of Wales cake, go here to find the recipe.

ENJOY!

If you haven't purchased your copy of The Planter's Daughter, click here. I'm getting lots of 5-stars and great feedback from readers! Some can't put the book down, and one reader said it was "one of the best books" she's read all year.

Have a blessed day!

~Michelle

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Freedom! Embrace it!

Freedom is the theme throughout my new historical novel The Planter's Daughter. Each of the main characters longs for freedom from something that is keeping them from living the abundant life that God intended for them. Adella Rose, the planter's daughter, longs for the freedom to choose her own destiny. Seth, our hero, needs the freedom forgiveness brings. And Jeptha, the slave I chose to represent all the other slaves, obviously longs for physical freedom. Everyone, I believe, at one time or another, has allowed themselves to become enslaved, whether by sin or another person or a circumstance, to the point they are no longer free.

Sound familiar?

I've lived in that bondage, and I imagine many, if not all, of you have, too. So many different things can keep us trapped, enslaved even, ultimately preventing us from living in joy and freedom. To name just a few: unhealthy relationships; past experiences; past mistakes; past abuses; alcohol; drugs; tobacco; pornography; sex addictions; materialism; money; and on and on.

The apostle Paul talked about this very thing in Galatians 5. Some of the newly converted Christians were being told they had to conform to the old Jewish rituals in order to be saved, rather than simply believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  He wants them to understand that they---and we---are not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Verse one says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."




Paul isn't talking about the kind of slavery Jeptha, Aunt Lu, and the others experience as slaves on Rose Hill plantation. They had no choice but to live as slaves. Their very lives depended upon obeying their white master. Paul is talking about the kind of slavery we bring upon ourselves by our own choices. In the Galatians case, they were in danger of making Christ's sacrifice on the cross somehow not enough for eternal salvation. They had to make a choice: trust the Truth Paul was teaching, or go back to the old ways that God himself deemed insufficient when He sent his Son to redeem us. Like you, I've walked that road. I've let choices I made keep me in bondage far too long. I've even let experiences I had no control over prevent me from living in the joy God wanted for me in spite of the unpleasantness I experienced.

Are you in bondage to something? Or maybe even to someone? Jesus Christ can free you from it! All of the things I listed above that keep people enslaved today can be broken, like a chain falling off of you, by the power in Jesus Christ. Are you in a relationship that is keeping your from being the person you know in your heart you should be? Ask Jesus to give you the strength and courage to walk away. NO relationship on earth is worth the price you might pay if you stay in it! Is alcohol, drugs, tobacco, food, or something else keeping you enslaved? Our bodies are the temple where the Holy Spirit resides, so he will most definitely help you overcome whatever you are putting in your body that isn't healthy. Sex addictions can absolutely be overcome by the power and the blood of Jesus Christ! I personally know someone who has defeated that very thing, and I tell you, it's a beautiful thing to see how free this person is!

I'll leave you with Jesus's own words on the subject found in John 8:35-36:

"A slave is not a permanent member of the family but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed."

Live a life of freedom, folks! If you have a specific need, I'd love to pray with you. Leave a comment or send me an email to MichelleShocklee@MichelleShocklee.com.

Blessings,

~Michelle

Monday, March 13, 2017

"I was born in Slavery. Let me tell you about it."

A lot of people are curious about how I came up with the dialect the slaves speak in The Planter's Daughter. Well, let me tell you a little story. 


As I set out to write The Planter’s Daughter, an antebellum novel set on a Texas cotton plantation in 1859, I took great care in researching the setting, the time period, and the events that unfold throughout the story. Even though I’ve lived in Texas for more than thirty years, there was much I didn’t know about the Lone Star State’s history after the Alamo and prior to the Civil War. For instance, I was surprised to learn how many plantations existed during that time period, with some like Liendo Plantation still standing today. Although cotton wasn’t king in Texas just yet, it was a money-making crop for many planters. And as we all know, slave labor was key.

With that in mind, I was especially concerned with accuracy when it came to telling the slaves’ accounts. Their stories, I felt, needed special attention in order for readers to truly see slavery on a Texas plantation. I didn’t want to simply use generalities about slavery in the south. That’s when I discovered a book titled I Was Born in Slavery: Personal Accounts of Slavery in Texas.


In 1936, with the Great Depression raging, the government established the Federal Writers’ Project, with one notable project being the Slave Narrative Collection. Out-of-work writers were dispatched across the South to interview former slaves, all of whom were by then in their 80s, 90s, and 100s. Over 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs were documented and are now archived in the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Some of the stories have found their way into print, like those in I Was Born in Slavery.

The writers/interviewers took great care to preserve the former slaves’ idiom, feeling it was as important to preserve the subject’s manner of speech as it was to preserve what they said. I used that dialect when writing dialog. Some of the former slaves' speech was especially heavy with the dialect, and others weren't. I chose to find a balance between the two, because the dialect can make for hard reading, as in Uncle Tom's Cabin, the 1852 book that is credited as being one of the catalysts of the Civil War. 

While writing my book, I chose two slaves in particular to speak with a heavier dialect: Moses and Mammy. Their usage of words like "dem" and "dat" is NOT to poke fun at their lack of education or in any way to degrade them as people, but rather to remain true to the language spoken on an 1859 Texas cotton plantation. The other slaves in the book use a less heavy dialect, but still stay within the speech used by the former slaves in I Was Born in Slavery. Like the interviewers, I felt it was important to portray slavery and the slaves as they were, not as we would like them to be. 

The former slaves' testimonies in I Was Born in Slavery changed my book. They changed me as a writer and as a person. Long after The Planter’s Daughter is gathering dust on the shelves, a little orange book with a smiling old gentleman on the cover will, I am certain, continue to draw me to it, almost as though I can hear one of the former slaves say, “I was born in slavery. Let me tell you about it.”

I hope you'll grab a copy of The Planter's Daughter (click here to order). I'm getting great feedback from readers who say they can't put the book down. It's currently holding at 4.9 stars on Amazon and 4.6 stars on Goodreads! Here are a few of the comments readers have posted:

"I loved this story from beginning to end!" ~ Amazon reader

"A riveting read!" ~Goodreads reader

"This could make another great Southern plantation movie." ~Amazon reviewer

"A page-turner-could-hardly-put-it-down kind of book." ~Goodreads reader



Happy reading!


~Michelle

Friday, March 3, 2017

It's Release Day for The Planter's Daughter!


MY BOOK RELEASES TODAY!!!


The Planter's Daughter received her wings and is flying out into the world as I write this blog post! She is right now winging her way across the internet into the computers and iPads of folks who pre-ordered the e-book version. Those who pre-ordered the print version will have her in hand in a week or so. 

It's a truly exciting and humbling moment for an author. 

Like many authors, I've poured my heart into this book. The characters became real people in my imagination. I've laughed with them. I've cried with them. I fell in love with them. And my deepest desire is that you, the reader, will too. 

You can read more about why I wrote the book here, but I wanted to share a few things now so you know what you're getting when you purchase the book (click here to order)

  • The Planter's Daughter is a romance at its heart, but there is so much more going on. Freedom is the underlying theme throughout the story. All of the main characters need freedom from something that is keeping them from living the abundant life God created them to live.
  • Some of the scenes involving slaves are very realistic to what really happened during the days of slavery. After reading true narratives of former Texas slaves, where they told of the abuse they endured, I knew I had to include it in my book. Not for the shock factor or anything like that, but because we should never forget what slavery allowed one human being to do to another. 
  • The Planter's Daughter is the first book in a 3-book series. The second book is tentatively scheduled to release in November 2017. Each book is set on the same Texas cotton plantation but in different time periods with a different hero and heroine in each book. 
If you or someone you know enjoys reading historical fiction, I hope you will get a copy of The Planter's Daughter.  I've woven lots of interesting Texas and American history throughout the book, and I've tried to stay true to the time period and setting as far as language, dialect, sights and sounds.  

I will host a Launch Party on my Author Michelle Shocklee Facebook page tomorrow, Saturday, March 4, all day. I am giving away free copies of my book, some Chicken Soup for the Soul books, gift cards, and some other goodies, so be sure to stop in throughout the day for lots of chances to enter and join the celebration!!

I'll leave you with the words of what one early reader said about The Planter's Daughter:

The Planter’s Daughter captivated me from chapter one. I didn’t just read this story, the author put me in the middle of the setting and I watched the story unfold around me. Michelle Shocklee has done a masterful job of allowing her three-dimensional characters to perform the story on a sensory-rich stage. One of the best books I’ve read this year. BRAVO!

~ Connie Stevens, Author
Brides of Georgia and Hope’s Dwelling Place


Blessings,

~Michelle


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Confessions of a Newbie Author

One week!

Just one week until The Planter's Daughter officially releases and goes out into the world! I received my proof copies (to read through one. last. time before going to print!) and I can't tell you how thrilling it was to actually hold my book in my hands!! I won't go so far as to liken it to holding one of my babies for the first time---nothing can ever come close to that amazing event!---but it was one of those moments in life I hope I never forget.


But I have to be honest with you. I'm a little scared about this whole letting-the-public-read-my-book thing. Okay, okay. I'm terrified! I know millions of authors have done it in the past, and I know millions more will do it in the future. My book isn't anything special when it comes to the vast number of books that have been published. It's just that this particular author has never let too many people read her stuff, so it's kinda scary realizing that people who don't know me and my heart are going to be reading--and judging--this book. Yes, blogging about walking in The Way opens a door for criticism, but somehow the release of my book is different. I poured my heart into this book, so I'm feeling a little vulnerable. My hope and prayer is it will be well received, but ultimately I have to simply leave it in God's capable hands. He is the one who set me on this path many years ago, and He is the one who has a plan and a purpose for me and my writing.

So I thought I'd give you a peek into my brain (I know ... that's a scary thought, eh?!) and let you in on how you can help a newbie author:


  • Buy the book. Yeah, that seems kinda obvious, but the reality is a new author doesn't have a built-in audience in their pocket like multi-published authors. There is a saying in publishing that goes something like, "If a first book doesn't sell well, there won't be a second book." Fortunately, I have already signed the contract for the second book in The Women of Rose Hill series and turned in the manuscript to my editor, so I know there will be a second book, scheduled for release in November 2017. And fortunately I've signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for a novella that will come out in early 2018. God has truly been good to me this year! BUT book sales figures matter to a publisher, current and future. My publisher, LPC Books, is actually a ministry, so they don't have a big budget like many other larger publishers. They take a huge risk each time they publish a book, especially for us newbies. So please, buy the book! I would greatly appreciate it!
  • Tell your friends and family about the book. Statistics reveal that word of mouth is the number one way word gets to readers about a book. If you follow me on social media, share my posts about the book, promotions, giveaways, etc. Anything to help get the word out is deeply appreciated! If you are in a book club, suggest my book. I'd love to participate through live chat or come to the club if it's within driving distance. 
  • Post a review on Amazon and Goodreads.  Reviews are vital to a book's life. Even short reviews like, "I enjoyed this book" help! The more reviews a book has, the more visibility it gets. I realize not everyone is going to love my book, but I think most people can find something redeeming in the story to comment on. 
  • Lastly, pray for me and my book. My deepest desire for The Planter's Daughter is that ultimately it will glorify God! There are themes and scenes throughout the book that reveal how each of us is in need of a Savior. It isn't a "preachy" or "religious" book, but my hope is the trials and tribulations the characters go through will shine a light on the power of God and how it can heal and release each of us from bondage, whatever that bondage may be.  
So there you have it. Confessions of a newbie author. I truly am excited to share Adella & Seth's story with the world! I hope you fall in love with them in the same way I did while writing the novel. Click here or on the link on the side panel to order a print or electronic copy. To read more about The Planter's Daughter and why I wrote the book, click HERE.

Thanks for stopping by the blog! Have a blessed day!

~Michelle

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

29 Days Until THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER Releases!




Yes, folks, we are closing in on the release of my debut novel,The Planter's Daughter! Just 29 more days and TPD will wing its way out into the world. I know this sounds silly, but it's a bit like raising a child and watching them grow up and fly the nest. My hope is TPD will have a wonderful, blessed life away from the sheltered confines of my computer. I'll blog more about the release in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

BUT ... if you aren't good at waiting, I have good news! You can PRE-ORDER my book on Amazon here! Either in book form or the Kindle version. They will be shipped and/or delivered to your computer on March 3, 2017.

One other tidbit of good news to share: I've recently signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for a novella to be included in the MAIL-ORDER BRIDES COLLECTION, release in January 2018! I am super excited!

I'll leave you with a verse that truly speaks to me as I begin my career as a published novelist. It's from Ephesians 2:10:

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Isn't it wonderful to know God planned in advance the work He wanted you and me to get done while we are on this earth? He has a plan AND a timetable. I find that very comforting!

~Michelle