The Christmas Heirloom – A Thanksgiving Excerpt

quoteWhile our novella collection—The Christmas Heirloom–is mostly set during the Christmas season, I couldn’t resist working Thanksgiving into my story. I mean, my heroine is handy with a rifle and the Monday before Thanksgiving is the opening day of deer season.

Romantic? Maybe not, but it sure fits my Appalachian stories! So, in honor of the first day of deer season, here’s a Thanksgiving excerpt from A Shot at Love, my contribution to The Christmas Heirloom.

Hank expected to miss being with his sister Molly and her family for Thanksgiving, but the Markley clan was keeping him well occupied. After a quick breakfast of biscuits with molasses, they set out through a skiff of snow with James intent on getting his first deer. When they spotted a four-point buck, Judd and Hank fell back while Abram led his twelve-year-old son in taking down the animal with a single shot.

James looked like he’d won the biggest prize at the county fair. Abram tousled his hair. “Good job, son. Quick and certain, that’s the way to do it. Don’t take the shot if you’re not sure you can make it. Few things are worse than wounding an animal and having to track it down.”

James nodded. “Yes sir. Can I dress it out?”

Abram hid his smile. “We might help some, but any hunter worth his salt dresses his own deer.”

James pitched in and the four of them had the deer ready to drag home in short order. Hank was grateful there were four of them to take turns dragging it out over rough and rocky terrain. Once they got to the house, they hung the deer from the limb of a massive pine to let it cool in the chill, November air. There was plenty of work to be done yet, but for now it was time to join the ladies for a Thanksgiving feast.

The turkey Hank won at the shoot sat as the centerpiece of a laden table. Lydia and her mother Rose had toiled for two days preparing fluffy yeast rolls, sweet potato soufflé, fried cabbage, mashed potato and rutabaga, cornbread dressing, creamed onions, something called leather breeches which appeared to be a sort of bean, and three kinds of pie. Hank couldn’t imagine who would eat it all until he saw Judd and Abram tuck in. He hoped they wouldn’t think less of him for not eating half a pie all by himself.

“And now, in longstanding Markely tradition, it’s time for an afternoon nap,” Judd announced after they’d helped the ladies clear away the remains of the meal.

Even James, who had likely slept little the night before in anticipation of their hunting trip was more than happy to sprawl in front of the fire and close his eyes. And Grace, although nearly nine and prepared to fight napping, didn’t argue near as hard as she might have on another day.

Hank settled with the family in the front room where lazy conversation gradually gave way to soft snores. And yet, he found he wasn’t the least bit sleepy. The pleasures of the day filled his spirit in a way that made him want to simply spend time appreciating being invited so fully into the bosom of this good family living in this beautiful place. Finally, he stood and tiptoed to the back door, letting himself out into the bracing air. He’d see if he couldn’t walk off at least a little of the huge meal he’d eaten. He also wanted to ponder those life changes he’d been carrying around in the dark corners of his mind.

Thirty minutes later, Hank realized he’d let himself become so lost in thought that the roll and sway of the mountain land had lured him into . . . getting lost. It was a hard thing to admit and he wasn’t quite prepared to consider his cause hopeless, but when he’d crested this most recent hill the view wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. He thought he’d be able to see a curl of smoke from the Markley’s chimney beyond the next rise, but instead there was a mountain looming that really shouldn’t have been there. A blue jay sat on a bare limb cocking its head his way and jeering in that coarse way jays do. For a minute, he had a notion to follow it when it flew, but decided not to grasp at straws.

He peered around in all directions, unsure of where to go next and wondering if maybe he should just stay right where he was until someone came along. This surely looked like a path that would be used regularly. It wound through the edge of a field near the tree line. A cow stepped into his field of vision. Or, it might just be a cow path. Still, where there were cattle, people couldn’t be too far off.

Still weighing his options, Hank sat on a fallen log to give himself time to think. The tree had fallen years ago, and its stump was almost hollow—rotted from the inside out. It was the sort of timber that looked good from the outside, but failed to produce. It made Hank ponder what his life would amount to if it were measured in board feet. He’d been feeling a bit hollow lately—like the heart had gone out of him. If he were honest, he’d have to admit it had something to do with seeing Judd and Larkin so happy. They had a child now—the main reason Larkin hadn’t come along on this trip. Little Lavonia was barely walking, and the young parents agreed traveling with a child not yet two would be a trial for them all. Sweet Lavonia had wormed her way into his heart just like James and Grace were quickly doing. Maybe there was more in this world for him than playing second fiddle for the Waccamaw Timber Company.

The jay he’d noticed earlier landed on the punky stump and dipped his head as though peering inside. The bird snatched a fallen leaf in its beak and flew to a low branch, tilting its head to consider Hank. He’d known jays to be curious, but he’d never known one to take such an interest in him.

“You act like you’re after something,” he said aloud.

The bird dropped its leaf and bobbed along the branch, eye now focused on the stump. Hank turned his attention back to the hollowed wood and noticed that the leaves inside didn’t look natural. They looked more like someone or something had piled them there—stuffing them in. Could it be a nest of some sort? Hank wondered if they had critters in these hills he didn’t know about. He poked at the mass with a stick, finding the leaves formed a sort of cap that came away revealing . . . what appeared to be a gun cleaning cloth. He fished it out and something tumbled onto the ground at his feet. He picked the lump up and found it to be an embroidered cloth pouch with a weighty something inside. Tipping the bag, a piece of jewelry—really beautiful jewelry with intertwined hearts and a glinting purple stone—dropped into his hand. Well now. Had he stumbled upon someone’s secret cache?

Distracted, Hank didn’t notice the soft sound of footsteps approaching until they were nearly upon him. He startled and caught himself before toppling off his log as Fleeta Brady hove into view, head down and muttering to herself.

Appalachian Thursday – Country Roads

sunrise roadReader and friend Frances Sniatecki tagged me on Facebook yesterday with the most amazing video featuring a medley of country songs with Take Me Home Country Roads (Almost Heaven, West Virginia) leading it off.

Turns out this amazing song was recorded two years ago for the 50th anniversary of the Country Music Awards. Somehow I missed it. It brings tears to my eyes. Amazing performers, fabulous lyrics, and a reminder that I still miss John Denver.

Check it out for yourself! This video includes a neat “making of” element. Enjoy!

 

Letting Go – When Silence Sings

Sarah Thomas (1)

There I am with the Thurmond, WV, depot behind me. Covering the same ground my characters did.

I submitted my latest manuscript to my editor over the weekend. After the hours of writing, re-writing, and editing you’d think I’d be glad to turn it loose and move on.

But releasing a story is surprisingly hard.

I think this is a good story. Maybe the best I’ve written. And as long as those 87,750 words are sitting on my hard drive, I can keep thinking that. But once I release them . . .

No one told me that being a writer would require me to be this vulnerable. Oh, I was warned to develop a thick skin, but it was hard to understand what that meant until I submitted a manuscript and got back those pages of editorial notes.

They’ve always been GOOD notes–thoughtful, inciteful, helpful. Well, except when my editor said churning butter in 1970s West Virginia seemed out of place. Shoot, I helped my mother churn butter many a time and I wasn’t born until 1971.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, turning a story loose is what I imagine it must be like to send a child away to school. You know your child is amazing, wonderful, exceptional even. But you also know that she likely has a few flaws you’re too biased to see. And odds are pretty good someone is going to point those out.

It was hard to hit the “send” button, but now that When Silence Sings has landed in my editor’s in-box, I feel better. He’s going to help me find any weaknesses and strengthen the story. And if it really IS good, well, then it’s about to get even better.

Within the year I’m looking forward to introducing you to Colman Harpe, Serepta McLean, Ivy, and little Emmaline. I expect they’ll all do a bit of growing between now and then and I’m excited to see it.

Mostly 😉

Appalachian Thursday – Autumn Treasure

I didn’t think we were going to have fall this year. The weather stayed summer so long. I figured we’d get a few mild days and then winter would pounce. And as for the autumn color? The prediction was that we would go from green to brown to gone.

Which just demonstrates how bad our ability to predict what nature will do really is. While autumn has lasted maybe two weeks instead of four to six, it has been SPECTAULAR. I was fortunate to spend some time at home in WV just as peak color was hitting. Which meant I got back to NC just in time to enjoy it here.

I love fall. The tobacco, caramel smell of the woods. The russets and golds of the trees. The incredible blue of the sky. Crisp, sunshiny days. Ahhhh. This year all of that seems to have been condensed and intensified. Here’s a sampling for you:

 

Appalachian Thursday – Glad for Montana

MontanaNo, not the state.

I often brag about how the people of Appalachia are pretty fantastic. Well, this week, a young man named Montana helped prove my point.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad has Parkinson’s Disease. Every six months or so I head home and we go visit his neurologist at the WVU Medical Center. That was this past Tuesday. As we were headed out of town, Dad suggested stopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Well, sure!

Dad used to be quite the gun collector and hunted all his life. Activities that are more challenging these days. Still, it’s fun to look.

We made our way to “The Lodge” and there was Montana, a clean-cut college-age guy wearing a cross on a chain, ready to wait on a customer. Dad started talking guns with him. Montana pulled out rifle after rifle for Dad to admire. They talked guns, hunting, and worked around to sports. Montana played golf and Dad used to coach golf, so they compared notes on just about every course in the state.

It was wonderful.

Finally, another customer approached and Montana, who mentioned somewhere along the way that he’s studying nursing, moved on.

Dad and I browsed the store and as he headed for the exit, I circled back to thank this incredibly kind young man. Turns out his grandfather had Parkinson’s. He passed away two years ago, but Montana spent a lot of time with him and recognized the symptoms in my Dad.

I wanted to hug him, but settled for a thank you and a shoulder pat. Montana is doing my home state proud. He’s doing that cross around his neck proud.

I have a feeling he’s going to be an excellent nurse.

Taking a vacation–of sorts

This week I’m taking the closest thing to a vacation I ever do. It’s a week off from work to spend time with my family. It’s not exactly a trip to the beach, a cruise, or a European getaway, but it’s what I love–being on the family farm and hanging out with the people who have been part of my life since the day I was born.

In light of being on vacation, I’m giving myself a day off from the blog. No deep thoughts today. No peeks into history. No interesting tidbits. Instead, here are a few photos of my West Virginia home. I’m betting by the end of the week I’ll have a few more to add to the gallery . . .

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – Shin Rippers

shinIf you follow my blog and/or my Facebook page you know that I spend time tromping around in the woods almost every day. In theory, I’m taking Thistle for a walk, but I also just love being in the woods.

Which is not to say they’re a perfectly safe place to be. It isn’t the bears, the snakes, or other critters that give me trouble. It’s more the flora than the fauna tripping me up. Turns out there are plenty of plants that will challenge you if you go off trail in this part of the country.

Last week I headed up the mountain behind our house. There are some critter trails back there that we’ve trimmed back enough to allow human passage. Mostly. I hike these trails mostly in the winter when the leaves are down and the undergrowth is minimal.

I jumped the gun going up there in October. While the poison ivy had largely died back, the shin rippers were plentiful. What’s a shin ripper? It’s a briar or other prickly, vine-like plant growing low across the trail. You’re tromping along, you catch one of those briars, and it rips across your ankle or shin. I ran into several. As you can see. And I had long pants on!

Other prickly Appalachian flora challenges include:

  • Hollies – these are basically just prickly, although if you step on a leaf barefoot, it can be pretty awful.
  • Stinging nettle – what looks like tiny hairs on the leaves and stem are actually needle-like tubes that inject chemicals onto and even into your skin. It will burn, itch, and maybe even cause a rash. The best thing you can do is NOT touch it. If you do, DON’T RUB IT!
  • Chestnut burrs – these will be from the Chinese chestnut rather than the American chestnut that died in blight decades ago. Again, BAD to step on barefoot. Also, tricky to open the burrs with your hands without getting stuck. We pried them open with our well-shod feet.
  • Wild parsnip – what looks like a friendly yellow flower has a photosensitive chemical on its leaves. Think chemical burn.

Still, I say it’s worth the risk to get out into the woods where I can enjoy the beauty of even prickly things.