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.

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 😉

The (Christmas) reviews are coming in!

The Christmas quoteHeirloom has been out for nearly two weeks now! Yes, I’m still talking about my latest release–a novella that’s part of a collection with Kristi Ann Hunter, Karen Witemeyer, and Becky Wade.

Why?

Because I’m excited about it! And, the ever nerve-wracking reviews are (thus far) mostly good (and mostly good is great!). PLUS, you have a few more days to win a copy by way of Relz Reviewz. Just click on over to Rel’s website for a review and ways to rack up multiple chances to win a copy of the collection.

And if you’re wondering if the collection’s any good, here are a few reviews that made me grin:

All four stories involve unique characters united by the brooch. I enjoyed each novella as the romance unfolded and the backdrop of Christmas made it all the sweeter. The short novellas are the perfect length for a busy season. This book would make a great gift for the book lover in your life. -Jennifer K

What an absolutely delightful novella collection! I loved how perfectly the brooch was woven into each of the novellas! I adored every single one of these stories and highly recommend The Christmas Heirloom! -Caitlyn S

Probably the most unique and cleverly written set of novellas I’ve ever read! Every set of short stories will have some kind of connecting theme, but this has knocked it out of the park! -Amy

I loved the way the stories were woven together, and especially enjoyed having more stories featuring characters from from two of my currently favorite series. These novellas are beautifully created stories that feel like full length novels. -Caroline

Thank you ladies–your reviews were the best early Christmas presents ever!

 

Praying with Jane (Austen)

JaneHow could I resist?

I was offered an opportunity to be part of the launch team for Rachel Dodge‘s new devotional Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane AustenSign me up!

I’ve read and reread all of Austen’s novels and while I was vaguely aware that her father was a clergyman it never occurred to me to think of her as a person of faith. But it turns out she left three written prayers that were saved by her sister Cassandra.

Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister, Jane.

Growing up immersed in the Anglican church, Jane likely took part in family prayers each morning and evening, attended multiple–lengthy–services on Sunday, and spent a fair amount of time in personal prayer each day.

This is a side of Jane Austen I wanted to know more about.

And, since I might have some compulsive tendencies, when I noted that there are 31 devotions AND 31 days in October, I jumped into the book last week. The verdict? It’s DELIGHTFUL. Dodge does a lovely job of parsing the prayers as she weaves in scripture and snippets from Austen’s stories. All while consoling, inspiring, and encouraging me to examine my own faith.

I’m so delighted to share with you about Praying With Jane. Even though I’m only eight days in, I can already heartily recommend the book for yourself or as a gift for your favorite Jane-ite. It’s a treasure.

Appalachian Blessings on Sale

blessingsLeading up to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, my publisher has put some of my books on sale. You can currently get the digital editions of Miracle in a Dry Season for $0.99, Until the Harvest for $1.99, and A Tapestry of Secrets for $2.99 (or less!).

The stories follow three generations of the Phillips family through the trials and tribulations of love and faith from the 1940s to present day. If you’ve read one of the earlier books, this is a great time to snag the follow-up stories!

 

Contests–It’s all relative . . .

Rita. . . or do I mean subjective?

I got scores back from RWA last week. (That’s Romance Writers of America.) I entered The Sound of Rain in the “Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements” category.

Spoiler alert–my story didn’t win.

I tend to brace myself when I get scores. Having not even made the finals, I knew they weren’t going to give me the big head. There were five scores. (Which impresses me–that’s a lot of judges to wrangle and ensures a fairer contest.) The first four were downright respectable averaging out to 8.1 out of 10–not too shabby.

Then there was score #5. A big ole 3.7. Ouch. The reader indicated that she felt my book didn’t fit the category. Hmmmm. Too many religious elements? Or too few?

And that right there is the summary of this crazy, roller coaster ride of putting stories out for the world to read. There will usually be someone who ADORES what you write. And then there will be someone who can’t believe you had the audacity to put those words in print.

I’ve had reviewers upset because they didn’t realize I was writing a religious story. And others upset because they thought this was supposed to be Christian fiction.

One of my favorite reviews said that the writing was really good, but the story was terrible. She DID say I was a good writer . . . But my stories will never make everyone happy.

And that’s okay. It reminds me of those old commercials that said things like, “Four out of five dentists who chew gum recommend . . .” There was always that fifth dentist who probably preferred Black Jack chewing gum (licorice!) or who maybe didn’t chew gum at all.

So what’s my takeaway after receiving my scores? Hey, 80% of the readers enjoyed my story. I’d say that’s not too shabby. And reader #5? Well, I guess she’s not my target audience.

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Selah awardCarol, Rita, Christy, Inspy, Selah, Genesis, First Impressions, Badge of Honor . . . and those are just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Some contests are for pre-published authors, some for published, some for traditionally published, some for independent, and some mix it up. And only ONE story wins in each category. Which can leave those who DON’T win feeling . . . less than.

I coordinate a contest for pre-published authors at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and here’s what I know about contests . . . are you ready for this? They are TOTALLY subjective. Scores can vary widely, which is why at least three judges per entry is ideal.

I entered a contest before being published. One judge gave the entry a near-perfect score while another, well, clearly thought it could have been better. MUCH better.

The Carol Award finalists were announced on Saturday and what struck me wasn’t the books that were on the list, but the books that weren’t. I’ve read several really wonderful stories this past year that either weren’t entered or didn’t make the final cut.

So why bother with contests?

For pre-published authors I think it’s incredibly valuable when you get feedback and/or opportunities. Judges’ scores can point you toward weaknesses and strengths in your writing. Being a finalist or winning can sometimes get you in front of editors and/or agents. So if you’re starting out, jump into the fray! I entered multiple contests that provided invaluable input for improving my writing.

But what about the contests for published authors? What good is winning one of those?

  • For better sales? After signing my first contract I asked my editor if winning awards helped with sales. Not really. Okay, that’s probably not why.
  • For the prestige? Maybe a little bit. I mean, it IS fun to sit up front at the ceremony and have folks congratulate you. Plus you usually get something pretty to wear or put on your shelf.
  • For the affirmation? Hmmm. This may be getting closer. Did I mention writing is subjective? Having a panel of judges say, “This is good,” is something of a relief. Writers are notorious for self-doubt.
  • For the joy of celebrating work done well? Wow–I hope so. It’s nice to lift up excellence–to applaud it and encourage those who produce it to keep up the good work.
  • To support organizations for writers? Ahhhh, now this one is a bit different. Quite a few contests use entry fees for things like scholarships or to support an organization that provides services for writers. Even if you don’t final or win, you can feel good about supporting other writers.

I go back and forth on contests. I think they’re a wonderful tool for writers yet to be published, but I’m conflicted about entering now that I have several books under my belt. I guess the trick is to get real with myself about why I’m entering. And then decide if that reason is worth the entry fee . . .

I’d love for writers who have entered contests to chime in and share your experiences!