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 😉

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!

 

The Christmas Heirloom – Release Day Eve

four authors

Bethany House authors – That’s Karen front center with Kristi to the right. Becky is on the left in the back and I’m three from the right. Man, we need a picture of the four of us!

Tomorrow is the official release day for The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love Through the Generations. (Click on the image to the right if you want to order it!)

Release days have that first-day-of-school feeling. Did I pick the right outfit? Will I like my teachers? Is this the year I get to sit with the cool kids?

I liked school, but first days were always nerve-wracking no matter how ready I hoped I was. But this launch day is different because I’m not on my own. This time I have the privilege of walking into the first day of school arm-in-arm with three outstanding authors.

I’ve had a story included in a novella collection before (With All My Heart Romance Collection). But that was where our publisher simply gathered five ebook novellas with common themes and did a print edition. This time I had the pleasure of collaborating with Kristi, Karen, and Becky and tying our stories together with a piece of heirloom jewelry.

I’m still experiencing launch day butterflies, but knowing I have friends to sit with at lunch . . . well, that’s priceless.

And here’s an early review to help give me some extra encouragement:

I love the idea behind this novella collection! Four authors who each write in very different styles and equally different time periods joined together to write one story that spans generations. The execution was flawless and each author took special care in making sure her story blend well into the next. – JenGalaxy4 Christian Book Reviews

 

What do YOU write??

Bookies (3)

At the awards gala with my friend Shellie (left) and my agent Wendy (right). Smart, literary ladies!

I’ve just returned from the ACFW Conference (American Christian Fiction Writers). It’s always fun to hang out with other writers not to mention my agent and editor. But there’s a certain question folks ask each other over and over again . . .

“So what do you write?”

For years, I’ve struggled with the answer to that question. I usually said Appalachian Romance, but I knew that wasn’t quite right. My stories are set in Appalachia and there’s often an element of romance, but . . . it doesn’t quite fit. So–do I write women’s fiction? Kind of. Or is it historical? Maybe–but often readers think of historical as being set longer ago than my stories in the 40s and 50s.

Well, my agent Wendy Lawton and I finally pinned it down. Are you ready? Do you want to know what I write?

Mid-century, Appalachian, historical.

Is that a genre? Maybe not a typical genre. There aren’t many contests out there with a category for mid-century, Appalachian, historical fiction. You’ll not find a shelf with that label at your local bookstore.

But it’s MY genre. And it’s a relief to finally know what to say when a new friend leans across the table and says, “So, what do you write?”

Appalachian Thursday – Old Timey Recipes

recipe bookMy friend Valerie recently gave me a treasure. It’s a copy of the 8th edition of Old Timey Recipes from 1975 as collected by Phyllis Connor. Inside the front cover someone wrote, “West Virginia, August 1976.” Since I would have been five years old then, I think I can safely say this is the food of my childhood!

Books like this one are priceless when I’m writing a novel and want to describe a meal or a way of preparing food. In addition to recipes “current” in 1975, Phyllis added this note, “We have put in a sprinkling of old timey recipes which are really out of date (such as sassafras jelly or hog jowl with turnip greens) but these are added because of their special interest.

Well, thank goodness–those are just what I need! There are also recipes for hickory nut cake, molasses candy, corncob jelly, vinegar pie, lime pickles, leather britches beans, clover tea, and moonshine. Talk about Appalachian cooking!

Since hickory nuts are in season right now, I thought I’d share the cake recipe with you. Of course, the REAL first step in making it is gathering and cracking all those hickory nuts. Warning, if you hit one wrong it will go flying!

HICKORY NUT CAKE

1/2 cup butter and shortening, about half and half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chopped hickory nuts
4 egg whites beaten stiff

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with the milk to creamed mixture. Beat until smooth. Fold in nuts and egg whites. Pour into 2 greased 8x8x2 pans. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool. Before serving put layers together and frost with sweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle with chopped hickory nuts. -Mrs. H. T. Matthews