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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Ahem. I have a confession to make.

For you wonderful people who have participated in the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt and followed through on subscribing to my blog in order to receive a free copy of my novella, Reforming Seneca Jones—what I meant to request was that you sign up for my newsletter on my website home page, which is here:

www.bethwhite.net

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with subscribing to my blog…except that I don’t keep up with it as regularly as I should anymore! Signing up for my newsletter will get you a brief email from me, about four times a year—just giving you updates on what I’m working on, any appearances/book signings, etc, and of course new books! Also, that way I can pass along alerts to special deals run by my publisher, Amazon, or myself.

With that said, I will certainly honor your request for the novella, so I’ll send the download instructions along to your email address as soon as my hair is no longer on fire (it’s that time of year for high school teachers).

Carry on!

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Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! I am a part of TEAM PINK, and this is Stop #5. If you’re just joining us, there are two loops—pink and purple—and they begin at Lisa Bergren’s site and Robin Hatcher’s site for stop #1 for either stream. If you complete either the pink loop or purple loop, you can enter for a Kindle paperwhite and the 17 autographed books from that loop. If you complete BOTH loops, you can enter for the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire HDX and ALL 34 autographed books.

BE SURE to keep track of the clues at the bottom of every post in the loop and the favorite number mentioned. You’ll need those clues to enter for the loop prize and every number mentioned in order to enter for the grand prize.

The Hunt begins at NOON Mountain time on April 16 and ends at midnight Mountain on April 19, 2015, so you have a long weekend to complete all 32 stops and maximize your chances at prizes!

ALSO, please don’t use Internet Explorer to navigate through the loops. Some web sites won’t show up using IE. Please use Chrome or Firefox—they’re better anyway!

Without further ado, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to my guest for the Scavenger Hunt, Elizabeth Goddard.

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Elizabeth is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than twenty romance novels. A seventh generation Texan, Elizabeth graduated with a B.S. degree in computer science and worked in high-level software sales before retiring to home school her children and fulfill her dream of becoming an author. She currently makes her home in Minnesota, where she works with her husband in ministry. Find out more at elizabethgoddard.com, facebook.com/elizabethgoddardauthor, twitter.com/bethgoddard.

Here’s the summary of her latest book, BURIED:

Nowhere To Hide…

Fleeing to Alaska is the only option for Leah Marks after witnessing a murder. Afraid for her life, the legal investigator hopes a remote cabin will be a safe shelter. But the killer has tracked her to Mountain Cove. As he chases her into snow-packed Dead Falls Canyon, an avalanche buries them both. Saved by daring search and rescue specialist Cade Warren, Leah longs to tell him the truth. But how can she, without bringing even more danger into Cade’s life? Especially when they discover the killer is very much alive and waiting to take them both down.

Mountain Cove: In the Alaskan wilderness, love and danger collide

And here’s her EXCLUSIVE content, that you’ll only find in this hunt!

Avalanche Specialist: A Day in the Life

In BURIED, my hero is an avalanche specialist. That title covers a wide range of responsibilities, but mainly he’s a forecaster. Until I began research for the story, I had no idea there was such a job! I contacted an avalanche specialist to get details. He shared what he does for a living and his day-to-day activities. An avalanche specialist is an expert who works to keep people safe on the mountains and in urban areas where an avalanche can wreak havoc.

All photos by Bill Glude
He first gets experience on ski patrol, the best way to learn everything about avalanches. Ski patrollers get out early and assess the hazard by digging snow pits and setting off explosives to trigger avalanches in a controlled environment—all of this before the public hits the slopes.

After spending years doing this, a person gets a feel for the mountain, snow and backcountry terrain. Being in top physical condition, along with superior mountaineering skills, is also a requirement. And for a top job as a forecaster, an avalanche specialist needs a college degree in a technical or science field such as meteorology, engineering, geology or glaciology.

The work is grueling, and the pay isn’t always great. He lives and breathes avalanches. Lives are at stake.

But an avalanche specialist spends hours in the pristine mountain backcountry. He sees terrain and scenery that most never see. He skis or snowmobiles. Lives on the edge. Plays with explosives. Best of all, he saves lives!

So what does his day look like? Let Cade Warren tell you:

My day starts at 5 AM. I check temps, look out the window, record the weather and study weather websites as I get ready. At the office I work on the forecast that goes out at 7 AM so people can plan their day. Any changes in weather or avalanche warnings go out by 4 PM, again so people can plan their evening.

On field days, two of us work together for safety reasons, while others remain at the Mountain Cove Avalanche Center to monitor and report weather. We check paths, monitor loading and wind at starting zones, and study paths through binoculars, recording activity and conditions. When we forecast over Mountain Cove, we test slopes next to the starting zone that would affect the houses below. That requires helicopter access.

In case of extreme danger, an alert goes to the city, the National Weather Service, and SAR teams and media. During avalanche season, we’re in the field at higher elevations observing first hand. If we’re caught and a helicopter cannot return, then we have a designated path to ski down. Field work can take all day, taking pictures and making notes before skiing back down. At home I continually monitor conditions, especially during inclement weather. This sounds simplistic, but it’s too complex to explain. Avalanche stability evaluation includes observation, slope and traveling tests, and snow pit studies.

And there you have it—a day in the life of an unsung hero of the mountains!

THE SCAVENGER HUNT SKINNY:

Thanks for stopping by on the hunt! Before you go, make sure you WRITE DOWN THESE CLUES:

Secret Word(s): The

Secret Number: 12, for the number of steps in the chromatic scale

Got ‘em down?? Great! Your next stop is #6, Elizabeth Goddard’s site. Click on over there now. And if you get lost, a complete list of the loop with links can be found at our mother host’s site.

One more thing before you head out—I’m offering an extra treat for anyone who signs up for my newsletter: a free electronic copy of my novella “Reforming Seneca Jones”! Just fill out the subscribe form on my home page.

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young woman adjusting stockings by the windowThe following post is Part Two of an article I wrote for Angie Arndt of http://seriouslywrite.blogspot.com. Angie is posting the first half of the article at the above link, so if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to hop over there for the introductory section, then come back here for the rest. This comes in celebration of the release of my brand new historical romance, The Pelican Bride!

 

I’ve learned my own rhythm of composition. I know when I need a large quantity of time alone in my “writing cave”—and I’ve learned to unashamedly, firmly, but kindly insist on being left alone. I’ll call a substitute for my kids’ Bible study class so I can stay home and focus. I’ll take a day or two off from work (not too often though!) or say no to a Saturday babysitting request.

On days when I know there are going to be constant interruptions—like a three-day off-campus conference with my choir students—I take along research reading material and my iPad for notes, so that when I have a few minutes to myself I can occupy myself with something that doesn’t take as much concentration as composition or editing. And I save monotonous tasks (like updating my website or transferring addresses into a newsletter list) for broken-up tracts of time.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way: if I don’t discipline myself, the work doesn’t get done. Bottom line, if you want to write a book, nobody is going to do it for you. I, for example, have to say no to Sudoku. I have to occasionally turn off my favorite writers’ email loop. I have to limit TV time to an hour before bedtime.

And, as a Christian writer, I must be careful of priorities—or I cannot expect God to honor my desire to write for his glory. Priority number one is devotional and prayer time. Every single day. Priority number two is protecting my relationship with my husband. He gets the best of me, not the leftovers. After that, I listen to the Holy Spirit, as I said earlier. Sometimes the teaching job comes next, sometimes it’s my kids and grandkids, sometimes church responsibilities, sometimes the fiction writing.

A common question I get is How do you do all that and not go nuts? Well, holding those things loosely is one thing keeping me sane. Letting any one of those titles—writer, teacher, musician, wife, mother—define me, take over my life, would be seriously unhealthy. I’ve seen people become filled with pride to the point that they fall apart when the gift is removed.

Another suggestion (besides the obvious thing of staying in church fellowship) for keeping it real is to foster close relationships with other Christian writers who can keep you accountable—both to the work of writing and to maintaining spiritual health. Besides my husband and my sisters and mom, I have two or three very close friends/prayer partners whom I would be lost without.

I hope I haven’t set myself up as an expert in time management. I struggle daily to fit in all that seems important—and still write potentially life-changing stories. All I know is that my life to this point has been one wild, surprising ride. Jesus has been in it with me from the beginning, and I cannot wait to see what he has next. I would love to hear others share things they have learned in the course of balancing this high-wire of life. What say you?

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A Promise Kept cover

I would like to introduce my readers to a new book by my dear friend Robin Lee Hatcher. The only reason I haven’t read it yet is because it will release in a couple of days! Robin has been one of the most influential authors of my life, both personally and professionally. She has mentored and taught me (often without being aware) and many, many other Christian writers—and she has produced some truly groundbreaking novels in the Christian fiction marketplace. I’ll never forget reading The Forgiving Hour, early in my own publishing career. (Go. Get. That. Book.)

After, that is, you’ve read this new one! Personally, I can’t wait! And tomorrow I will post an interview with Robin about A Promise Kept.

A promise from God is a promise kept

Robin Lee Hatcher draws on her own personal pain to illustrate God’s goodness.

When Robin Lee Hatcher’s marriage ended in divorce, she was devastated.I’d been so convinced God had promised me that He would save our marriage,” the author says, but she quickly learned that sometimes God answers prayer in the most unexpected ways. In the following years, God used the pain of what appeared to be a failed marriage to draw her closer to Him. In A Promise Kept (Thomas Nelson/January 7, 2014/ISBN: 978-1401687656/$15.99) Hatcher draws on that personal pain to craft a story about a woman married to an alcoholic, a woman who has to learn the value and importance of surrendering everything to the Lord.

 

 

Despite the similarities to her own life, Hatcher notes, “Allison’s life is not the same as mine. I didn’t retreat to a mountain cabin nor have an aunt whose journals helped me discover truths I needed to know, nor did I withdraw from God during the depths of my grief as Allison does. But every lesson God teaches me eventually makes its way into one of my stories. That was certainly true of A Promise Kept.”

 

 

In A Promise Kept, Allison finds herself divorced despite her long-held belief that God would save her marriage. She’s left asking, “What became of God’s promise?” Tony Kavanagh had been Allison’s dream-come-true. They were in love within days, engaged within weeks, then married and pregnant within a year. Her cup bubbled over with joy . . . but years later, that joy had been extinguished by unexpected trials.

 

 

The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum to get and stay sober or leave, she thought it might save their marriage. She never expected he would actually choose to walk out the door. She was certain God had promised to heal; it was clear she’d misunderstood. Now, living in the quiet mountain cabin she inherited from her single, self-reliant great aunt Emma, Allison must come to terms with her grief and figure out how to adapt to small-town life. But when she finds a wedding dress and a collection of journals in Emma’s attic, a portrait of her aunt emerges that takes Allison completely by surprise: a portrait of a heartbroken woman surprisingly like herself.

 

 

As Allison reads the incredible story of Emma’s life in the 1920s and 1930s, she is forced to ask a difficult question: Has she really surrendered every piece of her life to the Lord?

 

 

Drawing from her own heart-wrenching story of redemption and eventual reconciliation with her husband, A Promise Kept is Hatcher’s emotionally charged thanksgiving to a God who keeps His promises. “I hope readers will be encouraged to keep walking forward,” Hatcher says. “I hope, if they are in a troubled marriage, that they will seek God with their whole hearts and not act out of selfishness but out of obedience. I hope reading A Promise Kept will deepen their faith in a God who answers prayers, in His own way and His own time.”

 

Robin Lee Hatcher will be hosting a Facebook party on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 8:00 PM EST to chat with readers about A Promise Kept, give away copies of the book and reveal the grand prize winner of a social media giveaway. More details will be available on her Facebook page.

 

Advance Praise

 

“A beautiful, heart-touching story of God’s amazing grace, and how He can restore and make new that which was lost.”

 

~  Francine Rivers, New York Times bestselling author

 

 

“Hatcher’s beautifully crafted tale alternates between the past and the present. Allison and Emma are incredibly relatable characters, and readers are able to examine their own lives through the mirror of the novel’s events. Filled with family and faith, the author’s phrasing is exquisite and a treat to savor.”

 

~ RT Book Reviews Top Pick

 

 

“Hatcher departs from her more recent historical novels for this contemporary exploration of the conundrum faced by believers when they accept God’s word but can’t see it being manifested in their lives. Seeking refuge from the pain of her recent divorce, Allison Kavanagh moves to the remote mountain cabin in Idaho, bequeathed to her by beloved Aunt Emma… With the help of family and newfound church community, Allison reconsiders the trajectory of her marriage, and gradually works through her spiritual and emotional turmoil. The mountain setting is as appealing an aspect of this upbeat, well-paced novel as Allison, Emma, and their family and friends.”

 

~ Publisher’s Weekly

 

“Award-winning Hatcher’s latest is a story of love, heartbreak, and redemption… Hatcher’s inspirational novel dramatizes the perception that even when it seems like you’re alone, you are always a part of a greater plan.”

 

~ Booklist 

 

About the author

 

 

robinLeeBest-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She discovered her vocation after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. Winner of the Christy, the RITA, the Carol, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and many other awards, Hatcher is also a recipient of the prestigious RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author of 70 novels and novellas with more than five million copies in print.

 

 

Hatcher’s own experience being married to an alcoholic led her down an unexpected path. Her divorce, though painful, strengthened her faith and gave God the opportunity to save not only her husband but her marriage as well. Their reconciliation became the answer to prayer Hatcher had been waiting for and it became part of the deeply personal story she wanted to share with her readers in A Promise Kept.

 

 

Hatcher enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. Her main hobby (when time allows) is knitting, and she has a special love for making prayer shawls. A mother and grandmother, Robin and her husband, Jerry, make their home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with Poppet, the high-maintenance Papillon and Princess Pinky, the DC (demon cat).

 

 

For more information about Hatcher and her books, visit her online home at www.robinleehatcher.com, become a fan on Facebook (robinleehatcher) or follow her on Twitter (@robinleehatcher). 

 

 

 

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I’ve always been a library geek. As soon as I started earning my own money, mostly from babysitting, I began to collect keepers—books I would take off the shelf and read over and over. Now there exists an obscene amount of reading material stashed on shelves and in closets and cubbies all over the house.

Like most professional writers, though, I came to a point where, if I wanted to be productive, I had to curb the addiction. Plus, I started getting a lot of books free, at conferences. Funny thing: a story that costs nothing has less appeal than one for which one plunks down hard cold cash. About a year ago I realized I hadn’t read anything for pleasure in, well…years. I guess Harry Potter was the last one. How could that be? Reading has been a life-threatening illness for me, since the days I sat in my father’s lap reading the funny papers with him.

So on a whim I decided to read a book that my best friend recommended so highly that she bought a whole crate to disseminate amongst her reading acquaintance. Um, I was hooked. Now here’s the crazy thing. It’s an epic fantasy series to the tune of 300,000-400,000 words a pop—with a gazillion viewpoint characters, weird spellings, maps, supernatural heebie-jeebies, blood and gore, and—you name it, everything I hate in a book (Do not take this as a recommendation; The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin is not appropriate reading for young and/or squeamish readers. There is sexual and language and violence content that I had to judiciously skip over.).

But I can’t put it down. I think about the characters at odd moments. The tangled relationships and mythology satisfies some story itch I didn’t know I had. And I would never list fantasy as my favorite genre, in fact it generally makes me stick a finger down my throat.

I want to learn to write like this. So I sat down and tried to list the things that keep me glued to the page. Here they are in no particular order:

10. Reality is Relative

If the story world is laid out and developed carefully, even a fantasy becomes so “real” that the reader instinctively knows when something is “off.” I think that’s part of the fun of reading fiction. To guess and predict what might happen but maintain enough curiosity to follow the story to the end, to see if you’re right.

Usually I am not patient enough as a reader to wade through paragraphs of description of alien trees and life forms, but even a wall of ice becomes a character in its own right, if the form of it, the age of it, the thickness of it, is built so integrally into the plot that it couldn’t be extracted without damaging the fabric of the story.

This tells me something about the spiritual element of the genre I choose to write. Religion is going to be alien (i.e. unrealistic) to some readers. Those folks might not be my “target audience,” but I could potentially draw them in, if the “God element” is treated as an invisible character, with traits as attractive/interesting/critical to the plot as any other.

9. The Darker the Struggle, the More Powerful the Payoff

There is a place for lightness and escapism. I’m a fan of comedy, musical theater, rom-com. I have written and performed all of the above. By the same token, I avoid tragedy like the proverbial plague. Oprah’s Book Club choices used to make me want to stick a pencil in my eye. I occasionally tried to be all highbrow and read one, but I would get maybe through a chapter and think, “Life’s too short to invite depression. Give me a happy ending any day.”

Then I realized that a large part of my enjoyment of Martin’s fantasy series was the vicarious relief I felt when the protagonist was delivered from a place of dark struggle. I had come to passionately care for Jon Snow, to worry when he faced painful circumstances, to agonize with his loss of love and trust. It’s a difficult thing to put my own characters into a crucible, because I love them, and because their emotions are my own. If they’re in pain, I’m in pain. I just have to remember that deliverance is coming. Gotta have that happy ending…eventually!

8. The Hero Could, and Probably Will, Die

There’s some unwritten rule of the romance genre, that the hero must never die. So when I came to the quarter point of Game of Thrones, and the point-of-view character who seemed to be the lead was beheaded, I threw the book across the room. What the heck? Really?

After I calmed down and reluctantly began to read again, I realized what was going on. This writer could not be trusted. If Ned could die, literally anything could happen! And that was sort of freeing. All was lost, but All Was Not Lost…sort of like in the Bible, in the sense that Jesus had to die in order for His followers to live. So in a way, this is an extension of Number 9. I must be willing to take my hero/heroine all the way to death and back again, if I want to create the ultimate story experience for my readers.

7. Ugly is More Interesting Than Beautiful

Okay, if I can find myself rooting for a hero who is less than 5 feet tall and has lost most of his nose in a sword fight, or a homely 10-year-old girl, what does that say? It says my job as a writer is not to make my heroes fantasy-level beautiful, but rather to develop their inner psyches, to make sure their actions reflect heroism, to the point that the reader begins to cheer for them, identify with them, indeed feel their emotions on a visceral level. And I think that goes, again, back to Number 9. Take them to a place of darkness and fear, and allow them to fight their way out.

6. Questions Are Better Than Answers

I quickly noticed something about the structure of Martin’s stories. Every chapter, nearly every scene, ends with some dramatic question, which is followed by a scene from the point of view of a different character, and the original question is not answered until several scenes later.

I have to confess, this made me crazy, at first. But it also made me read faster and kept me glued into the story, impatient to find out what was going to happen to answer that question…and then I would get caught up in the present character’s action/dilemma, and the cycle continued… until several hundred pages later, we would have a boiling mass of action and complicated story threads that somehow miraculously connected into one giant story.

Obviously, there has to be an ending somewhere. And the payoff had better be pretty spectacular to justify this bait-and-switch structure. But I have been challenged to stretch my own story-telling wings and try that delayed gratification technique a little more often.

5. My Vocabulary Isn’t as Big as I Thought

Some conventional writing wisdom says that for maximum sales impact, one should write to the fourth grade level. Mr. Martin didn’t get that memo. More than once along the way I’ve had to resort to the dictionary to check my understanding of some wonderful word, though the context made it fairly clear. And I love it. New words! New verbal colors to put in my paint box!

And why should I not give my own readers the full range of that paint box? Why settle for a generic sketch, when we could have a master work? Viva education!

4. The Past Explains the Present

Martin makes no effort, at first, to explain his characters’ sometimes bizarre, cruel, and anti-social behavior. But in bits and pieces, we get into the thoughts and memories of those people, until that inexplicable behavior in the present story becomes perfectly logical and justified, in some cases even heroic. This is the genius of creating characters who may not be “likable” in the traditional formulaic sense, but who are sympathetic, in the sense that we identify with their motivations in a psychological and/or spiritual sense. I’ll find myself thinking, Well, if that happened to me, I might feel/say/do the same thing. Certainly Martin is capable of creating truly evil, despicable characters, but it resonates deeply with me that anyone who is abused or tortured long enough can descend to almost anything. And often, it takes little to make most of us act out of purely selfish motives. Original sin, and all that. Biblical concept.

3. Flashback is Not a Dirty Word

The longer I write for a living, the more I question some of the carved-in-stone “rules” I learned as a newbie, the more I understand them to be rather guidelines for clarity. One such rule of thumb involves the use of flashbacks as a storytelling technique. Conventional wisdom prohibits a flashback in the first few pages of the story. There’s wisdom there, as rapid shifts in time frame can cause reader confusion. Also, long flashback scenes tend to slow or stop action in the present story. But when skillfully woven into a character’s reaction to present action/dialogue, memories can deepen and enrich the reader’s experience, creating closer identification.

Think about it. We are created to be reflective, empathetic beings. What we see, hear and experience makes us remember and think about other things we have seen and heard and experienced. We compare and contrast, we project and worry about what could happen, we try to interpret. Any writer who can smoothly take me so deeply into a character’s psyche, that I don’t even notice that I’ve been in his or her “past” for several pages, has discovered the art of identification.

And that, friends, is fiction gold.

2. Villains Are People Too

This point is related to #4 above, but it deserves a little elaboration. For a long time, I thought of the “villain” or “antagonist” as a necessary evil, if you will, of novel construction. The hero, I reasoned, can be only as heroic as the villain is evil. Well, thats’s sort of true. But a more complex, perhaps more mature way to think of it, as I heard one writing teacher say, is that every villain is the hero of his own story. His actions should be just as well motivated as the hero’s.

How much more compelling is Darth Vader, how much more powerfully frightening is he, when we understand that he once was Jedi, and his evil comes from a frustrated craving for the power and recognition he thinks should have been his? Another good example is in the musical Wicked, where every good character from The Wizard of Oz is turned upside down, and vice versa. Perspective is everything.

So, as I plot these days, as I work on story arc, I spend a lot of thought and research on my antagonist. He or she must be the perfect foil for the hero, with hopes and dreams and disappointments of his own. Specificity creates identification in the reader. Reader identification is the goal.

Character Trumps Genre

Romance has been my go-to genre since I was a teenager. Romantic suspense, historical romance, romantic comedy, inspirational/Christian romance. But mostly I read for author voice and character development. So when I find an outside-the-romance-box writer who can get me deeply invested in her characters’ lives, I am sold. Every time. Western. Mystery. Chick lit. Young adult. Even science fiction and fantasy, which used to glaze my eyes.

So what have I learned from my least-favorite genre (not counting literary, which is another kettle of fish completely)? That creating characters which transcend genre doesn’t just happen–it takes the hard work of plotting, research, wordsmithing, psychological truth, and honesty. It takes the will to enter dark, untraveled emotional places, the courage to take risks, break rules, turn formula and cliche on its head.

Above all, I have learned how much there is to learn about the craft and the art of storytelling.

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This post is for my hard-core fans (all three of you). If you’ve read Fair Game, you might enjoy this little scene that I wrote to ground myself in the two protagonists’ backstory. It was written back in the summer of 2005, before I started the book, while I was developing characters and plot.

FAIR GAME – PROLOGUE

Jana Baldwin decided to take her peanut-butter-and-jelly-on-white-bread sandwich out to one of the picnic tables on the patio outside the cafeteria. If middle school had been a scary place, high school was positively terrifying. Her brother Quinn might have eased the way, but he was in class. As a junior, he was on the opposite lunch wave.

She’d braved two weeks of this excruciating loneliness, and she was ready to give up. Just go off to the woods behind the school and smoke a joint. She didn’t crave the narcotic exactly, she was just bored. And she wanted to see if she could get the possum that lived in the hollow log in the center of Grandpa’s land, which adjoined the school property, to come out without hissing at her.

She stood outside the back door, scanning the students gathering at the concrete tables. Miranda Gonzales and her crowd of JV cheerleaders had commandeered the table farthest away from the building. There were five of them, all pretty and well-dressed, with perfect make-up and hair. Jana considered for a crazy second walking up and introducing herself.

“Hi, I’m Jana Baldwin,” she’d say. “Anybody want to trade a PBJ for some fettuccini Alfredo?”

This summer she’d been given a scholarship to the youth camp sponsored by the Baptist church. Miranda had befriended her, made sure she had someone to sit with during meals, even shared a bunk. But once they’d returned home, it became clear that Miranda’s attack of guilt-induced compassion had only been temporary. There were no invitations to hang out at the mall, or anyplace else for that matter. Jana had become invisible again.

So what chance would there be of companionship here in the shark pit that was Vancleave High School?

Hitching the gym bag that served as her backpack a little higher on her shoulder, Jana swiped her sweaty hands down the sides of her jeans. They were last year’s style, bought at a store in Mobile that was going out of business. Thank goodness T-shirts from Goodwill were in style, so nobody cared how old this one was. Her off-brand tennis shoes were pretty ratty, too. She wished she could just go barefoot like she did all summer. That would solve the problem.

Okay, just sit down somewhere and let people give you dirty looks. What are they gonna do, shoot you?

No, but being shot would be preferable to people getting up and moving when you sat down.
Jana wasn’t the only kid from a dysfunctional, poor family in this school, but if she were honest she didn’t want to sit with any of them either. She wanted to be whole and loved and cared-for.

She leaned over, watching as Miranda opened a paper lunch sack and took out a packaged burrito.

“Ooh, you’re going to eat that cold?” asked one of the other girls.

Miranda tore the cellophane. “Too long a line for the microwave. I’m hungry.”

Miranda had been so nice this summer. She probably didn’t mean to be snooty. She’d just gotten busy and forgot to call.

There was one seat left at the cheerleader table. Were they saving it for somebody else? Jana edged closer. She watched Miranda laugh and toss her curly dark-blonde hair when somebody teased her about having a crush on a band geek.

“I live with a band geek,” Miranda said. “I’m immune to geekiness.”

“Yeah, but your brother’s cute,” sighed the first girl, who had about five pounds of make-up globbed on her face. “And he’s a senior.”

“Grant won’t pay attention to any female unless she’s a doe in the sights of his gun,” Miranda said with a shudder. Her pert nose wrinkled. “Speaking of geeks, there’s the great white hunter himself.”

Jana stood just behind a brick column and watched Grant Gonzales approach his sister, whistling, both hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Hey, Squirt,” he said, stopping at the table. “Got any money?”

“Matter of fact I do, but you don’t get it. Mom gave it to me for my cheerleader pictures.”

Grant scowled. “No fair, she dumps money on you whenever you ask.”

“You have a job,” Miranda said. “You can pay your own way.”

“Yeah, and I also have a truck that guzzles gas. Come on, Miranda, all I need is thirty cents for a Dr. Pepper.” He gave the girls at the table a cajoling smile, as if to ask, How can she possibly resist me? He had a shallow dimple in one cheek that wasn’t the least bit feminine. If anything it emphasized the hardness of his sharp cheekbones and jaw. Three of the girls reached for their purses.

Jana herself was mesmerized. If she’d had thirty cents she would have given it to him just to see that smile turned her way. His long hair, the same color and texture as Miranda’s, shone like burnished bronze in the strong sunlight. He still had a summer tan that made his contrasting white T-shirt glow like neon. His eyes, deep-lidded and sleepy, made her think of the dark pralines on the counter of Uncle Elvin’s store.

Suddenly Miranda laughed and unsnapped her saddlebag purse, removing a small coin pocket. “All right, you turkey, but this is the last time.” She handed the money to her brother, but grabbed his wrist before he could pull away. “Listen, have you seen Jana Baldwin around today?”

Jana started, and shrank further behind the column. What on earth?

Grant raised a golden-brown eyebrow. “Who?”

“You remember, the girl with the dark, curly hair I bunked with at camp? Quinn’s sister.”

Quinn was the pitcher of the baseball team and was headed for the pros. Everybody knew him. Grant’s expression cleared. “Oh yeah. The wild child in the dorky clothes that followed you around all week—Ow!” Miranda had whacked him hard in the abdomen with her purse. “Isn’t she the one that always has a ferret or a kitten or something in her pocket?”

“That’s her.” It didn’t seem to bother Miranda that she’d injured her gorgeous big brother. “I’ve been looking for her since school started, but she’s been hiding. She’s pretty shy, but I thought you might have seen her.”

“Sorry, kiddo.” Grant stuffed his quarters into his jeans pockets and took a step back out of the reach of Miranda’s weapon. “Guess she’s the kind of girl that blends into the scenery.”

He slouched away in the direction of the dining hall, walking right past Jana without seeing her. She stood flattened against the warm roughness of the bricks, trying to catch her breath.

Dorky clothes. Blends into the scenery.

Wild child.

Fighting tears, she didn’t stay to hear Miranda’s next remark.

# # #

Jana was late for senior prom. In the last three years of high school she had established her reputation well. She’d been dating Richie Cutrere since Christmas, and she was thrilled that someone from the Gonzales family had noticed her, even if he was a rather distant relation. Richie was older and good-looking in a flamboyant sort of way, with his wide flashing smile and bleached blond hair. He dressed like a cowboy because he loved country-western music better than life itself. In fact, he kept his guitar case behind the seat of his truck and would pull it out to sing with little or no provocation.

Jana loved to hear Richie sing. When he sang, she was reminded of all the sweet love stories she’d ever heard, all the dreams she longed to live, and she could forget the times he didn’t call her, the times his voice got rough like her daddy’s, the times he was a little stoned and made fun of her.

His band was performing at the prom tonight, so she was going to meet him at the VFW. Since she didn’t have a car, she’d have to walk. She’d put her high-heeled sandals in her gym bag so she wouldn’t ruin them. Sneakers looked a little funny with her pink lace formal, and the skirt wanted to drag the ground. But she held it up off the road as best she could and pretended she was Cinderella in a golden-pumpkin carriage. And just like Cinderella, she had mice in her bag. Well, technically a gerbil named Gino. Gino the Coachman. Cool.

She unzipped the bag and peeked in on him.

“You doing all right, buddy?” she asked him. He twitched his whiskers and went back to sleep.

She hadn’t dared leave him at home. Daddy had threatened to set a trap for the gerbil if he saw him outside the cage again. She didn’t trust Daddy. At all.

The lit parking lot of the VFW came into view, just past Lynn’s Yard Art on the right and the Kountry Karioke on the left. The gravel lot was full of students’ trucks and souped-up cars, as well as a few of the teachers’ sedans and minivans. There was the decrepit van Richie’s drummer drove, and Richie’s pick-up, backed up to the side door.

Being late was good. She wasn’t going to blend into the scenery ever again. She had picked the tightest loud-pink, lowest-cut dress she could find, and she was going to laugh and dance and make Richie proud of her. She’d taken Grant Gonzales’s assessment—wild child—and made it her standard, her banner for high school. She hadn’t been back to church since that ninth-grade summer camp, but she’d kept up with Grant’s career in college. Her brother Quinn played baseball at Mississippi State, where Grant attended college. It was too bad he wouldn’t be here to see the transformation.

Jana stopped at Richie’s truck, where she opened the unlocked door and sat down to take off her tennis shoes. She slipped on her sandals, admiring her polished opalescent toenails. Pretty. Leaving Gino’s bag in the truck, she wobbled across the parking lot.
She could hear country-rock music blaring from the open door. Richie’s band might not be good, but they were loud. She wouldn’t get to dance with him, but she was his date, and she was going to dance with everybody else whether he liked it or not.

Dancing already, Jana stood in the doorway clutching her little beaded handbag. She’d worked over Spring break in the Quick-Stop to save money for her dress, shoes, and purse. She’d bought them second-hand, but she knew she was eye-catching.

Mrs. Davenport sat at a table just inside the door with a cash box, taking up tickets. She had on her church dress, with suntan pantyhose and a butterfly barrette in her gray hair. She looked ridiculous, but at least there was a smile on her round face, something you didn’t see in Senior English very often. It was clear she enjoyed doing something besides explaining the three-act structure of Shakespearean drama to people who barely knew how to put together a coherent sentence.

Jana smiled at the teacher as she handed over her ticket. Richie had paid for it, with the understanding that he wanted to see her after the dance. She dreaded those groping, awkward sessions in Richie’s truck, parked out in the woods where things should have been safe and quiet. But she enjoyed knowing she had his undivided attention, even if it was for only about twenty minutes. Longer if she could hold him off with just kissing.

Her eyes quickly adjusted to the strobing light inside the dark room, and she found Richie fronting the band onstage. He looked great in tight jeans, western shirt, and cowboy boots, his long blond hair flying and acoustic guitar rocking. Satisfied that he’d seen her come in, she looked around. Small round tables had been set up, with folding chairs around them and lined up along the walls. The room was full, and nobody else had noticed her.

She tip-tapped, awkward in her high heels, toward a table occupied by her girlfriends, Ema and Grace, and their boyfriends. It looked to Jana like there was something besides punch in those cups on the table. The whole group was loud. Obnoxious.

Jana wanted to make an entrance, but she didn’t want to do it in a group. She changed direction and walked through the center of the room, where the cheerleader-and-football crowd had gathered. A spotlight hit her as it swung through, blinding her. Throwing up a hand, she stumbled against someone, felt big hands close around her upper arms and hold on until she regained her balance. It was someone tall, in a black tux and a blindingly white shirt. Looking up, she recognized Grant Gonzales.

“What are you doing here?” she blurted. “You’re supposed to be in college.”

He looked amused and a bit puzzled. “I was invited.” He nodded toward a table where his sister Miranda sat with Tony Mullins and another senior cheerleader named Jasmine Guerry. “Um, do I know you?”

Recovering, she looked pointedly down at his hand on her arm—which he quickly dropped—and shook back her long hair. She’d left it streaming around her shoulders and down her bare back for effect. “I doubt it,” she said flatly. “Excuse me.”

She would have loved to remain where she was and pursue the interest she’d seen in Grant’s eyes, but she’d accidentally caught Richie’s eye, and he was motioning her toward him.

But Grant shifted so that she could no longer see Richie. “Wait a minute. Didn’t you used to come to our church? Would you like to dance?” He gave her the charming half-shy smile he cultivated, one which she suspected came rooted in bone-deep self-confidence.

Wild child, she thought, looking away. Jasmine was giggling at something Miranda said, but her eyes kept cutting toward her missing date. Who had just asked Jana to dance.

An imp of something vindictive brought Jana’s chin up. All those years of being labeled. Of being lumped with the trouble-makers. Of being pushed to the bottom of the class. She could even the score, right here, right now. She could dance with Miranda’s brother—Jasmine’s date.

Forget Richie.

She listened for a second as the band began a slow song, one of Richie’s trademark croon-till-you-swoon ballads, and almost reconsidered. A rock-and-roll fast dance would be less awkward. Then she looked at Grant’s face again and saw he was thinking about backing off.

“I’d love to,” she said quickly and stepped close to him.

“Aren’t you going to tell me your name?” he asked, drawing her into his arms.

She gulped. He was a lot bigger than Richie, towering over her like a tree. She could feel those big hands on her waist all the way through the silky fabric of her dress. “I don’t think so,” she said.

He looked amused again. “Oh, the Cinderella gig. I get it.”

“Yeah.” She laughed nervously, thinking of Gino in her bag out in the truck. Richie was going to have a cow when he saw that.

“Well, since I’m Prince Charming I get a kiss at the end, right?”

She looked up at him wide-eyed.

“Relax, I was kidding.” His dimple appeared.

Jana did not relax. She’d never been so nervous in her life. Well, except for the first two weeks of high school. This guy wore a tux that cost more than her entire wardrobe, including the dress she had on. And he was so good-looking she kept forgetting to breathe.

They danced in silence, swaying really, for a few minutes, while Richie sang through the speakers, the whole situation surreal. Jana noticed that he had a small cut on his chin and he smelled like Coast soap. His nose wasn’t exactly straight, but it was slim and strong, with fine-cut nostrils, and arched like a bow. Intriguing. She could see the muscles of his jaw and hollow cheeks work occasionally as if he were thinking, and she wondered what was going through his head.

“Uh-oh,” he said as the music suddenly changed. He stopped moving.

Jana tensed. “What?”

“Is Richie Cutrere your boyfriend?”

Then she realized the vocals and guitar had dropped out, though the keyboard and rhythm had continued. “He—we’re sort of going out.” Jana turned to see what Grant was looking at.

And felt her heart zoom sickeningly into her throat. Richie had put down his guitar and jumped off the stage. He was shoving through people to get to her.

“I wish you’d said something,” Grant said mildly, but he kept hold of her hand, placing her behind him. “Hang on.”

Jana peered around Grant’s arm to see Richie swaggering toward them. He stopped with both fists knotted at his waist. “What do you think you’re doing?” Richie said.

Jana didn’t know if he was talking to her or to Grant, but she opened her mouth to sass back.

“Enjoying the music,” Grant said before she could say a word.

“Well enjoy it with somebody else’s girlfriend. Come here, Jan.” Calling her an ugly name, Richie reached for her arm.

Jana hated being called “Jan.” She was about to say so when Grant shifted his body again, coming between her and Richie. “Don’t talk to her that way.”

“Mind your own business.” Richie frowned, one fist lifting closer to his chest. He wasn’t big, but he was fearless as a banty rooster, and he’d been known to start fights. He was also swaying a little, which meant he’d probably smoked a joint before going on stage. He wasn’t going to be doing much rational thinking anytime soon.

Grant glanced back at Jana as if to gauge her reaction. Scared and thrilled beyond coherent thought, she said the first thing that came into her head.

“I came to the prom to dance, Richie.”

“Then you can dance with me.” He reached for her again.

She dodged. “You’re playing. You better get back onstage.”

“The set’s over. I paid for your ticket, so you don’t dance with nobody else, ‘specially a doctor’s boy that’s too old to be here.”

“Well…” Jana waffled. Richie had paid for her ticket. She supposed she owed him some loyalty. Still, she didn’t like his presumption, and she’d enjoyed dancing with Grant. She gave Grant a doubtful look.

He shrugged. “Whatever. You want to go with him, go on. I was just trying to help.”

She glared at Richie. “Richie, it’s not like we’re married or anything. I was just dancing.”

Richie cursed. “I was gonna ask you tonight, but you messed it up.”

“Ask me what?”

“To marry me.”

She gaped at him. “Are you crazy? I’m not even out of high school yet!”

Grant started laughing. “You’d really marry this twerp?”

Richie hit him in the stomach.

Jana screamed as everything jerked out of control.

Twenty minutes later, she stood alone outside the VFW, leaning against the cinderblock wall and watching the sheriff drive away with Richie in the rear of his patrol car. There was blood all over the pink lace skirt of her formal, where Richie’s nose had splattered her.

Of all the awful things that had happened in her short life, this was the most humiliating. Her heart still pounded—oddly enough, not in fear for Richie, and not even for herself, though more than likely her dad would take the belt to her for causing trouble again.

No, what really upset her was the sight of Grant Gonzales leaning against his truck, tucking his shirttail in. She noticed a “Jesus is the Answer” bumper sticker on the tailgate and wondered if he really believed that. She sure didn’t. Grant straightened his tie, reattaching a couple of studs that had come loose. His hair stood out in a wild bronze mane. Beside him stood a daintily hysterical Jasmine Guerry, boo-hooing into a tissue and peeking over it to assess the effect. Miranda hovered close by, patting Jasmine’s back and fielding questions from her date.

Nobody had threatened to arrest Grant; it was assumed that Dr. Gonzales’s son would never provoke a fight. Found under the influence, Richie would be charged with drunken and disorderly conduct. Which left Jana alone and without a ride home. It would serve Richie right if she confiscated his truck, except for the fact that he still had the keys.

Jesus is the answer. Yeah, right.

With a disgusted sigh, she shoved away from the wall and crunched across the gravel to retrieve her tennis shoes and the gerbil. She and Gino would just have to walk home in the dark.

She studiously avoided looking at the Gonzaleses as she passed them, but Miranda stopped her. “Jana, you aren’t walking home are you?”

I thought about flying, she wanted to say, but I left my Tinkerbell wand at home. Jana knew her hair was a wild mess, not to mention the blood all over her dress. She’d changed back to her tennis shoes, and Gino squirmed inside the bag with her sandals. Cinderella was changing back to her rags.

“I’ll be fine,” she said and headed for the road again.

“You’re not walking home,” said a deep voice behind her.

She turned to find Grant reaching for her elbow. Thoroughly sick of being manhandled, Jana began to walk faster.

“Wait, Jana! I’m sorry about what happened. I wouldn’t have embarrassed you for anything.” He caught up to her. “Come on, let me take you home.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” She stopped, but bent her head so that her hair hid her face. “So now you know who I am, why are you bothering to be nice? I’m the girl who blends in with the scenery.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That’s what you said. When I was in the ninth grade and you were a senior. You called me a wild child with dorky clothes.”

“I did not.”

“Maybe you don’t remember, but I sure do.” She threw her hair back and looked up at him. In her tennis shoes, the top of her head came just under his chin. Even in the milky light of the moonlit parking lot, he was so beautiful it made her eyes hurt, and tears suddenly stung her throat. “That’s why it’s so ironic that you didn’t want Richie being disrespectful to me. That summer I almost thought God loved me enough to give me a friend like your sister. Then—” She gave a frustrated circle of one hand—“then I got back to school and saw how cock-eyed that idea was.”

“That’s a crock,” he said, looking like he wished a meteor would strike. “Of course God loves you.”

“No. And thank you for another big dose of reality tonight. Jesus has answers for people like you and your sister, but He apparently hung up the phone on me and Richie.” She could hear Gino beginning to squeal with discomfort, so she unzipped him and brought him out for a cuddle. “I’m just the animal girl. Since Richie loves me like I am, as soon as he gets out of jail we’re going to get married.”

“I got news for you.” Grant’s unflappable charm seemed to have finally exploded. He leaned in close to Jana’s face, his voice tense. “Richie doesn’t love you. He was just mad at somebody moving in on his territory. It’s no skin off my nose, but if I were you I’d think real hard about letting him get within ten miles of you again.”

Jana stamped her foot. “You don’t know anything.” She spun and began to march down the side of the highway.

The next thing she knew Grant’s truck was creeping along beside her. He had the passenger window down. “Get in,” he said.

“No.”

“Get in or I’ll get out and haul you in.”

“Then they’ll put you in jail. For kidnapping.”

“The sheriff is my Uncle Dewey.”

She stopped, and so did the truck. “No wonder he didn’t take you with Richie.”

“He didn’t take me because I didn’t start it,” Grant said, “and I wasn’t high on weed. Everybody saw Richie swing at me.”

Jana did not want Grant Gonzales to see where she lived. But neither did she want to walk the nearly two miles alone in the dark. She opened the door of the truck and climbed in, hiking her skirt up to her knees. The tennis shoes looked absurd with her bare legs. Nobody wore stockings except Mrs. Davenport.

Grant peeled off without another word, his face grim. Which was ridiculous, because she hadn’t done anything except dance with him.

“Where’s your date?” she asked. Maybe her voice sounded truculent, but she was nervous.

“I let Miranda and Tony take her home. She was enjoying the drama just a little too much.”
“What in the world were you doing at a high school prom anyway? You aren’t dating that little twit regularly, are you?”

“She’s a cute twit, and I came as a favor to my sister. Miranda’s date backed out at the last minute, so I volunteered Tony for her. Then she asked me to bring Jasmine. Didn’t have anything on this weekend, so I thought why not.” He paused, uttering a short laugh. “Now I know why not.”

“I’m sorry,” Jana muttered.

He sighed. “Well, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, when was it? Three years ago? I swear I don’t remember.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t.”

“What is that thing in your bag?”

“A gerbil. The pet store was getting rid of them, so I brought him home.”

“I had a hamster one time when I was a little kid. Dumb as a rock, so we named him Barney, after Barney Fife on the old Andy Griffith Show.”

Jana giggled, minutely relaxing. “This is Gino Vanillo.”

“An Italian gerbil. Now I’ve heard it all.”

Jana suddenly wished Grant didn’t have to go back to college. He really had tried to protect her. Better yet, she wished she had the money to go to college with him. Mississippi State would be her choice of schools. She’d take pre-vet and go right into the vet school. She supposed drearily that instead she’d wind up marrying Richie for real and having a bunch of babies.

“Take the next paved road to the right,” she said.

“Magnolia Road,” he said, reading the cock-eyed road sign. The only thing on it was the seediest trailer park in the county.

“Yeah.” She didn’t feel like elaborating.

“I’ve seen your brother Quinn on campus once or twice. He’s a great pitcher. Do you ever come to the games?”

“No.” She didn’t have the money to travel. Or the clothes either for that matter, but she had no intention of saying so.

“That’s too bad.”

The cab of the truck was dark, but Jana could tell from his voice that he wanted to say something else. Quickly she said, “Turn here. Third trailer on the left.” He pulled into the dirt drive, and she got out fast, before he could come around to open the door for her. She knew instinctively that he would have beautiful manners. “Grant, I’m sorry I spoiled your date. Thanks for the ride home.”

But he leaned across to stop the door before she could shut it. “Wait, Jana.”

She looked over her shoulder. If her father came to the door drunk and yelling she was just going to die. Enough violence for one night. “What is it?” she asked hurriedly.

“Are you going to be all right?”

Now what made him ask that? “Of course,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’ve got to go.”

“My dad used to talk about getting you and your brothers out of here when you were little.”

“What?” She heard her voice rise in disbelief. “How would he know—what business—”

“I don’t know, but Quinn always had more bruises than anybody else on the team. I sort of wondered…”

Jana stood there, heart pounding, pushing the door against Grant’s hand. She’d thought nobody knew or cared about the beatings.

“Listen to me,” he said awkwardly. “If you need anything, call me. Or call my parents. They’ll help if they can.”

“Well. Well, that’s nice, Grant. But don’t worry, I’m graduating in May and I’ll be gone.”

Grant hesitated, as if he were trying to see her face in the dark, then at last released the door. “Okay. If you say so. But remember—you can call any of us Gonzaleses if you need us.”

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In High Places by Tom Morrisey

I hardly ever write book reviews anymore, particularly for books I haven’t yet read. For one thing, this blog is not about sales and promotion, except incidentally as the subject arises. But today I received notice that a good friend of mine, Tom Morrisey, has a book being offered FREE in electronic form for the next few days, in time for Fathers Day. I have already downloaded In High Places and plan to gift it to my son, who is an avid reader. (Aside: I have read and enjoyed other books by Tom.)

My first connection with Tom was through one of our mutual publishers. We met at an author retreat in Grand Rapids a few years ago, where we had a chance to encourage one another in writing and family and ministry. I discovered Tom to be funny, warm, adventurous and a knock-your-socks-off writer. In fact, he’s so good that the Disney corporation hired him to be their on-site “writing guru.” He currently suffers for Jesus in Micky World, Florida!

In High Places is a Christy Award finalist about the journey a father and son each take to deal with their loss in their own way. I hope you’ll take advantage of this great offer as an introduction to a wonderful author.

Here are the URLs:

Kindle

Nook

Kobo

iBook: Available through the app or the iTunes Store

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