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Will and BonnieI have been writing for publication since 1998, when I sold my first novella, “Miracle on Beale Street,” to Tyndale House. The next one to appear was “Reforming Seneca Jones,” which released in the fall of 2000, in the anthology Prairie Christmas. PrairieChristmasCoverFourteen years and fifteen books later, I’ve begun to get back the rights to those early novellas and republish them as ebooks, giving them another editorial polish and fresh covers.

“Seneca” is one of my favorite stories, both because of its western Pony Express setting and its irresistible hero. Seneca Jones is an orphan cowboy who grows up wild and adventurous in a land and time full of such self-made men, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. He loves his horse and his gun, he’s loyal to his friends, impatient of pretenders, and he’s protective of women and children. He also has a penchant for mischief and flirtation.

Bonnie displaying a bit of diva temperament

Bonnie displaying a bit of diva temperament

So after updating the manuscript and preparing it for upload to Smashwords, my e-publisher, I began to plan the cover. This was no easy task, since I live in South Alabama, where snowy prairies and rough-hewn cowboys are about as common as…well, prairies at the beach. I considered hiring a marketing company to design the cover. But I figured I might wind up spending a lot of money on a generic romance cover, featuring some stock-photo sissy masquerading as the one-of-a-kind Seneca Jones—or, worse yet, a middle-aged, grizzled cowboy with a cigarette dangling between his lips.

Um, no.

So I decided to shoot the cover myself, using one of my nephews as a model, my niece’s horse and my sister’s rural property as background—but schedules, weather, costuming, and all sorts of challenges prevented the project from coming together. The season for releasing the book passed, and I slunk back to Square One. Nearly a year passed.

Then I met Will Dorminy.

Will and Bonnie

Will and Bonnie

Will recently came on staff at our church as one of our music and worship leaders. He’s a talented musician, sings and plays guitar, and has a gift for leading people into the presence of God—which is amazing enough. But the first time I saw him, I did a double-take. He’s in his early twenties, blond and blue-eyed, with an infectious smile and a killer dimple—Seneca Jones come to life. Will probably wondered why the crazy lady in the orchestra kept staring at him, but I was just thinking, What if I could put a cowboy hat and duster on him, and get him on a horse? There’s my cover!

For a long time, I didn’t say anything to Will about my nutty idea, because where was I going to get a realistic cowboy outfit? Where was I going to get a horse? And I’m not a photographer, except with my handy iPhone, so who was going to man the camera?

Those horses were...big!

Those horses were…big!

My daughter Hannah is my favorite photographer, but she lives inconveniently far away, so I asked my friend Jan Johnson to do the actual shoot. She agreed, with the stipulation that Hannah do the artistic editing and design of the cover. Boom. Photography issue solved.

Meanwhile, I’d been checking costume shops, both online and in Mobile. Everything I found looked both fake and cheap. One night I mentioned the project to my friend Billy Graham (no, not that Billy Graham), our missions and evangelism pastor at North Mobile. Billy has always been one of my greatest prayer warriors and cheerleaders, and I probably should have gone to him at the beginning. Within twenty-four hours I got a phone call from Billy’s friend Roy Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church Satsuma.

HorsesRoy owns four horses and a stable. Roy’s son is a professional horseman who has a gospel-centered “horse-whispering” ministry (with the charming title “Spurs“) and owns all kinds of vintage cowboy clothing and accoutrements. Roy and Chance were both thrilled to help me out. Super-score!

So I finally called Will and asked if he’d ever done any modeling. He’s a very modest guy and kinda laughed at me, but agreed to give it a shot. With a little back-and-forth texting we found a time when model, host, photographer, and I could all get together. And this past Tuesday afternoon, in spite of seasonal torrential rain in our area, we got together at the Hill Hacienda in Satsuma, Alabama.

Donkey and German shepherd

The Hills’ donkey and friendly German shepherd checking out the strangers

You never know how these things are going to go.…But we got Will all togged out in cowboy gear, from hat to spurs, even a gunbelt and chaps, and trekked out to the barn. Jan and I spent a few minutes choosing a horse (what do I know about horse color?) and picked a buckskin named Bonnie, Pastor Roy’s personal mount. Bonnie wasn’t real excited at first about her new modeling gig, but a bucketful of oats enticed her to cooperate. You can see in the photo above that the Author was a little nervous, due to a Traumatic Horse Experience some forty years ago. And Jan’s Chocos got a little, um, coated with manure, but she was a good sport about that too.

Saddle

Antique saddle

Here’s a shot of a hundred-year-old saddle that we would have used, except it’s missing a stirrup. All the rest of Will’s gear is well-used, real-life tack and clothing from Chance Hill’s Spurs Ministry. We spent about an hour trying various backgrounds and poses, and wound up with over two hundred shots that Hannah will be able to pick from. Fortunately, Will has some experience with horses, and dealt well with Bonnie, the mud and manure, and two bossy women. He now has a random entry to his resume that may or may not give him credibility as a musician and minister—but at least will make great conversation one day.

The shoot is a wrap! Whew!

The shoot is a wrap! Whew!

In any case, I’m grateful for friends who are willing to go along with my sometimes oddball adventures in publishing. If I can ever return the favor…

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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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My friend Leanna Ellis has a new book releasing this month, and I wanted to tell you about it. Here’s the scoop:

Once in a Blue Moon
ISBN: 978-0-8054-4988-4 B&H Publishing

Faith is the first step to soaring.

The day Armstrong stepped on the moon has special memories for most Americans, but not for Bryn Seymour. It’s the day her mother died. Despite death defying feats, guilt has always pulled Bryn down time and again. But a perfect love shows her taking a leap of faith is the first step to soaring. But it only happens … once in a blue moon.

About Leanna:

‘Leanna Ellis takes a back seat to no one,’ says Debbie Macomber. But Leanna hopes she allows God in the driver’s seat as she taxies her two children to and from all their activities, lets her menagerie of pets in and out … in and out …, figures out what to cook for dinner (or where to order takeout), and at the same time keeps those quirky characters in her head from bothering others. Winner of the National Readers Choice Award, Leanna writes quirky women’s fiction with a splash of romance. From a long line of southerners and patriots, she lives with her family in Texas.

To buy the book from Amazon click here.

To read an excerpt of Once in a Blue Moom, click here.

To check out Leanna’s website click here, and her blog here.

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I’d like to introduce a very good friend of mine, author Fran McNabb. For more than ten years I was a member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Romance Writers of America, where I met and interacted with lots of gifted writers like Fran. Fran served as president of the chapter for several years…before, during and after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. Oh, and she lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which was a major target of Lady Katrina. She’s now writing sweet romances for Avalon Books, which publishes hardcover books mostly for the library market. I love her lyrical, emotional style, and I wanted my reading audience to meet her and take a peek at her new release, a Civil War historical, On the Crest of a Wave.

Q: Fran, tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and have lived most of my life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I married Don McNabb from Columbia and we have 2 sons, Donald (wife Kie) living in DeRidder, LA, and Thomas, living in Hollywood, FL., one grandson, Connor, age 11, and one grandchild on the way. Don and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary this year. I’m a retired English and journalism teacher. I had to take an early retirement because of medical reasons in 1996, and that’s when I got serious about writing. I had to do something to keep from being bored.

Q:  How did you get interested in writing?

When you teach English, writing is a way of life. My favorite units were the ones involving the library.  I always say that I had a love affair with books – and still do – so it was rewarding to me to have my books published by Avalon Books, a library publishing house.

Q: Why do you write romances?

I write romance because I love the happy ending. I like tender romance because the relationship is the key element in the story and not the sex.

Q:  Tell us about your new book and how you researched this historical.

On the Crest of a Wave by Fran McNabb

ON THE CREST OF A WAVE, ISBN 978-0-8034-9996-6, came out this month with Avalon Books. This book was written in the 1980’s, but I didn’t shop it around a lot because at the time I didn’t know much about the publishing process. I’m sure I did everything wrong. After I retired, I picked up the manuscript and fell in love with the story all over again.

Ship Island Prison

The book is set on Ship Island during the Civil War. The island lies about twelve miles south of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is a place dear to my heart. My mother’s family has run the ferry boats out to the islands since the 1930’s, and during one of my childhood summers, Mom and Dad and my brother and I lived on the island to help with the concessions.

The island was used during the Civil War by the Union forces to house prisoners, including Confederate soldiers. In my story, my heroine’s brother is one of the prisoners, and she falls in love with the Union officer who runs the island. Fort Massachusetts still stands on the island as a reminder of the past. During the summer that I was on the island, a storm caught us by surprise. It was too late to leave the island so we spent the night in the fort. Needless to say, that experience made quite an impression on me. Even today I can hear the sounds of the storm whirling around the fort and see the shadows from the kerosene lanterns crawling up the brick walls. These are as real to me today as they were back in the 1950’s.

Q:  What is the best part about writing?

It’s fun to watch my characters come alive and go through the obstacles they must overcome to reach their ultimate goal. Writing a novel is similar to putting a puzzle together – all the pieces must fit perfectly or your finished product won’t come out right.

Q: What is the worse thing about writing?

Time spent alone. Writing is a solitary profession and no matter how many workshops or conferences you attend, you still end up in front of the computer alone.

Q:   What advice would you give someone who wants to write?

Read within the genre you want to write, study the markets, and join a writing group. I belong to the Gulf Coast Chapter of Romance Writers of America. My local chapter meets in Mobile once a month. I credit the group with being published. I learned the process of publication from being part of them. I’ve met many knowledgeable writers who are willing to share their expertise with up and coming writers.

Q:  Do you think that Hurricane Katrina had any effect on you as a writer?

After Katrina I quit writing for about 3 months. The logistics of setting up a computer were complicated (I lived on a boat and then in an RV), and even when I did start writing again, it was hard to forget the devastation all around. Sometimes when I sat on the back of the boat alone, I’d look out over the water and pretend the flooded homes to my back didn’t exist and I’d lose myself for a few minutes in the make-believe.  One positive that came from the storm for everyone: We all added a notch to our belts in life’s experiences. I think the emotions that we create for our characters are now more intense and our feelings for other human beings runs deeper.

Q:   Does your training as an English teacher help or hinder your writing?

My mechanics (grammar and punctuation) background is a plus, but it took me a long time to make myself use anything but formal English – something that’s not found in genre fiction writing, especially in romance. Writing fiction should always use correct grammar, but informal construction.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

I think everyone’s ideas come from life’s experiences. Sometimes a setting will evoke a feeling. After experiencing the beauty of a waterfall in West Virginia, I knew I’d write a story one day in that setting. It became my first book, A LIGHT IN THE DARK. My stories set along the Gulf Coast always started with a feeling about something visual that I experienced, i.e., a sunset, the pristine islands, the flight of a bird. From there, characters evolve and then the plot. It’s easy to see where ON THE CREST OF A WAVE originated.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your education background or writing?

I received both my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi, and my family still follows the Golden Eagles, especially during football season.

My writing and my reading is an escape from the problems of normal life.  Everyone needs a place to forget and to get energized, and reading (or writing) a romance is a great way to put aside life’s difficulties if only for an hour or so.

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For those of you who enjoy Love Inspired romances, here’s a new offering from my good friend Gail Martin. Highly recommended.
Groom In Training
by Gail Gaymer Martin
Second book in the Man’s Best Friend Series from Steeple Hill Love Inspired
Friends, Four-legged Friends and Love.
A widow with a sad past, Steph Wright, finds comfort in her faith and her adorable Border Collie, Fred. When Fred becomes enamored with the neighbor’s pedigreed Bouvier, Steph meets Nick. With a broken engagement and a busy job, Nick isn’t open to love and romance. But when Nick steps in to defend Steph, long talks ensue during dog walking, and both begin to learn that God has plans for each of them, especially Steph who sees some unexpected “groom-in-training” going on.
Gail’s Bio:
Multi-award-winning author, Gail Gaymer Martin writes fiction for Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing, where she was recently honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has written forty-four contracted novels with three million books in print. She is the author of Writing the Christian Romance, a Writers Digest Books release. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations  and also presents workshops at conference across the US. Gail has a Masters degree and post-master’s classes from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and is a licensed counselor.  She lives in Michigan with her husband.
Groom In Training available where books are sold or click here.
You can find this book and the first book in the series, Dad In Training, here.

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Here’s a little info on a new book by my friend Rachel Hauck. Looks like a lot of fun:

Jade Fitzgerald left the pain of her past in the dust when she headed out for college a decade ago. Now she’s thriving in her career and glowing in the light of Max Benson’s love.

But then Jade’s hippie mother, Beryl Hill, arrives in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, for Jade’s wedding along with Willow, her wild younger sister. Their arrival forces Jade to throw open the dark closets of her past–the insecurity of living with a restless, wandering mother, the silence of her absent father, and the heart-ripping pain of first-love’s rejection.

Turns out Beryl has a secret of her own. She needs reconciliation with her oldest daughter before illness takes her life. In the final days leading to the wedding, Jade meets the One who shows her that the past has no hold on her future. With a little grace, they’ll meet in the middle, maybe even before that sweet by and by.

“…heartwarming collaborative debut.” – Publishers Weekly

“This Southern mother-daughter story is refreshingly well written and will easily engross readers of women’s fiction.” – Library Journal
Multi-platinum recording artist Sara Evans has garnered such honors as ACM’s Female Vocalist of the Year, CMA’s Video of the Year, named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” and she was the first country star to compete in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. This is her first novel. Sara has said that the redemptive message always attracts her to a given story. It’s the story she’s cares about most in the songs she records and sings; it’s the story of her life; it’s the story she looks for in the faces of those she meets.”I’ve been a Believer since I was 21. My faith has been everything to me in my life since then. In my marriage, my motherhood, my career, and just dealing with everyday life, God is my constant companion and friend. I find myself praying constantly prayers of gratitude and guidance. As a mom and a career woman, my life is filled daily with choices and decisions to make that will affect lots of people. So I rely on God to guide me!”

Best selling, award winning author Rachel Hauck is known for well-written stories that paint real-life characters facing real-life challenges. She writes with depth and humor. As an author, worship and prayer leader, it’s Rachel’s heart to spread the love and fragrance of God to those she meets. In person or on the page. His plans for each individual are vast and good. “I have one goal in life. To seek His face. Everything has come together for me because of seeking Him. Even in my weakness, He is strong. I’d like others to know the same success.”

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband, a teacher and pastor, and their ornery pets.

You can buy In the Sweet By and By here.

And here’s an interview with Rachel:

Q: How did this collaboration come about?

RH: Really? God. Thomas Nelson approached Sara about a fiction project, then approached me about writing with/for her. My career was in a place of make-it or break-it, and I’d just prayed one of my “surrender prayers” to the Lord and was ready to go anywhere, do anything. Not having children, I am prett y much 100% available to pick up and go whenever and wherever. Knowing the Lord would take my husband and current writing and worship commitments into account, I was ready to go! It was very freeing to say, “God, I have nothing. What do you want to do? I’m 100% available. You’re so good, whatever it is You want for me, I’ll love it.”

I’ve loved this journey writing with Sara. I struggled in some of my weaknesses from time to time, but this was one of the easiest books I’ve ever written even though I’d never written women’s fiction. Never written flashbacks. Never written a continuing character series.

Q: What was Sara’s part of the process?

RH: She cast the vision. We sat down and talked about what she wanted in the book, what kind of story she wanted to tell, and hashed out an overview. I went home and added the details and did the writing. If I was unsure about something, I’d email her and ask for her input. For example, we ended up dealing with a controversial social issue in this book and I wanted to know she was ready to assign her name to it.

Q. What do you want readers to take away from this story?

RH: God is good. There is always hope and redemption. While our past can impact our present, we don’t have to carry the burden of pain and sin into the future. God truly does work all things together for our good.

Q. What’s next for you and Sara?

RH: The second book, Softly and Tenderly, is written and releases January 2011. We are collaborating on two more books to be released January 2012 and 2013. They will be a continuation of the series. Book two is really exciting. Hit’s the ground running.

Q. As an author, how did this book impact you and your work?

RH: I learned a lot about myself. Going back to the original prayer of surrender, I had to see that when God brought something to me to do it might not center around me! Maybe He wanted me to use my gifts and talents for others. At the same time, what amazing grace and peace He gave me.

My writing had to take on a different flavor and tone. I learned to write about two women instead of a romance with a hero and heroine. I had to develop back story that worked on stage instead of through dialog. This project forced me to work on a much deeper emotional level. I was exhausted when it was done. But I loved the process.

Q. Who is your favorite character?

RH: Well, Jade, the protagonist, of course. But her sister Willow really captured me. We had to back her up a bit or she’d steal the show! I also really had an affection for the character Dustin.

Q. What’s next for you? Any solo projects.

RH: Yes! I have a late 2010 release from Thomas Nelson, Dining With Joy, about a cooking show host who can’t cook.

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CHAPTER TWO

Micah couldn’t have interpreted the look on the kid’s face if somebody had offered him a thousand dollars to do it. But he found himself mighty curious what Jack Sabiere was going to say next. Appeared the boy was an orphan. Not that that in itself was all that unusual on the Nebraska prairie.

For a moment Jack sat there on his broken-back chair, stiff as a cadaver, thumbing the gilt edges of the Pony Express Bible. Finally he punched a finger at its cover. “This here book says he’s real interested in everything about me. But it ain’t a question of what I want, it’s about what he thinks is best for me.” The dark, young-old eyes lit on Micah’s face. “Don’t you have no religious training?”

Micah felt his cheeks warm. “My parents took us to church when we were growing up. I’d just say it didn’t stick much.” His mother would be appalled to know he hadn’t set foot inside a place of meeting in nigh on five years.

Jack’s mouth twitched. “You must be pure spiritual grease. Where’d you grow up?”

“North Alabama. How about you?”

Wariness returned to the boy’s expression. “Round and about. Mostly Kansas.”

“Where’re your folks?”

“Got none, except for Neil. We’ve been on our own since I was about six years old.” He looked down at the Bible again, which told Micah he was lying.

No big surprise.

“Surely he doesn’t leave you alone when he’s out on a run. I was told there’s a couple of brothers running the Sabiere station. That your family?” Micah studied the boy’s hands, watched them clench the Bible.

“That’s my—uncle, yeah, but I don’t hardly claim him. He’s a lazy drunk, leaves most of the work to me.”

Micah pretended to believe that obvious fabrication. He nodded. “So you just up and left the station unattended, except for your lazy drunk uncle, and rode off into a blizzard to check on your brother.”

“Something like that.” The boy’s small cleft chin rose.

Clearly he was going to produce no further information, voluntarily at least. And Micah had an aversion to coercing infants. “All right, then Jack Sabiere,” he sighed. “Since you’re determined to be contrary, I’m gonna hit the hay, and I suggest you do too. I plan on leaving at first light. But first I need to see a man about a dog, how about you?”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, I—I mean, it’s too cold out there. I’m gonna bed down, but you—you go ahead and—” He bolted out of his chair and lunged for his bedroll, which Micah had tossed onto the woodpile just inside the door. “Will you check on my mule again while you’re out there?” he mumbled.

What a funny kid, Micah thought, amused. Embarrassed to pee with a stranger. “Be glad to,” he said amiably and pulled on his gloves and hat.

***

In record time Jacqueline laid out her bedroll beside the stove, pulled off her boots, and slid between the blankets. Her heart was still racing when Fitzgerald returned from his trip to the barn. The scout knew she was lying, knew there was something funny about her story, but for some reason refrained from accusing her flat-out. But danged if she was going to admit anything until she had to.

She peeked over the edge of the blanket, which she had pulled to her nose. “The animals warm enough for the night?”

“They’ll survive,” he said laconically. He sat on a chair to pull off his boots and glanced at Jacqueline. “You warm enough, kid?”

“I’m just dandy.” At the sight of his big stocking feet in their gray wool socks, she slammed her eyes shut. What if he started undressing? “Thanks,” she added belatedly.

“Don’t worry, I sleep light. I’ll feed the fire during the night.”

“That’s good.” She was a light sleeper too. And she feared it was going to be a long night.

She did, in fact, lie awake for a long time after Micah Fitzgerald had doused the lamp and climbed into his own bedroll on the other side of the stove. Scraps of the scripture she had quoted kept rattling around in her brain, interspersed with prayers for Neil and anxious conjectures about what would happen if this big, non-religious telegraph scout figured out he was sleeping in the same cabin with a scrawny eighteen-year-old girl whose brother had absconded with the U S. mail.

It was enough to give a person nightmares.

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