In the Name of Love—or research—or why My Family Rocks

Upcoming Booksignings for Captive Heart

Saturday April 9th, 9-10:30 Spanish Fork Seagull

Saturday April 23rd, 11-12:30 Springville Seagull

Saturday April 30th, 11-12:30 Orem State Street Seagull

Tuesday May 3rd, 7:00 pm, Provo City Library (with authors Sarah Eden and Jennifer Clark)

Saturday May 14th, 11-12:30 American Fork Seagull

It’s after midnight, and I’m just getting started on this post (long night helping youngest daughter make Tangled birthday invitations, rocking/comforting two-year-old who still has a difficult time sleeping, and listening to oldest daughter who is nursing a broken heart).

I was sorely tempted to leave blogging until tomorrow evening (after young women and a camp planning/presidency meeting . . . hmmm maybe not), but your comments about why you need escapist fiction have inspired me to stay up a little later.

I really ought to give away books more often, as it seems everyone out there has good reason to read something fun and lighthearted. All I can say to each of you who have commented here and on Facebook is WOW. I am appreciating my life right now! The good news is that your chance of winning a book is excellent. If you have no clue what I’m talking about and haven’t entered the drawing yet—more good news. There is still time. I’ll announce winners next week.

Now, about these pictures.

One of the standing jokes between our children is that the majority of our family vacations over the years have been to visit rocks. We’ve been to Yosemite (Half Dome, anyone?), Yellowstone, and Grand Teton (isn’t that whole mountain range one gigantic rock?) national parks. We’ve visited the Grand Canyon (looking over lots of cliffs at—a lot of rock), Arches (standing beneath rock), and Zion national parks as well. We’ve played hide-and-seek at Goblin Valley, climbed Independence Rock at Sunrise, and gazed in wonder at Devil’s tower in north eastern Wyoming. And the same year we all gawked at the real Close Encounters of the Third Kind set, we continued east, dragging our children even farther to . . . you guessed it, look at a few more rocks.

The idea to visit Mount Rushmore had been blossoming for quite some time when I began doing research for a historical romance set in the Black Hills. The more I read, then more I longed to go there, and finally, my husband agreed. Our children were not quite so enthusiastic.

“We have to go see more rocks, and they’re HOW many miles away?”

Good times. Really. They were, or at least that’s how we all remember that trip five years later. Ah, memories. Gotta love how they become sweeter with time. Which is why I hold out a lot of hope that our children will someday refer to their childhood as charmed (as opposed to some of the ways they consider it right now).

Our first stop in South Dakota was the ranger station, where we picked up an old national forest map. Little pick axe symbols dotted the map, indicating the presence of old mines. Towns I’d researched were listed too, though many I knew to have been abandoned for years. Clearly, it was time to put the suburban in four wheel drive.

Several hours and miles, four cranky kids, and a few no-trespassing signs later, we struck gold—from a writer’s perspective, anyway—when we located an abandoned community. The chalkboard still hung on the wall in the old schoolhouse. A partially-covered well sat in front of a tumbled-down house. An old mill jutted out from the side of a mountain. We even discovered an old root cellar, something that later became key in my story.

As we explored the old buildings, inhaled the fresh forest air, and really lived the beauty of the Black Hills, the wheels of my imagination were churning faster than our camera was snapping pictures. I was in heaven, and the story I’d been drafting—about a school teacher taken against her will to the Black Hills—came completely to life. Truly, there is nothing quite so wonderful as being able to visit the location you are writing about. On that trip I fell in love with both the Black Hills and my story.

For both my husband (who enjoys exploring) and me it was a vacation that rocked. Of course there were also those moments (possibly more than moments, but my memory fails) when things were rocky with our kids. It was an exceptionally long drive, and a trailer full of popsicles and ice cream bars notwithstanding, it wasn’t always fun. They—my wonderful husband and children—went on that trip because I wanted to. Because they loved me enough to cross two states so I could look at rocks.

So to each of them I say thank you. I held Emma’s book in my hands for the first time last week, and that wouldn’t have been possible without you. I continue to be grateful for the things we all do for each other in this family, all in the name of love.

Oh, and just so you know, Dad and I decided we’re going to visit Four Corners for our family vacation this year. We hear they have some pretty sweet ruins—built in a giant wall of rock.

Captive Heart

Emmalyne Madsen sends a desperate plea heavenward as a band of lawless men makes their way up the aisle of the railcar. When one hauls her roughly from the seat, threatening and cursing, Emmalyne fears her adventure out West has just turned into a nightmare.

Thayne Kendrich has an urgent need for a school teacher, and he’s not above doing whatever it takes to get one — including forcing her at gunpoint across the scorching prairie. But the teacher he chooses turns out to be a little tougher — and softer — than he anticipated, and before long he finds himself battling emotions he vowed to never feel again.

Emma, too, struggles with feelings she knows she ought not be having toward Thayne. He’s an outlaw, after all — or is he? As the days pass and their destination — the Black Hills — draws nearer, Emma realizes that out West, the line between right and wrong is sometimes blurred. Might the man she believed to be on the wrong side of the law have acted with the purest intentions? If so, her greatest danger may be in her own heart, as he holds her captive in more ways than one.

Captive Heart hits store shelves in April, and it is available for preorder on both the Deseret Book and the Barnes and Noble websites. But before you rush off to order one (you were going to, right?), here is your chance to win a copy. And all (well, almost all) you have to do to win one, is agree to share!

As this is my first historical romance release, I’m both excited and nervous about getting it in readers’ hands. I really want to know what readers think about this genre, and particularly this story, so I’ve set aside ten books to play the “Books Go Round” game with again. I did this when Counting Stars was released, and it was so hugely successful, that I’m hoping someone out there wants to play again. Here’s how it works.

First, post a comment on either my blog or my Facebook page, telling me why you need some good, romantic, escapist fiction right now. Be sure to include where you are from. Two weeks from now I’ll draw names and announce the winners on this blog. At that point you can contact me with your address. In an effort to get Captive Heart all over the place, the drawings will be held geographically.

Two books will go to readers living East of the rockies.
Two will go to readers from the western states including, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Arizona.
Two books will go to readers from Utah.
Two will go to readers from the west coast states California, Oregon, and Washington. Any readers from Hawaii or Alaska will also be included in this pool.
Two books will also go to readers from out of the country.

This is obviously seriously skewed in favor of those living in or around the Jello Belt (send me an email if you have no clue what this is), so I do reserve the right to change the categories a little, depending upon the numbers and locations of the entrants. In other words, I’ll do my best to be fair.

Once you’ve won, received, and read your copy (and are hopefully sighing with satisfaction at Thayne and Emma’s happily-ever-after ending), there is one more little thing you must agree to do—give the book away. You can give it to a relative, a friend, the mailman—it really doesn’t matter who, but if you’ve enjoyed the story, try to think of someone else who might also enjoy it, and share the fun with them.

In each of these Book Go Round copies, there will be a place to put your name and location. It is my hope that the person you give the book to will also put her name on the list and pass the book along to someone else. Of course it would be great for me to know where these books end up, but I’m not going to make posting about it here or emailing me a requirement. We’re all so crazy busy these days, I realize we don’t need one more thing. So keeping things simple, it’s—

Read, sign, pass it on to someone else.

And hopefully the cycle continues and continues and continues.

I’ll also be giving away copies at signings and other events I have coming up. More on that and Captive Heart later. But for now . . .

Remember all that sickness I spoke of in my post last week? It’s still lingering longer, and tonight—in an effort to get rid of a sinus headache and get a good-night’s sleep—I took an Advil PM. Probably not such a good idea to do when blogging. Along with the right to change the drawing pools as needed, I’m adding a disclaimer to this entire post:

Errors due to writing under the influence of general malise, extreme fatigue, and a pill I probably shouldn’t have taken a half hour ago.

Happy writing, and reading.
And sleeping (if you are me, tonight!).

Help My Hook

Last week Nathan Bransford held his annual first paragraph contest. On a whim I entered the first paragraph of one of my novels in progress. Today I learned that it . . . is not a finalist. Considering there were 1500 entries, that was to be expected. But it was a fun exercise, and it was interesting to see the paragraphs that were chosen. It was also a good opportunity to examine my own hook(s) and to admit they still need some work. Unfortunately, figuring out exactly what they need is proving difficult.

This is the one I entered.

From the moment we are born, we are dying. This my father taught me. We gasp and tiny lungs expand, inhaling that first breath of air—air we need to live but that ultimately ages us. The heart, already beating for several months, pounds away at a frenetic pace, pumping blood throughout the body. It’s rhythm feels dependable—invincible, even—but eventually it will grow old, tire, and cease to beat. With time bones become brittle, skin wrinkles, hair thins and grays; bodies grow infirm. Death is the inevitable end to life. All this my father taught me. I wish, for me, it were still true.

After posting this entry, I realized that without the text that immediately follows, this kind of sounds like the hook to a vampire novel, which it is NOT. Nothing against those who write about vampires, but not my thing. What is my thing (or one of them currently) are fairytale retellings. The above paragraph is from a sequel to the first of these sort of stories that I wrote. It is very much in the drafting stage (was my NanoWrimo project this past November), so I’m not too worried about getting it just right anytime soon.

The other fairytale is a different story (no pun intended). I’ve played with it for a couple of years now—yes, years. Some projects are slower than others, and this one I haven’t been in any hurry with. But for better or worse, it’s time to send out some queries. My last excuse—that all my free time was spent judging for the Whitney Awards—ended at midnight last night. I’ve done my homework and have a list of agents. I even have a query letter ready to go. And yet, still I drag my feet.

Why? I don’t think it’s because I’m worried about rejection. I’ve been down this road before and have quite a lovely collection of letters (set to music on a dvd, no less) to remind me of what a difficult task lies ahead. I don’t fear it like I used to, but rather see it as a part of the process. My story is a tiny piece in an enormous publishing puzzle. It may take a lot of tries to find where that piece will fit. It may be in another puzzle altogether at some distant date down the road. That’s the reality of this business, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is sending out something that is not the absolute best I can make it. For all the work I’ve done with this story, for as much as I love it and feel like it is the best thing I’ve ever written, I also know there is still something that is not quite right. That something is the first paragraph.

Not a good sign when I’m hoping to get an agent’s attention.

But I do feel it isn’t very—hooky, as in interesting, intriguing, captivating and all that. In fact, I chose not to enter it in the contest because I didn’t think it was strong enough. As with the other (above) paragraph, I like it as a whole with the rest of the page that follows. Unfortunately, I may not get the luxury of an entire page to hook an agent. It is far more likely that, if the first paragraph does not immediately intrigue, the overworked, overtired, ever-behind agent will not look further and a rejection will be sent.

So I’m asking for your help. I need fresh eyes and ideas to get this hook in shape. I want to send my queries with confidence. Last week I gave a lot of unsolicited advice; now it’s your turn—and I’m asking! What might make this paragraph better? What is it missing? Did you fall asleep already?

Any and all honest feedback will be most appreciated. Thank you in advance for your collective, brilliant suggestions. As you may have noted with my post last week, I was merely passing on what I’ve learned from others. The LDS writing community is wonderful that way—we share, encourage, and help each other become better writers. I continue to be grateful to be a part of it.

Here are the first few paragraphs for your critique.

“There is no such thing as a princess.” Ogres are another manner entirely. One of those stood behind me in the form of my mother, watching me, breathing down my back as I bent over the sink, scrubbing the pot from our breakfast mush. “And since there are no princesses, I’ve no need to worry about meeting one.”
Mother sighed her disapproval. “You don’t know that, Adrielle. You’ve not been to Tallinyne. You’ve not seen the things your father and I have.”
“Nor am I likely to.” I bit back angry words and turned around, reaching for a dishtowel. I should very much have liked to visit the capital, or at the least a neighboring township, but such a thing was out of the question. Once upon a time our family had been able to indulge in such luxuries. We hadn’t been well-to-do exactly, but there had been enough to eat, clothing to wear that wasn’t in tatters, and, most importantly, time—for something other than work. “Not ever,” I grumbled.

That’s a wrap!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I love all things having to do with fall and the holdays. I feel a little giddy when September arrives and I notice the first color changes on the mountains. But by the time December and Christmas are upon us, I’m exhausted, positively wiped out from all this joyous season entails. It’s truly the most wonderful and insane time of the year.

As a result, I didn’t post about homeschool for October or November, nor have I posted anything about writing lately. So today’s summary is going to wrap all that up into one—including a note about an opportunity to win Covenant’s 2010 Christmas Anthology, Where Will Christmas Find Us? For more info. on that, keep reading. But first, a quick run-down of the craziness we’ve had around here the past sixty or so days.

With homeschool—science units on Oceanography and the Atmosphere, complete with a boatload of fun experiments. A field trip to the Scera to see The Reluctant Dragon, and another to The Covey Center to see Knuffle Bunny . We made more salt dough models (I think children will recall anything they learn if they get to make it in salt dough), read more of the Sarah Plain and Tall Series, the Fudge series, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We visited Pumpkin Land (where my daughter sadly informed me that this is her last year there, as she is getting too big), made Frankenstein Jello, and had a party that used up a good portion of our toilet paper supply.

For Halloween I sewed Woody and Jessie costumes for my two youngest, and on the 29th both started and finished Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head for my husband and I. On the 30th we had about 25 people here for our traditional soup and chili dinner before trick-or-treating. Those same 25 plus a few more joined us for a crazy, chaotic Thanksgiving. Throw in a school play here and a dance recital there, along with a trip or two to visit our son at college and whew! What a couple of months. It was crazy and fun and left me so exhausted that I’ve yet to remove the rotting pumpkins from my front porch. Maybe I’ll just throw some garland on them if I ever get around to decorating the outside of our house for Christmas.

As for writing . . . are you laughing yet? Superwoman I am not, and unfortunately, my writing is the thing that suffers most in all this madness. And that, while as it should be–I have the rest of my life to write, but only so long with our children–is still painful. I miss my characters and creativity. Thankfully weekends like the earlier Authors Incognito retreat, allow me to see that the creativity is still there, hibernating in my brain until a later date when I am allowed more than two seconds at a time for coherent thought.

But I do have some exciting news. First, Covenant’s 2010 Christmas short story collection is now available in stores. Twelve authors, myself included, have shared Christmas memories about poignant moments in our lives. Today, over at Tristi Pinkston’s Blog, you can win a free copy as part of her Merry Month of Miracles countdown to her next release, Dearly Departed. I haven’t had a sneak peak at Tristi’s latest book, but you can read here, how much I’ve loved her other books. I’m looking forward to curling up with this next one on a snowy January day.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying hanging out at Tristi’s blog all month. She is one of those people that make me tired just thinking of all she does. From homeschooling all four of her children, to writing much faster than I do, to blogging, book reviews, editing etc. she is one amazing lady. The first time I met Tristi she was teaching a class at the Storymakers conference in 2007. What she said in that class, about being true to ourselves in our writing, so resonated with me that I felt I knew her well already and that she was a Kindred spirit. Congratulations Tristi, on your upcoming book and all that you do. You inspire slackers like me!

And speaking of slackers, upcoming releases, and miracles . . . Covenant will be publishing one of my historical romances this spring. More on that later. But now, I’ve got a math lesson to teach :)

Happy Holidays everyone. May your days be merry and bright, and may you get more sleep than I do at night!

If You’re Bored Tomorrow

If you need a break from the kids, the heat, the rain—or all three—consider heading out to Seagull Book this weekend or next.

Tomorrow I’ll be at the Spanish Fork Seagull from noon until two. Next Saturday, June 27th, I’ll be at the Provo East Bay Seagull from 12-2 as well. So if you’re in the area, stop by to visit and for another chance to win my new book.

Here’s hoping for a whole day of sunshine.

A contest winner, thank you’s, a book review, and the prologue—oh my.

As usual, I am behind on life. This time I’ll blame it on my son’s first ear infection :( and bronchitis. He needs to be held a lot right now, which means everything else must wait—and rightly so. As all mothers know, the stage where our children want to be held goes all too fast.

But while he is taken in a rare moment of sleep (may literally be a moment, we’ll see) I thought I’d announce the winner of the book. My daughter pulled this name from the bowl this morning, and the winner is . . . Moddy! Many thanks to all who commented on my blog. I’ll try to get creative and do more contests in the future. Moddy, please email me your address, and I’ll send your book this week.

A couple of additional thank you’s are in order as well. Once again, the amazing Tom and April Dalton team have provided their talents for this blogsite. On short notice they added the cover for All the Stars in Heaven and gave poor, computer-challenged Michele the help she needed. I so appreciate you guys. The cookies (and a book) are in the mail and should reach you by the end of the week. Remember—pace yourself on the Grannie B’s. Too much pink frosting can make you sick!

Thank you also to Jennie Hansen who reviewed All the Stars in Heaven for Meridian Magazine. A good review from Jennie is like gold, so I’m feeling very rich right now.

And finally, for those who haven’t read an earlier version of this prologue (as with the title, some things were changed during the editing process), you can enjoy it here. This comes before the first preview chapter in the back of Counting Stars. If you’re on my email list, I’ll be sending out the second chapter of the book later this week.



December 1986
“Hurry up, Sarah.” Grant Morgan lifted the collar of his overcoat as wind whipped through the cemetery, causing the twenty-eight degree temperature to feel even colder. Frowning, he looked down at the little girl—with thin sweater, short dress, and bare legs—standing three feet in front of him. The child wasn’t shivering, wasn’t moving at all, despite his attempts to get her going and this over with.
He looked around uneasily, wondering if the feeling that he was being watched was ever going to leave. He tried to shrug the worry away but, like the cold, it seemed to have seeped through his coat, through the pores of his skin, into his soul.
Another gust of near-arctic air swirled past them, stirring up the late-fallen leaves at their feet. The wind ruffled the back of the child’s dress, and Grant detected the slightest movement from her—an involuntary shiver as the cold danced around her legs.
So, she is human, he observed, feeling both relief and regret. He’d hated that in the few hours they’d been together he’d seen nothing of himself in her and no possibility of any connection between them, but he realized a child who displayed such little emotion would be that much easier to deal with.
A corner of the astro turf lifted, revealing the cavernous hole in the ground beneath the casket. Grant watched as Sarah leaned forward, then looked back at him, her blue eyes wide with fear and . . . questions.
“I said, hurry up.” He gave her a none-too-gentle push that sent her stumbling forward, her scuffed Mary-Janes barely stopping at the edge of the grave. Knees shaking, she continued to clutch the single flower in her hands as she caught her balance. Her small fists stacked over the slender stem, between two protruding thorns of the blood-red rose. She straightened and stood with natural grace and then remarkable stillness for a child of only five years.
“Please get her out.” Sarah’s voice, though tiny, was calm and surprisingly full of authority for someone so small. “Roses are her favorite.”
“I know,” Grant snapped.
“She’ll wake up when she smells this one.”
Grant felt a minuscule stirring of pity. A very dangerous feeling—for both of them. Stepping forward, he plucked the rose from Sarah’s hands.
“Ouch,” she gasped.
“No flower is going to wake her up,” Grant said as he tossed the rose on top of the casket. “Let’s go.” He looked down at Sarah and saw the shock on her face. She held her hands open, drops of blood welling on each, where the thorns had pricked her skin. A matching pair of tears gathered in her eyes.
He turned away and walked toward the car, feeling those hurt and betrayed eyes on him the whole time. Other eyes might be watching too, he reminded himself as he retrieved his keys from his pocket, opened the door, and climbed inside. A quick glance out the window told him Sarah still hadn’t moved.
He started the engine, put the car in gear, and rolled down the passenger window to call to her. She didn’t come after him, and he watched with growing concern as Sarah turned away from the car and threw herself across the casket, tiny fingers trying to pry it open.
“Mommy! Mommy! Wake up, Mommy.”
“Sarah,” he barked. “Stop this nonsense and get in the car.”
Tears tumbled down her face as she looked at him, the imploring in her eyes reaching out across the twenty feet between them to sear his heart. The pity swelled. He fought it, taking his foot off the brake to let the car idle forward.
Sarah turned back to the casket. More anguished cries came from her throat. Grant pressed his lips into a thin line as the car nudged nearer the cemetery gates. The door to the caretaker’s shed was ajar, and Grant wondered if the man—or someone else—was inside watching him.
I can’t just leave her.
His glance strayed to the rearview mirror as he turned the dial on the stereo, pretending to be searching for a station, pretending that he didn’t care about his daughter.
The car rolled half-way through the open gate. Grant’s foot edged toward the brake. He was going to have to go back and get her. He’d be swift, stern. He’d spank her and show anger. But anyone watching would still know he cared enough not to leave her behind. Anyone watching would realize they’d found his new weak link. His hand went to the gear shift as Sarah began running toward the car. Relief washed over him.
Pasting an irritated, impatient look on his face, he put the window up and waited for her.
A second later he cringed as she slipped on the gravel and fell face first onto the road. His hand automatically gripped the door handle, but—remembering the open door of the caretaker’s shed—an inner restraint stopped him before he could get out and go after her. Returning his fist to his lap, he clenched his teeth and silently counted the seconds it took Sarah to get off the ground and begin walking again.
When his nerves had just about worn thin, she reached the car then spent several seconds fumbling with the handle before her little hands found enough strength to pull the heavy door open. Again, Grant resisted the urge to lean across the seat and help. But when she climbed inside and he took in her bedraggled appearance, he wavered, reaching into his suit pocket for a hanky so she could wipe away some of the bloodied gravel embedded in her knees. He tossed the white cloth at her.
“Clean yourself up,” he ordered in his sternest voice.
Without looking at him, she snatched the hanky and swiped it across her face. Tugging at her thin, too-short dress, she managed to cover one of her knees. Then she realized blood was also dripping from her chin, and she pressed the handkerchief to the wound. Staying well on her side of the seat, she turned away from him and looked out the window.
The car started forward, and from the corner of his eye Grant studied Sarah’s reflection in the glass. Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks, though she didn’t make so much as a whimper. Her hair was in need of a good brushing, and it hung long and wispy half-way down her back. He thought perhaps tomorrow he would take her to get it cut short; it would certainly be easier to care for. But then he thought of Rachel and reconsidered. Sarah’s golden hair, when washed and brushed, would no doubt be as beautiful as her mother’s had been. It was comforting to know there was something in her to remind him of Rachel.
Sarah shifted on the seat, tugged her dress down again, then removed the handkerchief from her chin and placed it carefully across a four-inch tear down the front of her dress. She wiped a dirty hand across her cheeks, drying the last of her tears, and turned to her father with a positively mutinous expression.
Grant nearly smiled. “Yes?”
“I’m hungry, and I want my kitty.”
“I’ll feed you shortly, but there will be no kittens at my house.”
“Kitty—isn’t real.” Her eyes were hopeful.
“I can’t sleep without her.”
“Too bad.” Grant stopped at a light and caught the driver in the car beside them looking at him.
Unnerved once more, Grant eased the car into the intersection when the light turned green. The car in the other lane moved ahead and turned three streets later. Grant headed toward the Boston University Bridge, thick now with rush hour traffic leaving the city.
“Kitty is at Mommy’s house,” Sarah said.
Grant heard the desperation in her voice. “We can’t ever go back there,” he said with a note of finality.
“Why not?” Sarah demanded. “That’s where I live.”
“Not anymore it isn’t.”
“I don’t want to live with you,” she said.
“Yeah? Well I don’t particularly want to live with you either,” Grant lied. He’d wanted nothing more for the past two years than to have his wife and daughter back in his life. Every time he and Rachel had tried to patch things up their differences became more apparent, but he’d never stopped loving her.
And now she was dead.
“Then take me home.” Sarah’s voice was quieter.
He glanced across the seat and saw her blue eyes filling with tears again. He suddenly felt helpless. “Listen, Sarah. We can’t go back there because the police won’t let us. They have to look at everything in the house and see if they can find out why Mommy died. How about you tell me what your kitten looked like, and we’ll see if we can find you another one.”
“No.” Sarah shook her head and turned away from him. Her shoulders lifted up and down in a dramatic sigh.
Grant thought he saw her lip quiver again, but she remained silent. His daughter had his wife’s coloring and features, but she wasn’t schooled in how to use them to her advantage. And she never will be, he vowed. Sarah need never know how beautiful she was—and would certainly be when she grew older. She would never learn what could happen to a man when she tossed that halo of hair over her shoulder and looked up at him with those baby blues filled with tears.
He would keep her away from men. He’d raise her to be strong and sensible.
What am I thinking? The safest, most practical thing would be to ship her off to a secure boarding school—as far away from him as possible. As he drove, he mulled this over—the pros heavily outweighing the cons—and made up his mind to do just that. For the remainder of the drive he ignored her, thinking instead about his recent job change to the small police department in Summerfield. It was his chance to start over. To keep things honest, simple.
Pulling into the driveway, he cut the engine and looked over at Sarah. Her eyes were closed, and she was curled up in a ball on the seat. Grant got out of the car, made a point of slamming his door, and walked to the box at the curb to retrieve his mail. He shuffled through the envelopes as he came back up the drive, then rapped his knuckles against the car window. Sarah didn’t stir.
So much for not being able to sleep without Kitty.
He stuck the mail in his coat pocket, opened the door, and carefully lifted Sarah in his arms. She stirred for a second, turning her face into his chest.
He froze, a sudden deja vu overtaking his senses. She weighed next to nothing and still had that same little girl smell he remembered. It seemed just yesterday he’d cradled her like this when she was a baby.
Walking toward the house, his lips were set in a stern line. He opened the front door, kicked it shut behind him, and carried her to the couch. He placed a pillow beneath her head and covered her with a blanket, tucking her slender arms inside.
Stepping back, he watched as her tiny chest rose in a shuddering breath. Her lips puckered for a brief moment, and Grant wondered if she was having a bad dream. Something much more than pity stirred deep inside, causing his throat to constrict. Leaning forward, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“It’ll be all right, Sarah,” he whispered, praying it would because he suddenly knew he couldn’t send her away—just as he knew he already loved his little girl even more than he had once loved her mother.

Young at Heart

Saturday afternoon I received this letter in the mail. As it is only the second fan mail I’ve ever received via the postal service
(reader emails are equally thrilling, I assure you), it was a very big deal. It arrived at the end of a couple of hectic, stressful days—days I had literally no time to write anything at all, days I wondered why I put the stress of one more thing (my looming deadline) on my already full life plate. Bonnie Jones’ letter was the uplift I needed, all the reward a writer can ever hope for, and I thank her for taking the time to send it to me.

More on Ms. Jones in a minute, but first a few random thoughts that I hope to tie together by the end of this post.

First . . . One of my very favorite pictures of my maternal grandmother was taken shortly after her marriage. In this tiny, black and white photo, I can tell she is wearing something black and very sheer. She’s leaning against the wall in a striking, seductive pose. No doubt my grandfather took this photo, and no doubt—when I someday see her again on the other side of the veil—my grandmother will give me a good talking to about describing this picture to you readers 😀 But I love this picture. In it I see a young, healthy, vibrant woman. She is happy, confident, romantic . . . sexy. This is my grandmother long before I knew her. Before the hardships of life—divorce, poverty, cancer—had grayed her hair, wrinkled her face, and stolen her breast.

Though taken years before I was born, it is also a picture of the grandmother I did know. The one who sent me boxes of Christian romance novels. The one who stroked my hair and let me cry my heart out the weekend of my senior prom, just days after the love of my life (now my husband) left for his two year mission. This is the grandmother who could ill afford the phone bills she ran up, listening to me drone on and on about castles and knights and damsels in distress as I told her, week after week, about the romance novels I was writing and would someday publish. This grandmother, though physically weakened by age, still held onto—in at least a corner of her heart—the young woman she was in that picture.

Taking after my grandmother, and being a true romantic, I loved the movie, Titanic. One of my favorite scenes is toward the beginning of the film, when the older Rose sees a mirror that once belonged to her. She picks it up and looks in it, remarking that the image staring back at her is somewhat different than she recalls. When she says this, it is almost as if she’s startled to find she has changed so much. It’s as if inside she is still the young girl who boarded the Titanic for its maiden voyage so many years before. Much like my grandmother, she may have aged physically, but her feelings and emotions are still that of a young woman. Her heart loves just as deeply.

Last week Annette Lyon wrote a great post about being “Kicked out of the Young Club.” After reading it, I took a second to reflect on my own age—a whopping 40 years old now—and how I felt about that. I have to admit 40 was a difficult birthday, but only because I was nine months pregnant and totally miserable! I fully expect 41-49 and beyond to be much, much better. Now that I am healthy and wearing jeans with zippers again, I am not at all bothered by my age. I know the numbers say I’ve hit the middle-aged mark, but in my heart I only feel about twenty-five—and on some days it’s more like seventeen. When my sixteen-year-old daughter and I shop for prom dresses, I still get very excited at the prospect of finding the perfect lovely, floor-length, take-your-breath away dress, though now it’s for my daughter instead of me. I still love dancing and get that delirious, so-in-love feeling on those rare occasions my husband holds me in his arms and leads me around a dance floor. I’ll never feel like I can kiss my husband, or have him kiss me, enough. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as curling up with a good love story on a rainy day, as I did last week. Last night I smiled as I heard “The Happiest Millionaire” playing downstairs as my daughters and their cousins munched popcorn and giggled while watching that fun, classic, Disney romance. Why was I upstairs washing dishes? Instead I wanted to join them before I missed the really good part. In short, I don’t feel forty. Nor, I am guessing, does Bonnie Jones feel like she’s in her seventies.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my very favorite lines was nearly cut from All the Stars in Heaven. I literally begged to keep it, citing it as one of the most romantic lines of the entire story. My editor and I went back and forth on this a few times. There were some concerns with this section of the story, as one of the readers for Covenant had remarked (in her review of my manuscript) that my writing could, “turn an eighty-year-old woman on.” At the time this really made me laugh (though the editors at Covenant did not find this particularly funny). I assured them this was not at all my intent. There is only one person on the planet I am interested in turning on, and that most definitely does not happen through anything I write! However, I am interested as an author, in reaching my readers, in touching them some way, evoking emotion that whisks them away for a short while, then returns them to their lives relaxed, uplifted—and hopefully better for having experienced a little romance.

To me this seems an incredibly tall order, a daunting task—one I surely cannot do on my own. Fortunately, I don’t have to. Bonnie Jones, my grandmother, and numerous other readers already have that spark of romance in them. Perhaps something I write reminds them, but it’s what is inside that allows that to happen. It’s because through all their seasons of life, and no matter what stage they are in, they’ve remained young at heart. I thank them for that and hope, with all my heart, that I stay the same too.

Line upon Line

Since the birth of our son about five months ago (five months already!! Why does time have to go so fast?), I’ve had very little time to write. It isn’t just that having a baby again—after so long— has thrown me for a loop. Though yes, it certainly has. Rather, it’s the combination of all my children and their various ages and needs, which it seems I can never quite meet. The result has been that my new writing pattern is to start at about 9:30 in the evening and write until 11:00. It isn’t much time each day, but I can’t seem to get started earlier and I can’t seem to stay up later, as I’m still getting up with our baby a time or two in the middle of the night.

During these short sessions the most I’m able to get on paper is about 5 pages worth of story. If you do the math, at this rate it’ll take me about 100 days to complete my usual 500 page length manuscript. Factor in editing with my critique group, and I’ll be working at least a month beyond that. But that’s not too bad, so long as those five pages I draft each night keep taking the story where it needs to go. And, for the most part, they do. I have to admit that it’s still always a little bit thrilling to open up that document the next night and reread the pages I wrote the previous night—and find that they make sense! They entertain me. The characters are talking to each other like real people; the story is speaking to me. What a blessing this continues to be in my life. There are plenty of talents I lack, but my imagination is still alive and functioning. And for that I am grateful.

During the crafting of each story I write, there are always a few sentences I come to love. Maybe it’s that they made me laugh as I wrote them, or they tugged at my heartstrings the way I hope they tug at readers. Or maybe it’s that I had to beg my editor to keep them—as is the case with one of my very favorite sentences in All the Stars in Heaven. Why, some may wonder, would I beg to keep a sentence? After all, it’s just one line out of the thousands in each book. Because each is important, as they are the details that make the story and characters ring true and form the tempo of my writer’s voice. That voice is a little different in All the Stars in Heaven than it was in Counting Stars but I hope readers enjoy it as well. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite lines from the story.

Her father had said they were always watching, and she wasn’t taking any chances.

“Hey, whatcha doing? That’s my moose.”

“I’m a beached boy. You know, like the band, except old and all washed up.”

“You’re just that kind of guy–the kind that does things like clean out the fridge, help friends with their homework, and babysit.”

This was new and dangerous and . . . she could hardly bear to think of giving it up.

I do what I have to to keep her alive, and you’d better remember it keeps you alive too.”

“Get your shirt on Jay, This is a G-rated house.”

“I’m going to have nightmares down here. The Jolly Green Giant attacking on one side, and Charlie the Tuna on the other.”

Let-me-run-my-fingers-through-those-curls-and-taste-that-flavor-on-your-lips—yeah, that’s it.

There had been times of discouragement certainly, but a glimpse of the night sky sprinkled with stars or of the full moon was all it took to remind her to stay on course. After all, if man could walk on the moon, so far away, she could someday walk away from the life she hated.

Surprise! All the Stars in Heaven . . . is here.

A few days ago my middle daughter hollered up the stairs to me that we had a package on our porch. Assuming it was church related (we get everything from bulk tithing slips to sacrament cups delivered to our home), I told her to put it on her dad’s side of our bedroom (which, I’ve decided, will never be neat until he is released from being a bishop).

“But it’s really heavy,” she said. “It’s books or something.”

I thought it an odd time of year for lesson manuals to be arriving, but I went to help her out. And . . . books indeed! It was a box of my books—the ones I wasn’t expecting for another 3-4 weeks.

How wonderful. How exciting. How quickly panic set in! How was it possible they were arriving in stores already when I hadn’t even blogged about the release yet, hadn’t put the cover on my webpage, hadn’t sent out teaser chapters to my mailing list? Suddenly I was several days late–which would likely result in being many dollars short when my royalty check arrives. After all, no one is going to purchase a book when they don’t even know it’s in stores.

So, for all those I’ve given the June 28th release date to—I take it back. There have been confirmed sightings of All the Stars in Heaven on actual bookshelves in real stores. The need to wait is over. It’s finally time to find out what happened to Jay.

If, by chance, you are confused, let me clarify a couple of things. First, All the Stars in Heaven was previously titled Beneath a Canopy of Stars. It is a sequel—of sorts—to Counting Stars, and the first chapter can be found in the back of that book.

Though it is about one of the characters from Counting Stars, I hope readers are prepared for a completely different kind of story. It takes place on the opposite coast, and while Counting Stars made many readers cry, All the Stars in Heaven may have you biting your nails instead. It’s what I call a suspenseful romance—not to be confused with romantic suspense, as the romance element is definitely the focus. Though you can tell, simply from reading the back cover (below), that Jay and Sarah find themselves in a few stressful situations as well.

Ever since the woman he once adored told Jay Kendrich he was a chivalrous hero, he has tried to live up to the praise. But when things don’t work out with Jane, moving on and dating other girls proves to be a chore. That is until he meets fellow Harvard student Sarah Morgan. Although Sarah is a freshman studying music and Jay is in his third year of law school, he discovers they have much in common. He has also discovered that getting to know the shy pianist is painful. The last thing Jay expected from his friendly advances was to be assaulted by a brawny stranger. It is abundantly clear that someone wants him to stay away from Sarah. If only he could.

As long as she can remember, Sarah has lived under a watchful eye. While her father insists it’s for her own protection, Sarah feels imprisoned. As she begins to believe that those she has trusted most don’t have her best interest at heart, she is driven further from her respected father and closer to Jay. But their love will come at a high price as the pair edges closer toward a truth that is darker than either of them could have imagined.

So yes, there is a bit of a suspense element to this story, and I have to say to all those authors who write mysteries and suspense—hats off to you. As I’ve discovered, it’s a difficult genre to write. Now that I’ve tried it? Give me a good, old kissing scene any day :) That’s much more my style, but this was a lot of fun too (I can say that now that it’s over).

Lest you think this story is all seriousness, there are some fun (and funny) moments and characters as well. I’ll be highlighting some of those this week, posting some of my favorite lines from the book, reposting the prologue, and sending out the second chapter to all those on my mailing list. It’ll be the condensed version of what I’d planned to do over the next three weeks.

And because it wouldn’t be a book release without a contest, I’ll be pulling a name from all those who comment over the next week, and he/she will win a free copy of All the Stars in Heaven. So post a comment and keep checking in. I’ll have more tidbits in a day or two.

When Hearts Conjoin

Those of you who write (whether you are published yet or not) know it’s all about perseverance. No writer knows this better than my good friend, Lu Ann Staheli.

When I first met Lu Ann, I was a terrible writer. I had a million great ideas rolling around in my brain and absolutely no clue how to get them on paper correctly, so that others could enjoy them. Enter my critique group. Yes, I’ve blogged about them before and likely will until the day I die. To this day I remain baffled why it was they allowed me to stay and learn from them.

Lu Ann taught me many things those first few years. Some were terribly basic, like not using the word that in every other sentence. Lu Ann literally edited 1000 thats from my first completed manuscript. She also taught me the evils of adverbs (never mind how many of those I had in my story), and dialogue tags that people physically cannot do (yes, we romance writers love for our characters to breathe their words).

Long story short, our little group began, one-by-one, getting published. Lu Ann, meanwhile continued to crank out some absolutely brilliant YA fiction, and she continued collecting rejections. At one point I had quite a few myself and we joked about who would get the most in a given year, but I feel I can say with confidence that Lu Ann now holds the record for the highest number of rejections in all our group. Why is this? Because she isn’t afraid of them! She’s not afraid to dream big, plan big, write big. And we always told her that when she did see her name on the cover of a book, it was going to be big.

Um, yeah. We were right. Her first book, When Hearts Conjoin, which she ghostwrote with Erin Herrin, is headed for Oprah! Must be nice, Lu Ann 😀

And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more deserving person (who worked like a madwoman to get this book written on a very short deadline). This, I am quite certain, is the beginning of many great things.

Below you’ll find my review of this remarkable book. Enjoy.

On August 7, 2006 four-year-old conjoined twins Maliyah and Kendra Herrin made history when they were successfully separated. The surgery lasted over twenty-six hours and required over thirty-five doctors and medical personnel. That event alone—and all the anxiety and emotions of those involved with it—is a great story in and of itself. Yet even more amazing is what it took for parents Jake and Erin Herrin to get their two little girls, and themselves, to that point. When Hearts Conjoin is that story.
Told by Erin Marie Herrin with LuAnn Brobst Staheli, When Hearts Conjoin begins in 1997, when Erin was a carefree young girl and long before she had any idea of the trials that lay ahead. Written with honesty, and without apology for both mistakes they made and the beliefs which carried them through the most difficult times, the book begins by chronicling Erin’s relationship with Jake Herrin, the boy she fell in love with during her senior year of high school. As happens too often with teens, the young couple let their feelings and passion carry them away to physical intimacy neither was prepared for. The result was a frightening eighteenth birthday for Erin, with an unexpected baby on the way, two heartbroken families, and two futures irrevocably changed.
Trying to do the right thing, Jake and Erin married, but happily ever after was not to be for a very long time. The pressures of family were too much for the young couple. It was astonishing to read that Jake and Erin were separated and had filed for divorce when they found out Erin was carrying conjoined twin girls. What would have been enough to send many older, stable couples to the brink should have been the final nail in the coffin of the Herrin’s relationship. It wasn’t. Instead, a remarkable change took place, the first of many miracles in their family, as they forged ahead and faced their incredible trials—together.
Erin and Jake overcame a series of hurdles to have their babies—beginning with multiple suggestions that they terminate the pregnancy. Against gigantic odds, the twins were born, survived, and even thrived, eventually coming home. But Maliyah and Kendra’s health challenges were many, and the stresses of caring for their conjoined twins were not all that Erin and Jake had to endure. Parents with serious health problems, another set of twins, and a kidney transplant were just a few of the things that lay in store. It was amazing to see how they literally rolled with the punches, sometimes joking and teasing to get through—a lot of times crying. But made it through, they did, to that fateful summer day in 2006.
The chapters detailing the surgery are difficult to read. The girls endured physical and emotional pain both before and after the surgeries, and their parents suffered emotional anguish beyond what most parents will ever have to go through. Both Jake and Erin agreed it was the best thing, the right thing to separate the girls. But what if something went wrong? What if one of them died? What if . . . Any parent reading this can only imagine that fear and agony they faced.
Though the separation was successful, the girls required additional surgeries and procedures and were in and out of the hospital over the coming months.
Since then the girls have continued to have health challenges, but the prognosis for their separate, happy lives is excellent. The prognosis for the Herrin family is equally good. Having weathered more storms than many people undergo in an entire lifetime, they are strong in mind and spirit. They are grateful for the mercies and miracles of God and filled with love for their immediate and extended families.
I am grateful for having read this book. Erin Herrin and author LuAnn Staheli took truths stranger than fiction and chronicled them into an inspiring volume. When Hearts Conjoin is guaranteed to touch your heart and make you look at your own life and blessings a little closer. It is a compelling read from start to finish, one that will motivate you to face your own challenges with more courage, and to find more gratitude in the simple, every day blessings we all enjoy.