The Writing Life

NEW RELEASE: JULIA’S GIFTS!

Julia's Gifts by Ellen Gable (WWI Clean Romance--Great War, Great Love)

Julia’s Gifts

(Great War Great Love #1)

by Ellen Gable

As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will her naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

Excerpt

December 17, 1917

The bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia shimmered with electric lights, heralding that Christmas was near. Julia Marie Murphy lifted her head and gazed upward. The night sky was filled with snow clouds, the air brisk. She pulled on her gloves and buttoned the top of her coat. Her thoughts turned to her future husband. Dear God in heaven, please protect my beloved.

Tens of thousands of American men had already enlisted to fight in this “Great War.” The gentlemen that Julia knew seemed anxious to join, and Julia thanked God that her three brothers were too young to fight.

In a few short weeks, it would be 1918.  All of her father’s friends and acquaintances expected the war to end soon, hopefully before the middle of the year.  But 1918 held far more significance for Julia.  This would be the year that she would turn 21.

She approached Lit Brothers department store, admiring the display windows that were outlined with colored electric lights. Julia was thankful that it was Monday. If it were Thursday, the ban on electric lights (in support of the war effort) would mean the windows would be dark.

Julia stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display. Shimmery red fabric hung from a back wall, a beautiful sterling silver pocket watch lay on top of a cylindrical pedestal.  Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.

After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”

“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”

His eyebrows lifted.  “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece.  Don’t you agree?”

“Well, yes, I imagine he would.  But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”

The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered.  “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand.  You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”

Julia sighed.  She shouldn’t have said anything.

“Please just use the words I gave you.”

The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of suspicious curiosity, a look one might give a person in an asylum.

“How long will it take?”

“For the engraving?  Ten days.  Sorry, Miss, but you won’t have it in time for Christmas.”

“That’s all right.” Julia turned and walked a few steps and heard the salesman mumble, “Now there’s an odd girl.  Buying a gift for someone she doesn’t know. Tsk tsk.”

Sighing, she checked her own wristwatch and hurried out of the store to begin the three-block walk to her trolley stop.  If she didn’t get there in time for the five p.m. streetcar, she would be waiting half an hour.

This year Julia was determined that she would meet her beloved, the man for whom she had been praying these past four years. Why hadn’t she met him yet?  Some of her friends were already married. Her beloved was out there and she would find him.  Yes, 1918 would also be the year that she would meet her beloved.

Each December, Julia wondered what she would buy her beloved for Christmas. Last year, she searched different stores but found nothing special. She finally discovered — and bought — a brown leather pocket journal at a specialty store at Broad and Bigler Streets. She didn’t know whether her beloved would be the sort to write in one, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, especially since it had a delicate leaf embossed on the cover. The year before, she had bought a sterling silver Miraculous Medal because her beloved would be Catholic.

That first year, her mother suggested that she begin praying for her future husband.  After a few weeks of doing so, Julia felt inspired to do more. It had been the week before Christmas, so she decided that she would buy or make him a Christmas gift each year until they met.  With no job and no money that year, Julia knit him two pairs of socks, one blue-green and one green-brown, with finely-made yarn that her mother had given her.

The fact that she had made or bought gifts, and had spent hard-earned money for her future husband, had not pleased her father as he thought it too impractical and sentimental. Her mother, however, had declared that it was a beautiful gesture. Of course, if Mother knew how much she had spent on the most recent gift, she was pretty certain her mother wouldn’t be happy.

Q&A About Julia’s Gifts

What was the inspiration for Julia’s Gifts?

When I was a teenager, I yearned to meet my future spouse.  It was difficult because most of my friends (and all of my siblings) had boyfriends.  Since I looked very young, boys weren’t    interested in me. I felt lonely, especially on Friday nights when all my siblings and friends were on dates, and I was home watching the Donny and Marie Show.

I began praying that God would “send me a man.”  Until then, I prayed for my future husband.  While I never actually bought a gift for him, I did write letters to him.

A few years ago, it occurred to me that it would be a beautiful gesture for a young woman to buy Christmas gifts for her future spouse.  From that small seed, Julia’s Gifts was born.

Why World War 1?

I’ve always been interested in history and I knew very little about this war.  I decided to focus the bulk of my research on the last year of the War (after the United States entered).  Because I am American and my husband is Canadian, Julia is American and her future spouse (Peter) is Canadian. I read and studied many books and researched online for three years before actually sitting down to write the novel.

Why is the name of the series Great War Great Love?

I owe my gratitude to the son of a friend of mine, Ian, for coming up with the title. The reason for the title is that World War 1 was called the “Great War” by the Allies before the USA entered the war, and is still often called the “Great War,” by British, Canadians and Australians. And Great Love because there are many examples of how couples met and fell in love during times of war.

The sonnets/poems in this story are beautifully written.  Tell us a bit about them.

Well, I’m not a poet, but my husband has written songs and poems. So I asked him if he would be willing to write sonnets for my book.  I explained in detail what I needed the sonnet to express and he took it from there.  The sonnets are a beautiful addition to this novel, especially because my husband wrote them.

Can you tell us about the next two books of the series?

Yes. Charlotte’s Honor is Book #2 and takes place at approximately the same time as Julia’s Gifts, but focuses on a different female protagonist, Charlotte, who finds her purpose in life when she begins working in the death ward and holding men’s hands as they die.  She is attracted to Canadian Dr. Paul Kilgallen. During an advance by the enemy, everyone at the field hospital evacuates, except for Charlotte and Dr. K.  They remain hidden in the basement of the chateau to take care of the terminally ill men and those soldiers who can’t be moved. Charlotte becomes convinced that Paul is her own “beloved.” But when she loses contact with Paul, she fears not only for his safety, but begins to doubt his love for her.  Charlotte’s Honor will be released in late 2018.

Ella’s Promise is Book #3 in the series. It is about the daughter of German immigrants, Ella, an American nurse who (because of the time period) was discouraged from continuing on in her studies to be a doctor.  She works as a nurse for three years in Philadelphia but reads medical books every opportunity she gets. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own beloved in the last place she would expect to meet him.  Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

This is very different from your other books in that it is a very clean romance and can be read by young teens to elderly women to middle-aged men.  Was that a conscious choice?

Yes, it is very different and no, it wasn’t a conscious choice, at first.  When I came up with the story and as I was gradually developing the characters and plotlines, it made the most sense to keep this a “sweet” and “clean” love story that anyone can enjoy.  It is, however, a war novel, so there are descriptions of war injuries.

How do you find time to write?

The question really is: when do I feel inspired to write?  I work for a non-profit organization, and I run a micro-press publishing company.  I also write articles for various websites.  Some authors can force themselves to write a short novel (say, during November, national novel writing month).  However, for me, I need to be inspired.  For some strange reason, January is always a rich writing month for me.  When I’m inspired, writing comes easily.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My favorite Catholic author is Dena Hunt (author of Treason and The Lion’s Heart), but I also enjoy reading Willa Cather’s books (Death Comes For the Archbishop).  Dena’s books are incredibly well-written and moving.  Cather’s books are well-written and rich in meaning.

And while this may seem biased, I enjoy reading books by all the Full Quiver Authors.  I also enjoy the books of the authors who are fellow members of the Catholic Writers Guild.

One of my favorite secular authors is Nelson DeMille (author of the John Corey series).   I also enjoy reading Kathleen Morgan’s Christian historical novels.

Julia's Gifts, clean romance by Ellen Gable (Great War-Great Love)

About Ellen Gable

Ellen Gable is an award-winning author, Marketing Director for Live the Fast, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. However, the roles she loves the most are being wife to her husband and mother to their five sons, ages 18-30. Originally from New Jersey, Ellen lives with her husband of 35 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario Canada.

Find Ellen at:

Blog: Plot Line and Sinker

Full Quiver Publishing 

Amazon Author Page

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December’s SRBT & Open Book

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup! To which I’m arriving typically late, but what of that?

an-open-book

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone, I link up my video Sabbath Rest Book Talk with Carolyn’s Open Book.

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

This month’s focus was compassion, and our featured fiction is…

Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

Inspirational Romance that brings the reader the joys of Christmas all year long: ORNAMENTAL GRACES by Carolyn Astfalk

Christmas Hope by Leslie Lynch

Sabbath Rest Book Talk for December 2017 with Erin McCole Cupp

The Strangers at the Manger (Chime Travelers #5) by Lisa Hendey

strangersatthemanger

and as-yet-unread shoutout to Unearthing Christmas by Anthea Piscarik

Sabbath Rest Book Talk for December 2017 with Erin McCole Cupp

See the video here or click on the thumbnail below.

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

Hey, there.  Long time no proper blog! I’m hosting Carolyn Astfalk as she shares the news about her latest romance, Ornamental Graces, so please read on! I’ll be talking about Ornamental Graces at my December 4th Sabbath Rest Book Talk.


Inspirational Romance that brings the reader the joys of Christmas all year long: ORNAMENTAL GRACES by Carolyn AstfalkAfter his duplicitous girlfriend left, Dan Malone spent six months in a tailspin of despair and destruction: emotional, physical, and spiritual. Just when his life seems to be back on track, he meets Emily Kowalski, younger sister of his new best friend.

Emily’s the kind of girl he’d always dreamed of—sweet, smart, and sincere. But he’s made a mess of his life and ruined his chances for earning the love and trust of a woman like her.

Could Dan be the man Emily’s been waiting for? How could he be when every time they get close he pulls away? And will he ever be free from his shady past and the ex-girlfriend who refuses to stay there?

An inspirational Christmas romance that spans every season.



Ornamental Graces on Amazon

Ornamental Graces on Goodreads

Pinterest goodies, recipes, and other extras for Ornamental Graces


Read an excerpt from Chapter 1: Sortir du froid (Come in from the Cold)

It had come to this. Daniel Malone sold instruments of torture just to keep food on his crappy Formica table for one. Of course, that probably wasn’t how others saw it.

They were bringing home a piece of the outdoors, a symbol of the season, a reminder of Christ’s nativity and resurrection, the eternal—evergreen—promises of God. Dan had seen things that way too before the past year took everything he had and shredded it with a mulcher. Mustering his remaining whit of self-respect, he’d succumbed to desperation and now sat in a drafty shack waiting for the next giddy Christmas revelers to select a fresh-scented, needle-dropping nightmare.

Okay, so maybe the trees weren’t exactly torturous, but he’d had enough of rough bark, sticky sap, and sharp needles to last a lifetime. After this, he’d be an artificial tree enthusiast—if he bothered to put up a tree at all.

Inside his small, weather-beaten shack, the one he’d assembled mostly from leftover wooden pallets, Dan couldn’t smell the fresh, evergreen scent, the only trait of Christmas trees he still enjoyed. Instead, the odor of burnt coffee lingered though he hadn’t made a pot in days. He never cared for the taste, burnt or not, but he had needed something to keep him awake during the long, boring hours when no customers visited his lot.

The space heater at his feet gave a death rattle, and its electrical hum ceased. He kicked it with the tip of his boot. Nothing.

Great.

Dan folded his large frame under the wooden table that served as his desk and jiggled the wire where it entered the cheap heater. It knocked against the laminate floor remnants and hummed to life. A blast of warm air hit his face and then penetrated his boots. As he sat upright, he glanced out one of the two square windows and spotted a young couple beneath the lights in the rear of the lot.

The man had lifted a Douglas fir from where it leaned against the rope Dan strung across the lot. He stamped its trunk on the frozen, dry ground a couple times and then twirled it around so the woman could see every side. It was a woman, wasn’t it? No telltale pink gloves or hand-knit, sparkly scarf. No expensive boots designed for gawking rather than walking. Just a puffy, navy jacket and white tennis shoes. It could be a skinny dude.

The person spent less than three seconds observing it before planting hands on hips and signaling disapproval with a shake of the head. Yeah, definitely a woman.

Dan rolled his eyes. Another one. If nothing else, this job had given him an unforgettable real-life lesson in male-female dynamics—a lesson that would’ve been helpful a couple of years ago. The man would ferret out the best-looking tree, well-shaped and full, and the woman would turn up her nose, forcing them to cycle through four to seven more trees before one met her approval—sometimes the same tree the man had first shown her.

Poor sap. He had at least three more trees to go.

Dan grabbed his gloves from the table, pulled the lined hood of his jacket over his knit cap, and made for the door. He knew from experience that if he wasn’t standing at the ready the moment the woman found the one, he risked losing a sale.

Dan glanced down to kick aside the rags that kept the cold air from creeping beneath the entrance. He twisted the knob and used his hip to shove open the door. The wind nipped at his bare neck, so he zipped his jacket over his beard and past his chin. He strolled toward the couple, expecting to see them examining another tree. Instead, he witnessed a scene that could serve as a death knell for any romantic relationship.

The man leaned toward her, gesturing wildly with one hand while the other clasped the tree trunk. When his hand dropped to his side, the woman yelled something Dan couldn’t quite make out and kicked the guy in the shin. He hunched to rub his injured leg, and she swatted his back with her gloved hand. The tree careened forward, hit the ground, and sent out a small spray of dust and gravel.

The man regained his footing, gave the woman a light shove, and stomped down the row, out of Dan’s line of sight.

The shove hadn’t been forceful, but Dan decided he should probably check to see that she wasn’t hurt. And that his tree hadn’t been damaged.

A small, white puff of breath billowed in front of the woman and then dissipated. Unaware of Dan’s approach, she crouched down and seemed to search for the best place to get a hold of the trunk. She muttered something to herself, the words unintelligible.

Dan stood beneath one of the overhead lamps, casting a shadow on the tree.

She rocked back onto her heels. “I’m sorry.”

Light brown eyes with amber flecks peered out from under long lashes and a worn, gray knit hat. He expected a huffy, controlling glare, not that doe-eyed innocent look that reminded him of his oldest sister, especially with the twin rosy patches blooming on her fair, winter cheeks. She wore no trace of makeup, but by his estimation, she didn’t need any.

She moved to grab hold of the tree.

“I got it,” Dan said. From the kick and the whap she’d given her companion, Dan knew she didn’t need his help, but the scrap of chivalry he maintained required him to at least offer.

“I didn’t think he’d drop the tree. I make one little suggestion, and . . .” She growled. “I should’ve kicked both his shins, the big jerk.”

Dan raised his brows. No way would he interfere in their lovers’ spat. He’d right his tree and head back to his shack. She could stay out here and fume about her boyfriend or husband or whomever he was as long as she liked. He set the tree against the line and brushed the needles from his gloves.

“Did you see which way he went?” She stood and squinted towards the parking lot.

“Uh—” He jerked a thumb in the opposite direction. “Walked off that way.”

Her gaze followed the path he’d indicated. Beyond the tops of the Christmas trees, a neon sign glowed in the narrow window of an aluminum-sided building. The front door swung open and shut as a couple of rotund men in flannel jerseys exited and thumped down the five wooden steps to the sidewalk. The unlit sign affixed to the second floor read: The Watering Hole. Beneath it, a smaller, vinyl sign read: Voted Pittsburgh’s Favorite Hometown Hangout.

The woman huffed again. “I should’ve known. He only told me three times I was keeping him from relaxing with a beer.”

Dan knew it was none of his business, but in an effort to wrap up the uncomfortable conversation and retreat to the relative warmth of his shack, he asked, “You going to join him?”

She let out a scoffing laugh. “I’d sooner army crawl naked over broken glass and a swarm of scorpions than sit in that stinky rat hole with him. I’ll wait.”

Dan suppressed a smile and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

He retreated to the shack, closing the door behind him, and toed the rags back toward the base. He dropped onto a folding chair and rubbed his gloved hands together. Not feeling any warmth coming from the heater, he nudged it with his boot until warm air circulated at his feet.

He gazed out the window, expecting the young woman to have gone back to her vehicle, but instead she stood beneath the light where thick snowflakes landed on her hat and jacket. She rubbed her hands together and jumped up and down, presumably trying to warm herself. Maybe the guy had taken the car keys with him.

The snow came down harder, sticking to the cold ground. The wind gusted, blowing the flakes against the side of the shack. The woman clapped and did some kind of awkward hip-wriggling, bouncing jig to keep warm.

He didn’t want company, especially female company, but his heart would have to be colder than his toes to let her stay out there when he had four walls and a roof, paltry though they were. He cracked the door and called to her.

“You can wait in here if you want.”

She jogged toward him, her heel sliding on a patch of black ice partially covered with snow. Her arms flailed as if she were making a snow angel in mid-air before she caught her balance and stumbled forward, her cheeks redder than before.

He pushed the door open wider, and she slipped in. A blast of cold air followed.

“Thank you.” Her teeth chattered, and she hugged her arms close to her body.

“You want some hot cider?” He motioned to a miniature slow cooker on the battered table in the corner. The pot and its contents came courtesy of his sister Colleen. The strangely odorless, brown liquid didn’t tempt him, but maybe it would help warm her.

“I’d love some, thank you.”

He stirred the cider, ladled it into two mugs, and handed one to her. Now the spicy, warm scent of cinnamon wafted through the cool air.

She slipped off her gloves and wrapped her hands around the steaming mug. After blowing on the hot liquid a couple of times, she raised it to her lips. “Mmmm. That helps.”

Dan opened a metal folding chair and dusted the cushioned seat with his glove. He set it on the side of the table opposite him. “You can sit.”

“Thank you.” Her pink lips turned up in a small smile. She sipped her cider, draining the mug in no time. It must have worked in warming her because she unzipped her jacket and slipped the hat from her head.

Luxurious auburn-brown tresses spilled onto her shoulders, dark and luminous. His gaze traveled her back as her hair cascaded down. How could he have mistaken her for a man?

Her magnificent hair mesmerized him, but otherwise her features were pretty but not glamorous or beautiful like—

No. He would not allow her to invade his thoughts.

He turned his attention back to the cider and took a sip. Not bad. “I’ll, uh, keep an eye out for your . . . your boyfriend? Husband?”

She sputtered and covered her mouth with the back of her hand.

“You okay?”  He didn’t need some stranger choking in his ramshackle workplace.

She nodded and cleared her throat. “He’s not my husband or boyfriend. Robert is my stupid, know-it-all brother.”

“Oh.” Dan lifted his chin in acknowledgment. “Whoever he is, I’ll keep a lookout.” It explained their unnecessary roughness. He had four older sisters, and he’d admit to having shoved them a time or two. Not that he’d treat another woman that way.

“My name’s Emily.” She extended her right hand. “Thanks for letting me come in out of the cold.”

“You’re welcome.” He took her small hand in his and gave it a firm shake. “Dan Malone.”

She withdrew her hand and laid it inside her jacket, over her heart, her expression pinched.

“Are you okay?”

“Uh, yeah. Just . . . that was weird.”

He had no clue what she was talking about, nor did he want to know. She wouldn’t be hanging around much longer. He hoped. He’d give the guy another five, ten minutes before he went over there and dragged him out himself. Apparently they were no longer in the market for a tree. Another lost sale, and only one day left before Christmas Eve.

“I don’t know how Elizabeth puts up with him.”

Dan raised his brows. Should he have known who Elizabeth was?

“His wife. He can be such a blockhead. Insists it’s ridiculous for me to get a real tree when I’ll hardly be at my apartment for Christmas. But he can’t let it go at that. He’s got to lay into all the old spinster jokes.”

“Spinster?” Dan peered at her through squinted eyes. She couldn’t be more than twenty-three.

“I know, right? I’m not even twenty-five.”  She flung her hair back and pouted.

Dan shrugged. “I’m twenty-eight. Guess that makes me an old bachelor.”

She smiled, and it lit her face. It was a reserved smile intended to be polite and nothing more, but it made him wonder. When would a woman smile for him again? Not at him, at something funny he said or did, but because the joy he brought her couldn’t be contained.

He hoped never.

Dan switched on the radio, wanting to fill the dead air with something other than silence, and dialed through four stations before he found one that wasn’t playing Christmas songs.

The woman’s eyes, Emily’s eyes, glimmered, and her lips turned up as if she were suppressing a laugh.

“What?” It was his shack; he could listen to whatever he pleased.

She shrugged. “For someone selling Christmas trees, you seem intent on avoiding the sounds of the season. I understand passing over ‘Santa Baby,’ and ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,’ but ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘O Tannenbaum’?”

“It’s not Christmas yet. When it’s Christmas, I’ll listen to Christmas carols.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but Dan pointed toward the window to cut her off. “Your brother?”

Robert stood in the center aisle of the lot, snow swirling around him. He called Emily’s name as he turned in each direction.

“I should make him sweat,” Emily said, her eyes narrowed at her brother. She stood, zipped her jacket, tugged on her gloves, and grabbed her hat. “Thank you for the heat and the cider.”

Dan nodded.

“Oh, and I’ll take the tree. The one we were looking at.”

Dan rubbed his hand over his beard. Her brother may be a know-it-all, but she was one headstrong lady.

Chapter 2

L’un est le nombre solitaire

(One is the loneliest number)

Emily rubbed her boot over the blue ice-melting pellets on the sidewalk, crushing the beads beneath her toes. She scanned the end unit apartment building with its nondescript red brick, darkened windows, and green shutters. With her arms folded over her chest, she huffed and waited as her brother untied the twine holding the tree to the roof rack of his minivan. He’d spent the first ten minutes of their ride badgering her about her stubborn streak and her foolishness for—how did he put it?—“getting cozy in some love shack” with a strange man.

“All I’m saying, Emily,” he said as he stepped off the van’s running board, “is you can’t be too careful. You went behind a closed door with a guy you don’t know. He’s bigger, and he’s stronger. He’s got that Grizzly Adams thing goin’ on with the beard. Who would’ve heard you if you screamed?”

“Certainly not you, since your butt was glued to a bar stool in that dive.” Emily clenched her fists at her side. Robert had been smothering her with his overprotectiveness since their parents died seven years ago. If she didn’t know his concern was born of love, she may well have strangled him by now. “If you hadn’t stomped off to the bar, leaving me stranded in a blizzard, I wouldn’t have been forced to sit in that rickety shanty with Scrooge, the tree salesman.” A closed-off Scrooge, who obviously didn’t want her there.

A twinge of guilt stung her conscience. Maybe she wasn’t being fair to Dan. He had been kind enough to welcome her in out of the cold, but even a wallflower like her could tell his invitation was grudging. Sitting uncomfortably in his folding chair, he’d only contributed curt responses to the conversation. He was a man well-practiced in avoidance.

Had Dan not told her his age, she would have guessed older—maybe late thirties? With a hat pulled low over his forehead and a scruffy beard and mustache bristling the lower half of his face, the only clues to his age had been his eyes. Those hazel irises guarded more pain and weariness than a man in his twenties should harbor.

“Earth to Emily. You gonna get the door for me?” Robert stood at the edge of her walk, the tree hoisted over his shoulder.

“Oh. Sorry.” Emily jogged to the door of the three-story building and opened it.

Robert stomped the snow from his boots, dragged the tree inside, and balanced it against the wall.

Emily, fiddling with her keys, rushed past him to get to her apartment door. Jostling the key in the lock, she turned it and held open the door.

Robert trudged by with the tree, trailing green and brown needles. “Where do you want it?”

“In front of the sliding glass door.” Emily walked to the far side of her living area, which extended via the doors to a concrete slab patio outside.

The small apartment, nondescript in its pale walls and beige carpet, had been home for almost four years. Robert and her sister-in-law Elizabeth had protested when she announced she’d be moving out of their house, but she suspected they were secretly relieved. At the time, there had been three adults and three children under the roof of their 1,600-square-foot house. Since she’d moved out, they’d added two more children. While Emily appreciated their generosity, it had been well past time to strike out on her own. She’d moved less than two miles away, but it managed to give her and them some much-needed privacy.

“Okay,” Robert said as he adjusted the tree in the stand. “Hold on and let me tighten it.”

Emily steadied the tree as Robert lowered himself to the floor and slid beneath the lowest limbs. In several minutes, he secured the tree.

“Thanks, Robert. You’d better get home.” Emily glanced at the wall clock. If he didn’t leave soon, Elizabeth would be drowning in bedtime madness getting all the kids bathed and ready for sleep.

Robert groaned. “Yeah, don’t want to miss an opportunity to chase a wet, naked toddler down the hall, strain a turd from the tub, or read How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? for the thousandth time.”

Emily smiled. She knew from experience that his kids were exhausting, but his small home nearly burst with love and life. Will I ever have that kind of life, or am I doomed to always be alone?

She ushered Robert to the door with a kiss to the cheek despite his infuriating behavior at the tree lot. Before she bolted the door behind him, she remembered she hadn’t gotten the mail and padded out to the group of mailboxes in the entryway.

Robert called from the open door beneath the exit sign. “You’re coming for dinner on Christmas Eve, right?”

“Yep. And we’re still doing that seven o’clock children’s Mass, aren’t we?”

“Yeah. Hopefully they all fall asleep on the way home.” The door swung shut behind him.

Emily hugged an arm across her midsection to fend off the cold air and gathered her mail from the metal box with her free hand. As she shuffled back to her apartment, she sifted through the mixture of catalogs, bills, and junk mail, finding two Christmas cards.

She closed and locked the door behind her, then plopped onto the couch. Sliding a finger under the seal of the first card, she pried it open. The photo card showed the smiling faces of her cousin, his wife, and their children in matching red and green scarves, relaxing in front of a fireplace. Twice she turned the envelope of the second card over in her hands, looking for a return address. Nothing. The postmark only said “Pittsburgh.”

Emily opened the envelope and pulled out a card decorated with glittering poinsettias. A three-by-five-inch photo slipped out and landed in her lap. A blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned man in his late twenties stared up at her. The most handsome face she’d ever laid eyes on. The face of the only boy she’d ever loved. His arm wrapped snugly around an olive-skinned woman whose exotic dark hair, dark eyes, and flawless skin made her a natural candidate for Miss Universe. She possessed the kind of looks that made men—and women—stop in the street and take another look.

A text banner at the bottom read, “We’re Engaged! Save the Date: August 3.” Emily scooped up the card and photo along with the other mail and flung them onto her end table. She kicked off her boots and shuffled to the kitchen. Her stomach rumbled, and she realized she hadn’t planned anything for dinner. Scanning the refrigerator, she found only yogurt, fruit, and lettuce. Nothing appealed to her. Celebrating Bryce’s engagement to Miss Universe required carbs, specifically sugar and chocolate. She yanked open the freezer door. Pushing aside a bag of frozen baby peas and a container of leftover soup, she reached for the quart of Moose Tracks ice cream in the back.

Retail therapy befitted the rich or perpetually in-debt. Ice cream therapy? Now, that even an average-looking girl overlooked by men and boys of every age and race could afford to indulge.

“So, you’ve decided to take the plunge, eh, Bryce?” She lifted her spoon and gazed up, as if he stood before her. “You could’ve had the plain but virtuous Emily Kowalski, beloved by small children and dowagers. I see instead you’ve chosen beauty, which I’m sorry to say is shallow and fleeting.” She jabbed the spoon into the ice cream, digging for a hunk of chocolate. “So, boo for you.” She slid a heaping spoonful of ice cream over her tongue, slowly scraping the metal spoon between her teeth. Tears welled in her eyes, and she sniffed. “In your defense, Bryce, I don’t think you knew I could make pierogies from scratch.”

As her spoon hit the bottom of the paperboard container, Emily’s stomach revolted. When would she learn? She pressed her hand to her belly and moaned. This wasn’t the first time she’d drowned her disappointment and envy in empty calories.

After tossing the nearly-empty carton into the trash and the spoon into the sink, Emily plodded to the bathroom, uncertain whether or not her chocolaty meal was going to stay down. She stared in the mirror at her plain, ordinary face. Brownish hair, brown eyes. But her nose was cute, right? She bared her teeth. Perfectly straight (after thousands of dollars of orthodontic work). She wasn’t ugly. She wasn’t!

With a hard swallow to force back the rising tide of Moose Tracks, she breathed deeply and resolved to change. Lord, I’m tired of waiting for life to happen to me. You have a plan for my life, and I’m fairly certain it’s not written at the bottom of an ice cream container.

The nausea settled. She filled a Dixie cup with water and held it up. “Here’s to the new Emily.” She sipped and tossed back her long, thick hair, easily her best feature. She lifted her chin and, for good measure, added, “Amen.”

Get the rest of Ornamental Graces on Amazon today!


Carolyn Astfalk, author of spicy clean romanceAbout Carolyn Astfalk

Carolyn Astfalk lives with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the wind carries either the scent of chocolate or cow manure. She is a CatholicMom.com contributor and author of the contemporary inspirational romances Stay With Me (Full Quiver Publishing) and Ornamental Graces.

Open Book & Sabbath Rest Book Talk (November 2016)

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone.  In addition to reviewing books for #OpenBook, I’ve started a monthly event on Facebook Live over at my author page.  It’s called Sabbath Rest Book Talk, and in it I’ll talk about a few of the books I’ve read in the past month in terms of how they, as fiction, help us grow in humanity.

This month’s focus was on The Power of Story, or how fiction has the power to reach us in ways that real life just can’t.

October’s SRBT Featured Fiction:

Readaloud: Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPuccio

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: THE POWER OF STORY with Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DIPucchio, Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

YA: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd

(Special thanks to Sherrie of Sherrie’s Scriptorium for the recommendation via BookTuber Chelsea Palmer)

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: THE POWER OF STORY featuring A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd

Adult: Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body, co-edited by Ellen Gable and Erin McCole Cupp

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body available from FQP. See St. John Paul II's teachings on the meaning of human love in a whole new way. #shortreads #poetry #fiction #TOB

And here’s the November 2016 Sabbath Rest Book Talk video!

What are you reading?

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Image and Likeness Launch Day

At last, today is the day I’ve had in mind for nearly three years, when Ellen Gable first asked me if I had anything that might work for an anthology of Theology of the Body short stories.

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body available from FQP. See St. John Paul II's teachings on the meaning of human love in a whole new way. #shortreads #poetry #fiction #TOB

As I’d warned a few weeks ago, I’ve been spending most of my time on the Image and Likeness page.  Here, however, is where I get to speak not as an editor representing the whole work and all the authors whose pieces appear within the collection.  Here’s my author page, where I get to speak as just another author who has stories to tell, two of which got caught up in this anthology.

I’ve been working pretty hard.  I’m wondering if, in the world’s eyes, I’m working “smart.”  Am I working in a way that will give me some sort of return on investment?  I’ve poured a lot of time into this anthology, maybe even a bit of my health.  Will it be worth it? Will I break even in some fashion?

I don’t know.  I’ve done as many of the supposedtas as I possibly can, just as I have for all my other books.  Only this time I also have a troupe of other authors reminding me of all the supposedtas, giving me more, and correcting me when I fall short.  (BTW, that was not a type of pressure I anticipated coming into this project.  It’s been humbling, which is never a bad thing.)

Am I just selling stuff very few people want to hear? Nobody wants to hear that birth control might actually kill you.  Nobody wants to hear that we shouldn’t farm people.  And people aren’t exactly lining up to read that Mary, the Mother of God, was so much like us that it gives us very few excuses to pity ourselves.  Why should they hand over their cold, hard cash to find out that abortion just might be destroying people, that our definition of “love” might be pretty badly tweaked, that marriage is so bloody difficult even when your bodies do have corresponding shapes?

I mean, seriously, why? Who’s gonna fork over the Washingtons and the Lincolns to have someone point out that… they just might be wrong?  And hurting other people?  And hurting themselves?

Who?

Man, life is hard.  Writing is even harder.  Writing warning signs, “HEY, YOU ARE ABOUT TO DRIVE OFF A CLIFF INTO THE VERY MAW OF HELL, SO STOP DRIVING THAT DIRECTION, OKAY?” is hard: making the signs good, and true, and beautiful, knowing they’re so very likely to be ignored.  Every day as a Catholic writer is a bit of the Agony in the Garden.  I’ve heard it said that Jesus wasn’t sweating blood because he was afraid of the pain of the crucifixion.  No, he was sweating blood in Gethsemane because he knew, he knew and loved every single soul who would know of His sacrifice… and who wouldn’t give a crap about it and prefer to just die anyway.

It’s so easy to get sucked into that maelstrom, to stay in that garden and keep sweating blood.  It’s a heck of a lot harder to look for the consoling angels and listen to them and focus on those who will listen and care and let their own hearts break, too.

But broken hearts let in so much light.

If you have let your heart be broken along with mine, if you have been one of my consoling angels, I thank you.  From the bottom of my broken, tired heart, I thank you.  Let’s keep writing the good fight.

If Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, lifted His head and carried His cross, then I have no excuse not to do likewise.  Thank you for walking with me.  Thank you for reading my signs.  Thank you for standing behind me in the garden, helping me to go on.

That return on investment isn’t on this side of the cross, anyway.


Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body is officially available today.

You are invited to attend the IAL Launch Party on Facebook on October 27, 2016 from 8-10pm Eastern Time.

Update: Image and Likeness

IALTwittter.pngJust an update: for the next several weeks, most of my blogging energies will be spent over at Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body. It’s a collection of short reads, poetry and prose, that will breath life into St. John Paul II’s teaching on human and divine love in ways you’ve never dreamed possible.

The release date for Image and Likeness is October 22, that great saint’s feast day.  The anthology’s website will soon after populate with author interviews and in-depth discussion questions, almost like a book club that you can participate in as you’ve read each story or poem and as you have time.  I’m honored to have worked on editing this project with Ellen Gable and Full Quiver Publishing.  Do check it out!

Open Book and Sabbath Rest Book Talk for October

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone.  In addition to reviewing books for #OpenBook, I’ve started a monthly event on Facebook Live over at my author page.  It’s called Sabbath Rest Book Talk, and in it I’ll talk about a few of the books I’ve read in the past month in terms of how they, as fiction, help us grow in humanity.

This month’s focus was on conflict, or how fiction–most especially a diversity of fiction–gives us a variety of tools to face our real-life conflicts.  When we humans fill our conflict resolution toolboxes, not just with the tools used by people who look and think and grew up like we do, but with the tools used in cultures and worldviews with which we are not familiar, we give ourselves greater courage, empathy, compassion, and understanding… and those virtues are just for starters.

October’s SRBT Featured Fiction:

The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

(Psst–this is a book for grown-ups. My mentioning it here is not yet an endorsement.  I haven’t finished it, but I’m hard on the heels of accomplishing that.  What I’ve read, while it does have strong language and adult situations, is very much a page-turning kind of thing.)

thenewmoonsarms

The Well by Stephanie Landsem

TheWell

(Click here for my more detailed review of The Well)

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

owlbabies

And a special feature of narrative non-fiction,

Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges

rubybridgesgoestoschool

And here’s October’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk Video

srbtthumbnail2oct16

What are you reading?  Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Discover DISCOVERY by Karina Fabian

Dear Readers, I’m happy to share with you some news about the next book out from Full Quiver Publishing, the house that takes care of Don’t You Forget About Me and “Working Mother.”

Meet Karina Fabian, Author of DISCOVERY (Theology of the Body fiction featuring nuns in space.)

DISCOVERY

by

Karina Fabian

Sisters Ann, Tommie and Rita are part of a classified mission to explore an alien ship that has crash landed on an asteroid three billion miles from earth. Humanity’s first contact with beings from beyond the solar system is bound to unlock the mystery of life in the universe, but the crew have their own secrets; hidden fears, desires, horrible sins – and a mission to kill. Researchers discover something unique about the third arm of the ship: something wonderful, terrifying and…holy. This discovery challenges Rita and Ann to confront their own pasts in order to secure the safety of the mission and the very souls of the crew.

And here’s a little excerpt to help you make up your mind:

For all her nightmares of earlier, the next shift on Discovery seemed to be going according to routine. Rita applied the cut-away compound in a smooth circle on the door of their next room. She had the toe of one boot anchored in the suction handle outside it; another handle was attached to the center. Over the headset, she heard the chatter of the teams as they went about their own assignments. Ian and Reg were in the engineering arm, hoping to find the engines themselves but so far reporting control room after control room. Chris and Sean had just finished exploring a supply room and were working on their second door. Thoren had cut a deal to get on the exploration team and was working with Merl in the control room to try to match some of the symbols and perhaps get some idea of what the instruments were for. In Engineering, Gordon and his teammate were doing the same. She and James had decided to start along the second level of the central sphere. So far, they’d found what looked like a meeting room and a broom closet.

We got the exciting section, Rita thought.

James watched her from where he floated, anchored by one of the many handholds in the hall. “You’re really good at that,” he said over their private line.

“Lots of practice. It helps that I’m not worrying about the injured people on the other side.”

A small snort, then silence. She imagined him shaking his head, but couldn’t turn to look. “What?”

“You. In space. Saving lives, working with explosives.”

“It’s not an explosive, really. More like an acidic compound. See? There are two stripes separated by a chemical barrier. I actually ‘ignite’ it by dissolving the barrier.”

“Do you hear yourself?”

Is that disbelief or admiration? Actually, I don’t want to know. “James, thanks for agreeing to make the pods off-limits for now.”

“It’s not a problem. Like I said, a find like this will take decades — lifetimes! — of study with teams of experts. We’re here to survey.”

“Ah, yes. To seek and record the broom closets.” The circle complete, she put the application gun away and pulled out a second tube with a needle. She programmed the activator voltage into its controls, then pressed the needle into the compound. She reported the action to Ann on the ET.

“You can learn a lot from a broom closet. Seriously, I’m having the time of my life. Do you know what kind of archeology I usually work? Sift through buckets of dirt looking for evidence of anything that might stop some building from being constructed. The only time I’ve gotten to explore an intact site — well, relatively intact — was when Cole took me to Egypt as his pet archaeologist. And, I suppose, when he had me searching a sunken ship for evidence of his great-grandparents.”

The current raced along the barrier, creating a spitting, smoking trail as the two chemicals interacted. Slowly, the compound ate into the door, leaving a darkened circle.

James continued. “Never mind that this is an alien race. Do you have any idea how thrilling just finding an intact site is? We’re seeing it, just as they left it who knows how long ago? Broom closets or not, I’m excited to see what’s behind each door, and to see it first, with my own eyes.”

“Well, here’s your next chance. Edwina Taggert, this is Rita. We’re about to open our door.”

“Copy, Rita. Be very careful. It’s not a closet this time.”

What does DISCOVERY have in store for you? Check out the latest release from Full Quiver Publishing: Karina Fabian's Theology of the Body fiction adventure featuring nuns in space...Rita didn’t bother to ask how Ann knew that; she’d just say “hunch,” anyway in deference to Thoren listening to the mission channel. Ann did, however, whisper a Hail Mary. Rita knew she did that for every open door, a small ritual of the Rescue Sisters to pray for the souls in need behind it, but now she prayed for the explorers instead.

“Sean to everybody! Guess what! I think we just found the medical bay!”

“Still feeling excited about that broom closet?” she asked James with a tease in her voice.

“Oh, just open the door!”

The circle had stopped smoking. Bracing both feet against the wall, she took hold of the handle on the freed disk. She tugged, and the door moved, but it seemed to take longer than the others. “Rita to ET. I think you’re right, Ann. The door seems thicker than the others.”

“Copy, Rita.”

“See? Maybe not a broom closet this time,” James said.

The disk slid free, and Rita and James wrestled it to the hallway floor. He held it in place while she secured it.

As soon as she gave the clear, James all but bounded to the open door, although his drag line caught him before he could pull Rita by their safety line. She hurried to join him as he described the long, deep chamber.

“Obviously a storage room. We have lines and lines of small containers, twenty or thirty deep, in some kind of storage cabinets — transparent doors, obviously. ET, are you seeing this?”

“I have Rita’s feed on the main screen, James,” Ann said, her voice breathy with excitement. “And I’m relaying it to the biolab.”

“Okay.” Rita could tell from James’ voice he didn’t see the connection, but Ann’s words had made her heart skip. She played her own hunch. “ET, I’m going to extended spectrum.”

The room dimmed, then filled with symbols and designs. Unlike most of the ones they’d seen so far, however, these ones were readily identifiable as animals and plants, albeit as odd as the aliens themselves. Even better, each row had its own illustrations, clearly labels.

Is this why I saw rainbows? Rita wondered.

Kelley’s and Zabrina’s squeals of delight overrode hers.

Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive,” Ann whispered.

“What?” James asked, then he must have switched his visuals, because he, too, whistled. “I don’t believe it.”

“Rita to everyone. We found the ark!”


Meet Karina Fabian, Author of DISCOVERY (Theology of the Body fiction featuring nuns in space.)About the Author

By day, Karina is a mild-mannered reviewer of business software and services for TopTenReviews.com. After hours, she’s a psychic intent on saving the world; a snarky dragon who thinks he saves the world all-too regularly, a zombie exterminator who just wants her world clear of undead vermin, and Catholic religious sisters whose callings have taken them off our world. Needless to say, her imagination is vast, her stories legion, and her brain crowded. When she’s not converting her wild tales to stories, she’s enjoying time with her husband, Rob, their four kids, and their two dogs.

Find Karina at:

Her website

Facebook

Twitter

Google +

This writer scheduled her blog tour while on pain meds. What she did next was a total embarrassment.

Jane EyerFinal-FJM_Low_Res_500x750

I’m usually pretty organized when it comes to writing-related stuff.  Getting that teeny little gall bladder out, however, threw me off my game so much more than I anticipated.

Anyway, remember how I posted all the links to the Unclaimed blog tour going on this week into next?  Yeah, I forgot to link to Dawn Witzke at Catholic Underground.  She has a review written by hers truly, and then over on Underground, she gives an excerpt and some feedback on the book from… one of her characters! Ingenious.  Do check out Dawn’s work.  Sorry, Dawn, for letting you get lost in the shuffle.  ::shuffles away, head down::

 

On a brighter, “hey, getting organized again is awesome” note, I’ve contacted all the recipients of the sponsored party favors tossed to attendees of the Unclaimed release party.  Check your messages and emails if you’re one of those! UNCLAIMED FB Party Cover