romance

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.
Advertisements

7 Books I Read Over Hiatus

A writer never goes on hiatus from reading! Between the Catholic Writers Conference Live, the World Meeting of Families, and assorted review copies coming my way, I have a ton of books to share with you, mes amis!

7 (2)

The Sweetest Rain by Myra Johnson

SweetestRainCover

Summary:

As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.

Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.

When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.

Call this one another guilty pleasure without the guilt.  The older I get more sweet Catholic romances I read, the more I am being converted to the genre.  By the way, when I say “sweet,” I don’t mean saccharine.  I mean happy-ending-but-not-without-the-pain-of-rebirth sweet.  Sweetest Rain has that plus real characters, believable conflict, and a historical period not often visited but done so in rich, lively detail.  BTW, I had no discomfort leaving this one around for my 11 year-old First Shift to read, even though they don’t like romance. The elder member of First Shift finished it before I did (she does have more leisure reading time, but still).  I enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too.  It’s also refreshing to see a larger Catholic publisher taking on some commercial-style fiction for actual grownups, so if you want to support that kind of undertaking, Sweetest Rain is a valuable use of your time and cash.

The Little Douglings books by Carissa Douglas

I was lucky to meet the author at the World Meeting of Families. Little did I know at the time that perhaps in the very hour when I met Carissa Douglas and set about acquiring Little Douglings books from her, First Shift was at the youth congress, meeting another kid who said, “Yeah, I’m here because my mom’s upstairs selling books.”  Catholic Writers’ Kids know how to find kindred spirits.

Anyway, all of us, young and old, enjoyed these three books.  In each, we see the story of a Catholic family trying to live out the sacraments through the ups and downs of living in an imperfect work.  However, because the Little Douglings choose to live the sacraments/teach each other how to live them, they make those ups and downs holy and fruitful in ways only sacramental living can.

Okay, for a second, ignore all the theology I just (uncharacteristically) poured into that mini-review.  These books are fun-filled ways to introduce big topics, even Theology of the Body (see A Gift of Myself), to pretty much all ages.  So without further ado…

I Go to Jesus

IGoToJesus

This book will encourage the little ones in your life (and adults too) to come to a fuller appreciation of Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  Help remind them of His deep love for them and His desire to encounter them often through the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.

There’s really not much else to say other than I recommend this book for showing anyone of any age the value of the Eucharist.

A Gift of Myself

AGiftOfMyself.JPG

This one is the sweetest little intro to the Theology of the Body.  Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but honestly, I know plenty of adults who could use this kind of intro.  The author starts with family conflict and shows the peace that can be gained by thinking of others… and how the model of a marriage ordered both mentally and physically towards denying oneself for the sake of new life is the manifestation of that peace.  Out of all three Douglings books so far, this one is my favorite.

All Things New

AllThingsNew

This latest addition to the Little Douglings series will help the little ones in your life come to a deeper understanding of God’s unfailing Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This would make an ideal gift for the little one in your life preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or for any little one, especially during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  It’s an honest yet sweet look at what that sacrament does, why we need it, and why it’s worth the effort.

Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day by Carol Benoist & Cathy Gilmore

EasterBunnyAmazingDay

Meet the Risen Jesus with an amazing bunny―and his amazing tale―in this beautifully illustrated hardcover children’s book. Children will learn about Jesus’ friendship and comfort through the eyes of a timid bunny rabbit who experiences firsthand the love and joy Jesus brings. A new enhanced version will be available Easter 2014, and these first-edition copies are going fast! Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day is sure to be a family favorite every Easter.

I’m linking to Cathy Gilmore’s page, because she’s the author I got to meet at the Catholic Writers Conference.  She’s a good egg, very enthusiastic about what she does, and so approachable.

Anyway, this book is so stinking adorable, and I’m not just talking the illustrations.  The whole story is about a bunny who is scared of everything and about how God uses those fears to give the frightened bunny something, well, amazing.  Yes, this is a great book to prepare kids for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.  Yes, this is a great book to read during the last weeks of Lent (which, btw, will be here before you know it, so don’t slack, my friends).  However, this book has surprising year-round value, because it shows children (especially kids with many youthful fears, ahem, Second Shift of Kid) how God can work through our fears to give us great gifts.  In fact, that’s a good message for parents of timid children as well.  HIGHLY recommended.

Last but most certainly not least…

The Living Water Series by Stephanie Landsem

The Well

TheWell

For the Samaritan women of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—except for Mara, whose family has been shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava. But will their encounter with two men—a mysterious young man from Caesarea named Shem and a Jewish teacher called Jesus—change their lives forever?

Packed with heart-wrenching emotion and many, many surprising twists, The Well pulled my heartstrings in so many directions… and that’s what makes me downright love a book.  This is another “wish Amazon had six stars to give” kind of book.  Warning: I read it on a Sunday (yes, in one day) without removing my churchgoing eye makeup, and when I finally closed the book, I looked like The Winter Soldier.  Or a tall, plump racoon.  Either way, this book needs a Five Tissue Warning but will leave your heart soaring with delight over how God can turn mess into message.

The Thief

TheThief

A Roman centurion longing for peace and a Jewish woman hiding a deadly secret witness a miracle that transforms their lives and leads them to the foot of the cross.

In The Thief, Stephanie Landsem does it again with a tough but vulnerable female protagonist, impossible situations, unbelievable hope, and the all-powerful touch of Christ on the pages of human history, of personal history. The edgy, risky prose makes the relationships in The Thief come alive and make the reader’s heart pound for them with each new plot twist, break for them at each agony, and cheer for them with each narrow escape.  I highly recommend this fresh take on the story of the Good Thief and the Centurion at  the foot of the cross.

Whew!  I thought I’d never get all that out there! However, see how I got the reviews out there without needing to write books about each book?  As I reflected in my December EMC Reader Newsletter, leaving a book review covers several Spiritual Works of Mercy.  No, I’m not  being self-serving in saying so.  With one book review, can you counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, even bear wrongs patiently?  I think so.  I aim to chat about that in another post in the near future, as time permits.

BTW, I can probably make this a…

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

How’s your Christmas season going? Did you get an Amazon gift card? Did you already spend part of it on the It’s Still Christmas Sale?  Please consider spending some more of it on any or all of the above books! Have something else to recommend? Comment away!

Romance Writer Manifesto: A Guest Post from Carolyn Astfalk

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Carolyn Astfalk.

My Romance Writer Manifesto

For the last decade, I’ve answered “What do you do?” with the simple reply, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” My novel addition to that response is, “I write.”

The natural follow-up to that response is now not only, “How many children do you have?” but also, “What do you write?”

The first answer comes easily: four children. The second part . . . not so simple. I typically flail about, trying to articulate a concise, accurate answer. More often than not, I launch into a wordy, nonsensical narrative that skirts around the edges of what my debut novel Stay With Me is: contemporary romance.

StayWithMeCoverDepending on my audience, I might qualify it as inspirational, Christian, Catholic or even Theology of the Body fiction. If I want to be vague, I go with “chick lit,” which hits my target audience with a brush the size of a barn side.

I’ve realized this problem is not unique to me, but is common to writers who are often (1) more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word, and  (2) better at expressing themselves in 100,000 words than 100 words. Both of these suppositions are true in my case, but there’s something else in play. In a word: romance.

I didn’t set out to write romance. Heck, I didn’t even read much of it. When I began National Novel Writing Month in November, 2010 with nothing but a newspaper clipping and a blank screen, I intended to write an adventure novel for teens.

As I forged ahead, spewing the required minimum 50,000 words on the page, I discovered that I’d written a romantic love story.

I studied the craft of novel-writing and took to heart the ubiquitous advice to read in my genre. For the first time in my life, I sought romance novels. My manuscript had Christian moral themes, so I immersed myself in contemporary Christian romance—Catholic, where I could find it.

I discovered many uplifting, entertaining, well-written, romantic books. So, why the discomfit with admitting I write romance?

First, the admission that I’m enamored by love transports me to my teenage years when being attracted to a boy was an embarrassment making me vulnerable to all sorts of disappointment and hurt.

Second, bodice rippers. Until I looked up the definition in preparation for writing this post, I thought of it only in terms of book covers. You know the ones—a bare-chested man with ripped abs nuzzling a buxom woman with ample décolletage whose expression suggests she’s deep in the throes of passion. Merriam-Webster defines bodice ripper as “a historical or Gothic romance typically featuring scenes in which the heroine is subjected to violence.”

Violence? The Atlantic quotes Beyond Heaving Bosoms in describing bodice ripper heroes as “rapetastic.” To my way of thinking, the word “rape” and the suffix “-tastic” shouldn’t be within a million miles of one another and on a separate planet from any character filling the role of a hero. Read the whole article and you’ll discover a half-dozen reasons why I’m hesitant to classify my book as “romance.”

Finally, the snob factor my lack of humility plays a role. Despite its popularity, romance may be the least-respected literary genre, at least by academia, if not pop culture. Even the fairy tale “happily ever after” ending is under fire. Admitting I write romance is like admitting I drink boxed wine or buy my clothes at Wal-Mart (both of which I’ve done).

Just as I reject twisted modern notions of feminism, I reject a narrow definition of romance as something akin to “Mommy porn.” I choose to embrace my penchant for romance for what is.

Romantic love is a good, God-given thing. After all, God is love. (1 John 4:16) My worldview, like that of any author’s, underpins my writing.  For me, that’s going to put me on the edgy end of the Christian romance spectrum.

Inspirational author Julie Lessman, who also classifies her Christian romance as edgy, says it well: “In truth, romantic passion gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God. After studying the Song of Solomon in the Bible, I’m convinced that the God who created passion and int.imacy did so to mirror the intensity of His own love for mankind.”

On the last page of Stay With Me, the heroine Rebecca is reflecting on the love she and Chris share. “She prayed their love, like God’s, would abide from this day forward through all seasons, all travails, every high and low. An anchor when the world threatened to throw them off-course.”

That’s the kind of love I write about. Heart-pounding attraction, weak knees and the excitement of new love—check! But also the enduring, abiding love that points us to the unfailing, unwavering, all-consuming love of God.

This brief reflection from Tom McGrath, author of Raising Faith-Filled Kids, was part of the parent portion of my daughter’s religion curriculum: “Think of all the books, movies, TV shows, songs, and soap operas that gain dramatic tension by observing two people on the verge of falling in love. They capture and convey a longing that seems universal, as if the whole world is holding its breath, waiting for love to erupt in their lives. This great longing is holy. It’s a manifestation of our desire to know and to experience God’s love for us. God placed this desire to know, love, and serve him deep in our hearts.”

That’s why I can say with pride, “I write romance.”

Carolyn Astfalk LR SepiaCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart, and her debut novel, Stay With Me, is available from Full Quiver Publishing.

STAY WITH ME romance by Carolyn Astfalk

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Carolyn Astfalk, whose novel Stay With Me is hot off the presses–and when I say, “hot” I do mean “HOT!” A hot Catholic romance?!? Read on for more….


As I make the rounds on my virtual blog tour promoting my brand-new novel Stay With Me, Erin has graciously offered me a spot here in her absence. Since she’ll be sharing another post of mine later in the month, I’m teetering on squatter status at this site. And I intend to take full advantage before an eviction attempt is made.

STAY WITH ME, spicy but clean romance from Carolyn AstfalkStay With Me is my first published novel, and I’d like to share a little about its genesis. It all began with the perfect meet-cute. Wikipedia defines the meet cute as: “a scene in film, television, etc. in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is considered adorable, entertaining, or amusing.”

The opening scene in Stay With Me is the meet cute between Chris Reynolds and Rebecca Rhodes. It  takes place in a grocery store where Rebecca’s attempts to pacify her young niece while Chris restocks dairy products.

While grocery shopping myself, I’d encountered an extremely helpful, handsome young employee who inspired this scene. Being that I’m married and this man was likely almost young enough to be my son, there was no meet cute here, only a springboard for a fictional romance.

In many ways, writing a novel is like designing and fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Another part of the Stay With Me puzzle was a column about abstinence education written by Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher in which she highlights the destructive messages about marital love that can be conveyed through well-intentioned but misguided sexual abstinence programs.

At the same time, in an effort to read more in the genre I’d been writing, I’d been consuming a heavy dose of Christian romances. While I enjoyed many of the books, overall, I’d found that most glossed over the realities of sexual temptation. Despite developing love relationships that relied heavily on physical attraction, there seemed to be little temptation to move beyond a heated kisses before the starry-eyed couple made it to the altar.

The only authors I discovered who did more than hint at the real struggle that maintaining pre-marital chastity presented for young, healthy, loving couples in a secularized society were Tammy L. Gray and Julie Lessman. I knew I wanted Stay With Me to tackle the issue head-on in as realistic (but non-pornographic) a manner as possible.

Over many months, as I developed Chris and Rebecca’s characters, their back stories, and the arc of their relationship, I added a smattering of decadent-sounding desserts and an ongoing thread about the Dave Matthews Band. My jigsaw pieces firmly interlocked, a novel was born.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest about Stay With Me. It’s available from Full Quiver Publishing through Amazon.com.  Thank you, Erin, for hosting me.  I hope I’ve left the blog in as good a shape as I’ve found it.


Carolyn Astfalk, author of spicy clean romanceCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart, and her debut novel, Stay With Me, is available from Full Quiver Publishing.

Interview with Working Mother Leslie Lynch

Here at Tomato Pie, we’re celebrating the release of my biblical historical fiction ebook “Working Mother.” When author Leslie Lynch agreed to let me interview her for this project, I knew I had to run her interview today.  This is the Feast of St. Agnes, who is among other things, the patron saint of victims of sexual assault.  In Leslie’s books you get a real hope for true, Christ-like justice for all who have suffered through rape and related crimes.

Displaying family drawing.JPG

Leslie with her family

What’s your name?

Leslie Lynch

Tell us a little bit about your family. 

My husband and I have been married a bit longer than 38 years and have three grown children, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters.

Imagine you’re at a dinner party.  Someone asks the question, “So, what do you do?”  What’s your answer?

Just like most women, I do a lot and juggle to make sure it all gets done—and some days I can’t tell you exactly what I did! But along with being involved with extended family, I write professionally, mostly fiction and some nonfiction.

 

How do you think God uses your job to help shape you into all He made you to be? 

I think it’s perhaps the other way around for me. God has used the experiences of my life to shape me into the kind of writer I am: realistic, gritty, and yet my work is infused with God’s mercy, leading my characters on journeys toward reconciliation with each other and with Him.

What benefits (besides the economical) have you seen to your family that are a direct result of your work away from home? 

I look at the choices my kids have made in their careers and with whom they spend their lives. I believe they watched my example and reached for the stars, and in particular, their individual, unique star. I am also a registered nurse and a pilot with advanced ratings, so they saw me take whatever route necessary to make my dreams come true, and to do so in the face of moments of adversity. My husband was also a role model in that regard, so they were doubly blessed. Our kids are all high achievers in the fields they’ve chosen, as well as being genuinely wonderful human beings. That is the more important legacy of my “working motherhood.”

 

How do you balance any guilty feelings you might have in the tension between your workplace and your homespace? 

I was lucky in that my careers allowed me options to schedule my work life around my home life, for the most part. At one time I worked four different jobs at the same time (two temporary nursing positions and two as a flight/ground instructor) so I had more control over my hours than most.
Then, of course, after the eight hour shift at a hospital, I would come home and commence the six hour marathon of getting kids to activities, homework, supper, baths, and bed. (My husband’s job took him away from home for days at a time.) Again, we were fortunate in being able to spend so much time together in the evenings, though much of it was in the van!

What is one thing that you would ask the people in your life to do to support you more? 

Recognize my contributions and give me hugs. Sometimes I long for more “down” time for writing, but family is always more important. I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend as much time as I do with my grandkids.

Thank you, Leslie!  

Are you a working mother?  So was (and is) the Blessed Mother!  If you enjoyed this interview and would like to celebrate working motherhood some more, please consider getting a copy of my $.99 historical fiction ebook, “Working Mother.”  

7QT: Interview With Author Amanda Lauer

7_quick_takes_sm1

Welcome to Seven Quick Takes Friday, hosted by the lovely and talented Jennifer over at Conversion Diary  Jess at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Remember when I reviewed this book?

The author of A World Such as Heaven Intended has stopped by the tomato pie shop to have a little chat with us.  Let’s welcome Amanda Lauer!

ALauer-headshotAn avid reader and history buff since childhood, Amanda Lauer fulfilled a lifelong goal with the publication of her debut novel, A World Such as Heaven Intended. Lauer learned the technical aspects of writing as a proofreader in the insurance, newspaper and collegiate arenas. Over the last ten years she has had more than twelve-hundred articles published in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. Lauer is the co-author of Celebrate Appleton, A 150th Birthday Photo Album, and contributed to the books Expressions of ITP…Inside Stories, and Living Virtuously — Keeping Your Heart and Home. In addition to her writing career, Lauer is involved in the health and wellness industry, striving to spread the message of true health — physical, mental and financial. Residents of northeast Wisconsin, Lauer and her husband John have been married thirty-three years. They are involved in their church and community and in their spare time travel for business and pleasure, play golf, run, bike, read, and further their education in the area of personal development. They are the proud parents of four young adult children, have a son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and are grandparents to one grandson.

And now, without further ado, here’s all you ever wanted to know about Amanda Lauer and A World Such as Heaven Intended!

-1-
Tell us about your most recent work.  How did the idea come to you?  How long did it take you from start to publication? 
My debut novel, A World Such as Heaven Intended, was released October, 2014. I’m a freelance writer by trade and one of my jobs is writing for local newspapers. I had written an article about a family’s Civil War memorabilia and the gentleman told me the story of his great-great-great uncle’s experiences in the Civil War and I thought it could be the basis for an excellent book someday. An acquaintance of mine was working on a book herself and she challenged me to write one chapter of a book each month and we’d get together and copyedit each other’s manuscripts over coffee. So it took two years to write the book, then two years to find a publisher. In that time frame, I only queried twelve publishers because our daughter was a Make-A-Wish Child, so most of my energy was spent caring for her. About a year ago I queried Full Quiver Publishing and was offered a contract earlier this year. In total it was about a six-year process.
-2-
Idea, research, editing, design…What was your favorite part of working on this project? What was your least favorite? 
My favorite part of working on this project was writing the dialogue between the main two characters, Amara and Nathan. I was literally laughing out loud as I wrote some of the lines and at times crying when the conversations got deeper. I also really enjoyed researching and learning more about the Civil War. I’m a history buff and it was fascinating delving further into this subject. My least favorite part was all the revisions. I realize now that every bit of feedback that I got made helped turned this book from a good story to a fantastic novel but it was a little disheartening at times. One particularly harsh criticism about the book literally had me walk away from the project for nine months; it was daunting considering what had to be reworked. But again, it made it the book it is today.
-3-
Tell us about how this work came to reach us:  did you go the self-publishing route or did you contract with a publisher?  What was that like? 
From day one I was determined to go the traditional route and find a publisher who believed in this work as much as I did. While I could have done self-publishing since I am also a copy editor and proofreader, I never pursued that seriously. I had thought about getting an agent at one point, but did not want to put the time and energy into that endeavor either. By the grace of God, my book made its way into the hands of Ellen Gable Hrkach of Full Quiver Publishing. She is a fantastic publisher and editor, and her insight really brought this book to life.  Plus her husband James did an outstanding job creating the book cover. If this book turns out to be a million seller someday, I will have that team to thank!
-4-
What other things in your life do you juggle in order to keep at your writing?  How’s that working out for you?
In addition to working on novels, I write for the Green Bay Diocese newspaper The Compass, I write for The Business News, I proofread for Saint Norbert College, I do product testing for a local personal product manufacturing corporation, I write product reviews online, I do commercial acting and modeling, and I own my own business that promotes true health — financial, mental and physical (www.KangenWisconsin.com). There’s never a dull moment around here, but I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone, I thank God every day because I’m so blessed with all these opportunities.
-5-
Setting, characters, plot, mood, tone… What would you describe as your greatest strength as a writer?
My greatest strength as a writer is the technical aspects of writing. Years of proofreading other people’s works helped me to figure out the mechanics of writing so I feel that I see the big picture and attend very closely to details. I do love writing dialogue, especially lines that reflect my sense of humor!
-6-
Conversely, if you could change one thing about your writing style, what would it be and why? 
Having worked in the newspaper arena for many years, my writing is very concise. We are generally limited to 800 words per story. I would love to be able to enhance my work more with descriptive wording but that just isn’t my style at this point.
-7-
Lastly, where can we find your work, a. k. a. give you our hard earned cash? 
My book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Thanks for your support!
Thank you, Amanda, for chatting with us!  Now, readers, go pick up your copy of A World Such as Heaven Intended!

WWRW: A World Such as Heaven Intended

I don’t think she’s been doing it lately, but Jessica over at Housewifespice used to do a weekly book review linkup called

WWRWbuttonShe’s a busy lady, though, and still blogging otherwise, so go on over there and pay her a visit, even if WWRW isn’t available today.  She’s got some good stuff and some belly laughs.  Worth your time.

Anyway, I am super duper excited. I don’t often say things like “super duper” unless it’s to my children and followed by the words “messy in here.  Please clean up.”  So why am I deviating so greatly from my usual modes of speech?  Here’s why:

This is A World Such as Heaven Intended, the fabulous, charming, action-packed, engaging Civil War romance by new author Amanda Lauer and recently released by Full Quiver Publishing.

The Civil War tore the United States apart and many friendships and families as well. In A World Such as Heaven Intended Amara McKirnan and Nathan Simmons share a devotion to their Catholic faith but their loyalties lie on opposite sides of the conflict. Dedicated to the Confederate cause, Amara offers to help out at her uncle’s makeshift hospital in Atlanta. Fate brought Nathan to their doorstep and into Amara’s life. Little does Amara know that the wounded soldier she cares for harbors a secret that will not only jeopardize his life but hers as well.

Follow Amara and Nathan’s story from the heart of war-torn Atlanta to the Northern Georgia battlefields to the plains of East Texas as their lives become intertwined in a way that shatters the separate worlds they once knew.

Lauer brings us a well-developed setting, a neatly paced plot, and characters that live and breathe whom I couldn’t help but love.  In fact, instead of an Atlanta debutante, our heroine Amara is, well, kind of a nerd… which I LOVE! The reality of the shared faith of these two characters is completely organic, never obvious.  Their Catholicism is not flagrant but just a normal part of who they are and what makes them make the choices they must.  The settings are detailed without being burdensome or boring.  The action builds to a great pace.  The ending is sweet and satisfying.  All in all, I’m going to go ahead and call A World Such as Heaven Intended… heavenly!

 

#7QT: An Interview with Author Amy Bennett

7_quick_takes_sm1 (1)

Join Jennifer and all the coolest Catholics for the 7 Quick Takes Friday Linkup.

Well, it’s another 7QT that I’ve gotten somebody else to write for me!  I’m thrilled to host author Amy Bennett, who brought us the hilarious and suspenseful mystery End of the Road, the first book (of many, I hope), in the Black Horse Campground Mysteries series.  Her second, No Lifeguard on Duty, is the second and latest.

Allow me to introduce you to Amy.

“I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, so that automatically makes me a native Texan… but then I’ve spent most of my life in New Mexico, so I can claim dual citizenship! End of the Road is the first book in the Black Horse Campground series.  The Black Horse and Bonney County exist in my imagination, for the most part, but visit the Ruidoso/Lincoln County region of New Mexico and you’ll see how I happened to find it!  As for Corrie Black and her friends, I hope you enjoy reading about their adventures as much as I enjoyed writing about them… and I hope there are many more to come!  When I’m not writing, I’m a cake decorator at Walmart in Ruidoso Downs, NM;  slinging vino at Noisy Water Winery in mid-town Ruidoso; and being a wife to Paul (since 1988) and mom to Paul Michael (since 1994) as well as enjoying life in general in Bent, NM.”

Now let’s hear from Amy about how she writes, why she writes, and so and so!

-1-

Tell us about your most recent work.  How did the idea come to you?  How long did it take you from start to publication?

My most recent work is No Lifeguard on Duty, the second book in my Black Horse Campground mystery series.

 

 

I actually came up with the idea for the three main characters—Corrie, Rick, and J.D.—first and wanting to tell their stories, and their involvement in a murder mystery grew from my own love of mystery novels, in particular the romantic suspense of Mary Higgins Clark.  And reading novels, particularly mysteries, by other New Mexico authors like Aimee and David Thurlo, Steven F. Havill, Michael Orenduff, and Michael McGarrity, convinced me that my own “stomping grounds” (south central New Mexico) would be a perfect setting for my stories. I started the first draft of No Lifeguard on Duty when I got stuck trying to wrap up the first book in the series, End of the Road… I had no idea how to end it, so I decided to see what the next book was going to bring!

All in all, it probably takes me about a year to draft, write, and edit one of my books.

 

-2-

Idea, research, editing, design…What was your favorite part of working on this project? What was your least favorite?

I love coming up with ideas, letting the characters loose in my mind and seeing what they do and say (really, I’m not that much in control!) and just putting it all together like a puzzle.  I know when I get stuck it’s because I missed something important or else I’m trying to force my characters to do and say things that are completely out of character.  The least favorite part was sometimes just sitting down and getting it on paper.  And let’s not even discuss promo work!

-3-

Tell us about how this work came to reach us:  did you go the self-publishing route or did you contract with a publisher?  What was that like?

My first novel, End of the Road, won the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery contest, sponsored yearly by Oak Tree Press, a small independent publishing company.  First prize was publication and a contract.  Up to that time, I had resisted going the self-publishing route because I knew that I didn’t have a lot of contacts and that getting the word out would be even more difficult than it already was with my busy schedule. Plus, there is a little more credit given to books published with a traditional publishing house, even if it is a indie publisher, and I had hopes of seeing my books in bookstores, not just online.

-4-

What other things in your life do you juggle in order to keep at your writing?  How’s that working out for you?

I’m fortunate to have a husband and son, family, and friends who understand how important it is for me to have time to write.  I try to keep writing materials handy at the other jobs for those times that inspiration strikes or I have a few minutes to jot down ideas.  And I’ve learned to take the writing seriously.  I’ll never forget the day I got to meet fellow mystery author Mike Orenduff in person.  He offered me a lot of encouragement and I mentioned something about finding time to write in the midst of “the real jobs” (full-time cake decorator at Walmart and part-time “vino slinger” at Noisy Water Winery.)  He stopped me right there, pointed his finger directly at me, and said, “The WRITING is the REAL job.”  It was the first time someone, besides my husband, had ever taken my writing with that degree of seriousness and I knew that, no matter how busy the other jobs kept me, the writing would always take priority—it would always be “the REAL job”.  So now I MAKE time to write instead of just trying to FIND time to write.

-5-

That’s so true.  Our writing is only as real a job as we make it.  Now on to setting, characters, plot, mood, tone… What would you describe as your greatest strength as a writer? (I would say your ability to handle gut-busting humor and spine-tingling suspense all in the same paragraph, but that’s just me….).

Well, as I said before, my characters came before the story and most of the good reviews I’ve received have mentioned how much the reader likes my characters and really cares about them.  I find that if I take care of making my characters as interesting and real as possible, then the mystery can be anything from who killed the victim, to how is the love triangle going to work itself out, to a question of who ate the last piece of cake and the story will engage the reader.

-6-

Conversely, if you could change one thing about your writing style, what would it be and why? 

I think I have a tendency to “script” everything my characters do, instead of just letting the story flow.  I’ve tried to learn to let go of controlling my characters’ every move and just let the story flow.  Does it really matter if one character says their line, then gets up and walks across the room, or whether they walk across the room, sit down, then deliver their line?  What really matters is what they’re saying!And I have to learn to not worry about filling in every crevice in the back story. Time and experience are teaching me that I don’t need a gigantic “info dump” at the beginning of the story… the reader will get it just fine as the story unfolds.  I’ve had to learn to trust my readers!

-7-

Lastly, where can we find your work, a. k. a. give you our hard earned cash? 

I would really, really, REALLY appreciate people going to their local bookstores (indie or big box) and asking for End of the Road and No Lifeguard on Duty.  Bookstores will always have a special place in my heart and I really want to see them stay open!  But if your area is light on physical bookstores, there’s always my publisher’s website (www.oaktreebooks.com) and you can find both books on Amazon.

Thank you, Amy, for your work and for visiting us here at Will Write for Tomato Pie!  I’m looking forward to reading more from you!

 

The “One For A Friend” Giveaway

One of the greatest compliments I’ve received (and, thankfully, keep receiving) on Don’t You Forget About Me is that it isn’t “preachy.”

“While I’m a fan of Catholic fiction, I’m not always impressed by the writing. Don’t You Forget About Me is a well-written, entertaining book that actually has some substance to it. ” -Review by Jay Calvin Nelson on Amazon

“Without being preachy or in-your-face about it, Cupp compares the difficulties and heartaches of being a fallen-away Catholic with the peace and joy that comes when one humbly and trustingly puts his life in God’s loving hands.”  –Review by Laura Pearl on Amazon

“Fans of Christian fiction will particularly enjoy the elements of faith that add to the richness of the story without hampering the plot.” –Review by Therese Heckenkamp on Amazon

“I found the religious elements well integrated into the story.”–Review by “ruthjoec” on Amazon

As I told Kate over at So Much To Say, So Little Time, I’m not a message writer.  I just want to tell you a story.  On the other hand, as I told Catholic Fiction, since I don’t go into a book with message in mind, I tend to discount the possibility that story can be used by God to share a message.  So here I am, embracing message even while I embrace the people who might not want to read it otherwise.

20130713-095421.jpg

Introducing the “One For A Friend” Don’t You Forget About Me Giveaway.  Here’s how it works.  

  1. Post a new review of Don’t You Forget About Me to Amazon between now and June 17, 2014.
  2. Comment below with a link to the review.  In your comment, include some (vague) info about a friend or family member (no names, please) who, like Cate Whelihan, is anything but a practicing Catholic–but who just might enjoy reading Cate’s story.  Example:  “I know someone who thinks I’m crazy that I joined RCIA, but she loves mysteries.” “I have this friend who thinks I’m crazy for not using contraception, but she’s a sucker for romantic suspense.”  Etc.
  3. On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, I’ll draw a commenter’s name from a hat.  I’ll send that commenter one paperback copy of DYFAM, inscribed to the friend you described in your initial comment.  (We’ll work out the details over email.)

Clear as mud?  I’m just putting my money where my New Evangelization mouth is.  Let me know below if you have any questions.

#7QT: An Interview with Author Leslie Lynch

7_quick_takes_sm1 (1)

We’re just a couple of wild ‘n’ crazy Catholics here, participating in 7 Quick Takes Friday, hosted by your friend and mine, Jennifer at Conversion Diary.  Go on over and jump on the link-ridden bandwagon!

Today I am excited to host Leslie Lynch, whose first novel, Hijacked, dropped last weekend.

You don’t know Leslie?  Allow me to introduce her!

Lynch30

Leslie lives near Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband and her adult children’s cats.  While not engaged in wrestling the beautiful and prolific greenery of her yard into submission, she flies as a volunteer for the Civil Air Patrol, loves the exuberant creativity and color of quilting and pottery…and, of course, writes.  Her first love is fiction.  She has completed two award-winning, book length manuscripts along with occasional nonfiction articles.  She is a dedicated member of Romance Writers of America and has served as President of her local chapter, Louisville Romance Writers.

Here are my thoughts on her recently released Hijacked:

From the very first chapter, I was hooked on Hijacked! I don’t think I’ve ever read a stronger first chapter–one that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Throughout, the characters Lannis and Ben are complex: endearing yet never saccharine. The plot veers from heart-pounding action into tender introspection without missing a beat. In Hijacked, Leslie Lynch shows us how two very imperfect people brought together under perhaps some of the least romantic circumstances one could imagine could in fact find themselves while finding love in each other. I’m greatly looking forward to reading more from Leslie Lynch! Read Hijacked, and you will be, too!

So Leslie wrote a heart-pounder, is in the middle of promoting it, and still she had the time to stop by and visit us Tomato Pie fans?  What a sweetheart!  At least, I think so, and after this interview, you’ll probably think so, too.  Let’s chat with Leslie.

-1-

Tell us about your most recent work.  How did the idea come to you?  How long did it take you from start to publication? 

Hi, Erin! I’m delighted to be here, and am excited to be interviewed on your blog for the first time as a published author! (Deep breath! That’s a pretty heady feeling!) Thank you so much for inviting me.  Hijacked, my first novel, just launched. I am embarrassed to say how long I’ve been working on it. This has been my “learning” manuscript, and has been through so many revisions that I lost track years ago. Okay, that sort of gave it away, so I’ll own up to the fact that I began writing this story in 1998 or so. Of course, the first draft was so terrible craft-wise (insert technical stuff that authors need to know in order to make your reading experience seamless and engaging) that I immediately embarked on a quest to fix the numerous and glaring errors. Along the way, I taught myself/learned other useful skills, from how to use a computer to how to format a book for publishing.

The idea for Hijacked came to me one morning as I was pre-flighting a Cessna for a seven a.m. departure for a traffic reporting flight. (My other passion is flying, and I am a pilot.) For being in the midst of the city of Louisville, Kentucky, the general aviation airport is deserted at that time of day. Being blessed—or cursed!—with an overactive imagination, the thought of being hijacked took root, then wouldn’t let go. The characters sprang into my mind pretty much fully formed, but as I wrote, I discovered they had secrets. And then things got interesting.

-2-

I was wondering  if you had flying experience, after reading your book.  Thanks for giving us an example of how our real-life experiences can bring us inspiration.  Okay, next question.  Idea, research, editing, design…What was your favorite part of working on this project? What was your least favorite?

I love the writing process. I try to write stuff that doesn’t require a lot of research, because I find it boring and time-consuming if I’m doing it online or in books. Now talking to people is a different story, so I draw a lot on what I’ve seen or experienced, and ask questions of anyone who might be able to shed light on the subject at hand. I’m a little shy about contacting people out of the blue—“Hey, I’m writing a book about… Would you be willing to answer some questions?”—but I don’t have any trouble asking that of people with whom I’ve established a relationship.

My least favorite part is marketing. I’m an introvert and I do not like to toot my own horn.

Honey, can I relate or what?  

20130725-205525.jpg

Back to you, Leslie.  

Being the center of attention is intensely uncomfortable. Then I realized two things: Readers are interested in the product—the book. It’s much easier to talk about my book than it is to talk about me. The second, more important, at least for my sanity, is this: Marketing is about creating relationships. Now that I can do! It’s even fun! My life is immeasurably enriched by getting to know so many wonderful people whose paths I would never have crossed otherwise.

I’ve been blessed with awesome team partners. No author can do this on her own. Many writers have been incredibly generous in sharing their time and expertise on a wide variety of issues. Pam Berehulke, my editor and the owner of Bulletproof Editing, is wise, kind, and a taskmaster. I couldn’t ask for anyone better, and she has made the editing process a lot of fun. I found my cover artist, Marion Sipe of Dreamspring Design, by looking at freelance cover artists’ sites. Her work had a depth that appealed to me, and I haven’t regretted a moment of working with her. Rob Preece helped me with some sticky formatting issues and taught me a few tricks to make the next project go more smoothly.

-3-

Tell us about how this work came to reach us:  did you go the self-publishing route or did you contract with a publisher?  What was that like? 

I’ve shopped Hijacked around to traditional publishers of all types for years. Admittedly, the first few years it wasn’t ready, plus it took me a long time to discover my voice (rather than copying writers/styles that I like). Responses have been very positive in terms of the strength of the writing, but publishers know their readers and have very specific guidelines for reaching their audiences. My books don’t fit the templates. When I realized I wasn’t willing to compromise (i.e., add sex scenes, cut my very gentle mentions of God, or remove any hint of Catholicism), I decided it was time to step up and get the work out there myself. There is no better time to be an author. After much prayer, I was “nudged” off the cliff by the Holy Spirit (once described by a good friend as wearing a hard hat and driving a bulldozer!). Many hours of toil later, Hijacked is available.

-4-

I love that description of the Holy Spirit!  Thank your friend for me!  What other things in your life do you juggle in order to keep at your writing?  How’s that working out for you?

<sigh>  I just juggle. Sometimes I get up early and write. I write in the spare minutes I can eke out during the day between my own responsibilities—and I will say right now that my house is in dire need of dusting and my paperwork in dire need of filing, and soon my garden will be in dire need of weeding, then harvesting. But providing care for grandkids and support for adult children as they strive to meet their goals takes precedence. Honestly, when I look at my life, I wonder, too, how in the world I ended up with three completed books! The other day I was overwhelmed and tempted to skip daily Mass (which I have taken to attending in order to keep calm and my priorities correct during this publishing journey), but the Holy Spirit delivered a clear thought to me: Make time for Me, and I will make time for what you need to do. Hey, if God created time in the first place, He can help me out on this itty bitty project (in the grand scheme of things), so I’m gonna take Him up on that and quit worrying. One step at a time…

-5-

Great insight there–an approach I try to take myself.  As for setting, characters, plot, mood, tone… What would you describe as your greatest strength as a writer?

Picking the right words. In my critique group, each of us has a strength that the others lack. I’m the go-to person for “what word should I use to convey…?” I’m also good at picking out what is important in a paragraph or scene or a characterization and keeping everything focused so the end result is coherent.

-6-

Conversely, if you could change one thing about your writing style, what would it be and why? 

I’d write faster!!! Because I’m slow. Maybe that should translate into: I should trust myself more. On the occasions (NaNoWriMo) when I’ve pushed myself and thought, “Oh, well, it’s drivel but I can revise later,” I’ve been stunned to find that the writing isn’t nearly that bad when I look back at it.

-7-

Lastly, where can we find your work, a. k. a. give you our hard earned cash?  

Hijacked is available on Amazon in either print or ebook form. Look for Unholy Bonds in a few weeks, and following it, Opal’s Jubilee. Those two will be available on other formats as well, like Nook and iPad, etc., and Barnes & Noble (print).

Again, Erin, thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog today! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being here!

And thank YOU for visiting us!  I’m honored to have had the opportunity to be the first to review Hijacked, and I’m looking forward to reading more from you!