Thank you for taking time for an interview today. I know you have a newly released box set with three other others that is releasing October 15th. That’s exciting. We’ll get to that in a minute. First, can you tell us what genre you write and a little of your writing journey?
Thank you for having me, Linda. It was great meeting you in person at the ACFW conference in Nashville last month.
My writing journey? Well, I wrote my first book, A Rose Blooms Twice, in 1988, and submitted it to all the Christian publishers back then. I still have the Bethany House rejection letter in which they said that three of their editors read and liked my story, but that they thought the market for this type book (prairie historical) was saturated and probably would last much longer. (!)
In 2012, almost 25 years later, I published A Rose Blooms Twice in Kindle format. It took a year for me to begin to figure out what I was doing (what a trip!), and by then reviewers we asking for the sequel. I said to myself, “What sequel? It’s been 25 years. There’s no sequel.”
Now, after four years as an indie publisher, A Rose Blooms Twice has grown into a seven-book series (A Prairie Heritage) that has been read by thousands, and has spawned a follow-on series, Girls from the Mountain. The first book in that series, Tabitha, came out in November of last year. My books are what I call “redemptive fiction.” They bring the Good News into real-life situations without being preachy or saccharin.
I am also writing a contemporary science thriller series, Nanostealth, that takes place in my home town of Albuquerque. The first book, Stealthy Steps, is out and I will be releasing the second book, Stealth Power, in the next few months, God willing.
What book are you featuring today and what story can you tell us that has something to do with your book?
I’m featuring Christmas Lights (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LW32SEI), a boxed set of four inspirational, Christmas-themed novellas, each from a different author, and it will debut October 15th.. I’m delighted to be part of this collaboration. I’ve never written a Christmas book OR a novella before (my books are all full-length novels except for a single short story), and it was a fun experience. My contribution to the set is The Heart of Joy. It is a historical romancy-schmancy story, but very meaningful.
Can you give us a short summary or back copy blurb about the book you are featuring today?
Sure, Linda! Here’s the blurb from our collection. Amazon best-selling authors Chautona Havig and Vikki Kestell join debuting authors Cathe Swanson and April Hayman to present Christmas Lights, a collection of four Christmas-themed novellas. From historical romance to contemporary cozy mysteries and Christmas wonder, these four “light” reads will warm your heart and ignite your Christmas spirit!
The Heart of Joy (Vikki Kestell): Joy Michaels, grieving mother and widow, resides in an aging but remarkable Denver home known locally as Palmer House: a most extraordinary refuge for young women rescued from prostitution. Joy and her mother, Rose Thoresen, share the responsibilities of ministering to and mentoring the young women who live under Palmer House’s roof. But now Joy faces an agonizing decision: Should she remain true to the memory of her first love or open her heart to the possibility of new love? And she wonders, “Can true, enduring love happen twice in a lifetime?”
Snow Angels (Cathe Swanson): When Lisa Marsh is roped into serving Thanksgiving dinner at the local community center, she meets lively teenagers, stubbornly independent veterans, eccentric elderly people, and one particularly rude and scruffy homeless man named Pete. She sets out to find him a decent job and make him respectable—whether he likes it or not—but her small project of helping Pete snowballs into an extraordinary Christmas ministry. And the vagabond can be very charming when he wants to be . . .
Trip the Light Fantastic (April Hayman): Lance “Trip” Devereaux is an FBI agent tasked with the nearly impossible job of tailing and, hopefully, arresting Landry Crawford, the wiliest conman east of the Mississippi River. But during his investigation, things go horribly wrong for the klutzy G-man. Will Trip nab his man in time for Christmas? Or will he be left out in the cold?
Christmas Stalkings (Chautona Havig): Wendy Nabity is known for her superfluity of cats and her “seven-tree obsession” every Christmas—but when strange things happen around her house, it appears someone is out to get her! Revel in comedy, suspense, and a garnish of romance.
What do you do when you sit down to write? Do you listen to a certain type of music or eat chocolate or exercise? Anything special?
I write “first thing in the morning,” but really, I have my time with the Lord first. Always. Oh. and coffee. If I’m not fresh in my heart with him, nothing I write will be fresh, either.
After that, I get to work. I never listen to music, I just write and ask the Lord to lead me. What an amazing journey! I usually publish two books a year (each over 100k words), so when I’m drafting a book, I have a 2,500 word-per-day goal.
Not all my time is spent writing; I also design most of my own books covers. That artsy/creative aspect gives me a needed break from the writing.
What is something unique or amusing about yourself or your life that we would like to know?
Hmmm. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I wrote my first book in 1988. In 1991, I moved to New Mexico and went back to school. Over the next 12 years I earned a degree in professional writing, a master’s in communication, and a Ph.D. in organizational learning and instructional technologies while working in the corporate and government world. Then, in 2013, after all that, I went back to writing! I can’t say that I miss the high-paying, high-status work I used to do, because I totally LOVE my life as a writer and the fruitful ministry it has become.
Give us a short biography about yourself and tell us how we can contact you (fb, twitter, website).
Sure, Linda. Here’s the lowdown on me!
Vikki Kestell’s passion for people and their stories is evident in her readers’ affection for her characters and unusual plotlines. Two often-repeated sentiments are, “I feel like I know these people” and “I’m right there, in the book, experiencing what her characters experience.”
Vikki holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Learning and Instructional Technologies. She left a career of twenty-plus years in government, academia, and corporate life to pursue writing full time. “Writing is the best job ever,” she admits, “and the most demanding.”
Also an accomplished speaker and teacher, Vikki and her husband Conrad Smith make their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
To keep abreast of new book releases, sign up for Vikki’s newsletter on her website, or connect with her on Facebook.
*GIVEAWAY!* One free book (ebook) of this same title will be given to the winner of a drawing. Anyone who makes a comment on this post on my blog (lindarodante.com) or on my author facebook page (Linda K. Rodante) will be put in for a drawing. On Monday, following this blog, a winner will be drawn and their name will be given to the author who will contact them and arrange for the book to be sent.
Linda, we will gift a free eBook copy of Christmas Lights to your winner.
Please give us the first chapter of your book:
Here you go: The first chapter of The Heart of Joy. Enjoy!
Joy Thoresen Michaels swayed with the jerky stop-and-go motion of the downtown trolley. In her arms she held a large bouquet of flowers cossetted in brown paper—early roses from the gardens of Palmer House. Dazzling pinks, buttery yellows, deep crimsons, and vibrant sunset blushes peeked from the open end of her package.
She was conscious of the sweet aroma rising from the roses, as were her fellow passengers. Some turned appreciative glances upon Joy. Others nodded their gratification.
One woman, gray-haired and clad head to toe in drab, worn brown, sat across the aisle facing Joy. Her back was to the windows, as was Joy’s. The woman closed her eyes, let her head fall against and rest upon the window glass, and inhaled deeply. Once. And again. Then she sighed and a tiny smile played across her careworn mouth.
Joy looked away. I am glad these flowers can provide a moment of solace to the weary of heart, Lord.
She cradled the brown paper bundle with the same tender care she had lavished upon her baby boy . . . the last time she had seen him.
Edmund will be three now—not three months, but three years old. And Grant, my dear husband! How is it possible that three years have worn away since you went to be with Jesus? My aching heart cannot believe it.
The trolley jerked, its braking gears ground, and the vehicle came to a shuddering stop. Joy stepped off the car’s back steps. A moment later, the conveyance shuddered again and lurched forward.
As the trolley departed, Joy looked about her. She was a block from her destination. She took a moment to twitch the peplum of her blue serge suit jacket into its proper alignment and smooth a crease from her skirt. She did not touch her wide-brimmed hat or smooth her hair—she knew she had coiled and pinned the lengthy blonde braid securely at the back of her head.
Joy stood tall, both without and within, preparing herself for the emotional ordeal ahead. With a nod, she squared her shoulders and crossed the road. Her long legs, grateful for the exercise, stretched out to the extent her confining skirt would allow and made short work of the distance.
She neared the entrance, glanced once at the sign, Riverside Cemetery, and passed inside its gates. Her husband’s resting place was around the back of Denver’s cemetery. She followed the familiar graveled road until it curved and began to trace the edge of the nearby South Platte River.
The river’s water ran high with spring runoff. Joy caught glimpses of the rushing water through the trees and brush that overgrew the river’s banks.
Halfway across the cemetery’s breadth, she came upon an automobile parked to one side of the road. She walked on. Only yards beyond the vehicle, she turned away from the road, into the grassy park. Grant’s simple upright marker was a few rows ahead.
She wanted to run to the headstone and throw herself upon the grass above Grant’s grave. She longed more than life itself to have Grant hold her again! She needed—
Joy halted and frowned. “Who?”
A man knelt by Grant’s grave, his dark head bowed in prayer. A stylish bowler hat rested on the lawn not far from him.
Joy did not approach. She waited for the man to finish.
He must have sensed her presence or, he, too, may have inhaled the potent perfume coming from the roses Joy carried and been drawn to its source. A moment later, he stood, brushed grass from the knees of his creased trousers, and turned.
“Hello, Mrs. Michaels.”
They had grown less comfortable and more formal with each other as the years had crept by.
He came nearer, close enough for Joy to notice the care in his dark eyes. “We must have had the same thought.”
Joy swallowed, bobbed her chin, and managed, “Grant’s birthday.” Her eyes skittered away from the man’s probing gaze.
“You brought flowers,” he commented.
“Yes. I . . . roses. This year’s first. Grant loved roses.”
“Their scent is heady testimony to Mr. Wheatley’s green thumb.”
Joy only nodded. She cast her eyes beyond O’Dell, toward the marker on Grant’s grave.
Edmund O’Dell noticed. He shifted his hat from one hand to the other. “I will leave you to your privacy. I apologize for intruding on this sacred moment.”
Joy came to herself. “There is no cause to apologize, Mr. O’Dell. I simply was not expecting to see you.”
She was not expecting to see Grant’s best friend? Their greatest ally in the troubles that had surrounded and swept over them three years past? Their son Edmund’s namesake?
“Thank you for remembering him today, Mr. O’Dell,” Joy whispered. “I-I thought I was the only one . . .”
“I miss him, too.”
Joy blinked hard against the welling tears.
She willed them away.
They ignored her efforts.
A single rebellious drop leaked out and dribbled down her cheek.
O’Dell stayed planted where he was for another uncomfortable minute before, in a quiet voice, he offered, “Would you like me to wait for you by the road? I left my motorcar there. I could see you home, if you wish it.”
Joy swiped the moisture from her cheek and ventured a furtive glance up at him. What she saw undid her.
Raw, deeply held, long-abiding love.
O Lord! What am I to do? I still love Grant . . .
Joy started at her own prayer. Well, of course she still loved Grant! What kind of silly, inane statement was that?
I will always love Grant! she declared to herself in no uncertain terms.
Another voice replied. Then why does Edmund O’Dell’s presence unsettle you so?
She licked her lips, terrified at the possible answer.
“Joy? Are you all right?” His concern had caused him to slip into familiar address.
Joy tried to smile and failed. “Yes, of course. I fear I am a little emotional. That is all.”
But was it ‘all’?
“Do allow me to drive you home. I am in no hurry; take as much time as you wish. Or, of course, if you prefer, I will leave you in peace. I have no wish to distress you. Please say the word.”
Joy looked toward Grant’s grave and down at the wealth of blooms cradled in her arms. Suddenly she did not relish the walk back to the trolley stop after she had laid the flowers. Did not want to endure the long wait for another trolley and the longer ride home.
Did not want to be alone with her heartache.
Did not want to be alone.
Alone. That word summarized so much of her life these past three years.
Taking meals in the house with Mama and the others of Palmer House—but still alone.
Catching the trolley to work each morning with her employees, Sarah, Corinne, and Billy—but still alone.
Spending long, solitary evenings in the cottage near the back of Palmer House’s grounds with Blackie as her only companion.
Tossing fitfully in the bed she had once shared with Grant.
Alone, alone, alone.
Alone—for three, long years.
She was grateful for Blackie, the black-and-white shepherd-mix dog she had raised from a pudgy, curly-haired pup. His soulful devotion to her had been and remained a comfort through the long nights. And yet . . .
As much as I adore my sweet Blackie, he cannot hold me or fill this aching void in my life.
I do not want to be alone any longer, Joy was disconcerted to realize. More than that, she did not want to be far . . . from O’Dell’s comforting presence.
What? But-but . . .
Joy was reluctant to examine her last thought too closely, so she swept it away.
O’Dell had watched the play of emotions flit across Joy’s face, had watched her clamp them down. He gave his round derby a last twirl at the end of his fingertips and slipped it on his head.
“I wish you a good day, Mrs. Michaels. Again, I apologize for intruding.”
“Oh! N-no!” Joy stammered. “I mean, um, I mean, thank you for your kind offer. If-if you truly do not mind waiting . . . I would appreciate your seeing me home.”
She glanced up again and saw the troubled clouds clear from his eyes.
“It would be my pleasure.”
“Thank you. I should be no more than ten minutes.”
“Take as much time as you need, Joy. I am in no hurry.”
Take as much time as you need, Joy. I am in no hurry.
The words seemed to pulse with meaning.
Joy looked down again and nodded, and O’Dell, tipping his hat to her, trod toward the road and his waiting automobile. Joy stood blinking at the grass. Then she stepped toward Grant’s headstone.
She put her handbag and the flowers to one side and knelt in front of the headstone, much as O’Dell had. With eyes squeezed closed, Joy reached for the marker. Its polished marble was icy. No matter how many times she had touched it, its penetrating cold shocked her.
I expect Grant’s warmth to greet me. I am always disappointed.
Joy’s fingers traced the chiseled inscription
Grant Aubrey Michaels
Beloved Husband and Father
She wept then. She gave herself to the flood of grief.
I wonder how many tears I have shed for Grant and Edmund? she asked herself. Is there ever an end to such mourning?
Unbidden and unwanted, a passage of Scripture answered her.
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down,
and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance
The verses resonated in her heart as though heralded from on high.
Joy whispered her doubts aloud. “But, Lord! Is there truly a time to laugh after weeping for so long? A time to dance after such great mourning? My heart is still wounded. Distressed. I cannot fathom ‘a time to heal!’ I cannot conceive it.”
She sniffed, removed a hanky from her pocket, and wiped her eyes. When she was more composed, Joy reached for the brown paper package. She unrolled its length and, one stem at a time, removed the roses.
She kissed a golden-yellow bud, half-blown, and placed it in the vase embedded at the base of the headstone. “Our love was as sunny and as constant as this flower, Grant.”
Next, she selected a shoot of dewy pink blossoms. “I was but a fresh-faced girl of eighteen when we met, as innocent as these blooms. How can thirteen years have passed?” She pressed her lips to the silky buds and slid them into the vase.
Joy lifted three long stems bursting with crimson color from the paper and buried her nose in their scarlet fragrance. “These remind me of the blood of Christ, Grant. Jesus saved and cleansed us with his life’s blood.”
One red-budded stem. “You.”
The last bloom. “And Jesus. Our love and our marriage were grounded in our fellowship in him, in our common salvation.”
Only the sunset roses remained. Their petals were streaked and variegated in pinks, yellows, golds, and oranges so intense, so vivid, that Joy lost herself in their mesmerizing kaleidoscope.
“Such beauty,” she murmured. “Such brilliance. Such was our love.”
She arranged the flowers in the vase with the other roses and sat back to observe her work. The glowing sunset roses seemed to outshine the others. She tucked them a little deeper into the vase, but the effect was the same: She could not take her eyes from them.
There is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.
“A sunset is an ending, a conclusion. Is there also a season and a time for a sunset, Lord?”
A voice seemed to call on the breeze. I anoint the good end of all things with greater beauty than the beginning.
“Is there a good end ahead for me? Is there, truly, Lord?”
Joy bowed her head and, although she acknowledged in her heart that Grant could not hear her, she spoke to her husband anyway.
“Grant, my love. How I miss you! Every day I feel your absence as surely as I ever felt your presence. Three years have passed, and I still grieve for you. Three long years, and I do not even have our son to care for, to comfort me.
“And now something . . . something is changing. I do not understand it; I do not know where it will lead. I-I do know, though, how much you loved and trusted our dear friend, Mr. O’Dell. You loved and trusted him . . . to the point of naming our son after him when you knew you were dying.”
A sob clogged Joy’s throat. “Mr. O’Dell has spent these years searching for our baby. He has never complained or uttered a word of discouragement. He has been our—my—strong arm, my ally and support. And I know he has . . . feelings for me. If-if I were to give him any encouragement at all—”
Joy could not finish, could not voice—not to Grant nor to herself—what might come. Instead, she wiped her face again and spoke to her God.
“Father, I know you love me, and I trust in that love. Lead me, Lord, in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. I commit to you: Where you lead, I will follow.”
Joy stood to her feet and smoothed away the wrinkles on her skirt, flicked away the bits of grass. She carefully, methodically, folded the brown paper and tucked it into her handbag.
Once more, she placed her hand on the marble headstone. Rubbing the smooth surface under her fingers, Joy gave the headstone a last caress.
“I love you, Grant Michaels. I will always love you, but I hear our Lord whispering that the times and seasons are changing. Perhaps I must change, too.”
O’Dell watched the tender farewell from the road, saw Joy square her shoulders and stride toward him. As she drew closer, he noted her reddened eyes and the blotchy patches on her cheeks. Nevertheless, she attempted to smile as she reached the edge of the road.
“Thank you for waiting for me, Mr. O’Dell.”
O’Dell lifted his hat by way of greeting. “It was my pleasure.”
He opened the passenger door and handed her inside, then went around to the driver’s side and climbed in. His 1910 touring car from the now-defunct Bergdoll automakers was not the newest or shiniest motor car running around the cobbled streets and dirt roads of Denver, but in his role as head of the Denver Pinkerton office, the 30-horsepower auto, with front and back seats, was a godsend, an essential tool to his trade.
Not sure how I managed without it before.
Today he was doubly glad for the automobile. “Are you comfortable? Hat secure?” The car sported a partial front window and a canopy that extended above the seats and down the back, but the remainder of the auto was open to air rushing by at a brisk fifteen-mile-an-hour clip.
Joy tested the wide brim that shaded her face. “I believe so.”
Her sleek, wheat-colored braid, wound about itself and pinned at her neck, filled the underside of the hat’s straw and tulle. O’Dell had trouble tearing his gaze from her lovely hair—until he saw her watching him—watching him with a knowing expression.
“Harrumph.” He cleared his dry throat and started the engine.
Am I mistaken, or is something different, Lord? Are things changing? he asked silently. After these many years?
They rode in silence, but it was a companionable silence. Soon they drove out of the relative peace and quiet of the cemetery and its neighborhood and into the cacophony of afternoon traffic flowing through downtown Denver. Automobiles roared down the narrow streets, their drivers honking at passing acquaintances, at the friends who strolled the walkways along the boulevards, at the traffic snarls engendered by the confluence of horse-drawn conveyances and motorized vehicles.
Joy perked up and pointed. “Oh, look! There is Tory Washington!”
O’Dell tipped his hat to the elegant woman conversing on the wide walkway in front of her establishment, Victoria’s Fashions. Tory’s smart, picture-perfect attire was the best advertisement for her chic designs and gowns. One slender, gloved hand waved a greeting to Joy and O’Dell.
“It never fails to amaze me,” O’Dell confessed, “how changed the young ladies we, er, ‘removed’ from Corinth are. How successful and happy they have become.”
O’Dell was referring to the girls and young women whom Joy and her mother, Rose, had rescued when they lived in the little mountain village above Denver. On that memorable night, O’Dell, a party of fellow Pinkerton agents, and a contingent of U.S. Marshals had helped terminate the bogus employment scheme by which evil men had kidnapped and ensnared the girls. They had liberated the girls and young women from forced prostitution.
Tory Washington had been one of those young women.
Not long after the Corinth showdown, an elderly Denverite, Martha Palmer, had given Rose and Joy the house her husband had built years before. The house had been sitting empty for years and had suffered much from neglect, but its three stories and many bedrooms were exactly what Rose and Joy had prayed for.
What they had needed.
Some of the girls rescued from Corinth had gone home to be reunited with their families. Those who had no homes or family to whom they could return had come to live at Palmer House under Rose’s healing ministrations. In the years since, Denver churches had recommended—and were still referring—other women in similar straits to Palmer House. To Rose and Joy’s welcoming arms.
Within the safety of Palmer House’s walls, mother and daughter poured love on these wounded souls, shared Jesus with them, prayed over them as they healed, and labored to prepare the women for honest work—work that allowed them to envision and achieve independent and self-sufficient futures.
Joy answered O’Dell, “Grant called them our ‘girls from the mountain.’ And I could not agree more with your assessment. Only God can restore a devastated life so completely.”
Soon they were out of heavy traffic and into a well-heeled residential area. O’Dell eased his car up to the curb of an immense corner lot. He jumped from his seat and raced around the car to open Joy’s door for her.
Again, she fixed him with that look—partly shy, partly knowing. A bit questioning? And most definitely skittish.
He moistened his lips and—the remnant of an old habit—patted his breast pocket where he used to carry his cigars. But that was before.
She noticed his action and whispered, “Old ways crop up at the strangest times, do they not? When we are nervous.”
“Are we nervous, Mrs. Michaels?” The words flew from his mouth before he could prevent them.
Joy shifted her feet and circumvented his question with a hastily crafted query of her own. “May I take your arm, Mr. O’Dell?”
O’Dell snapped to attention. “Certainly.” They took the few steps to the gate of Palmer House. He opened the gate, and they walked through it and up the walk at a leisurely pace toward the porch. There they stopped, and O’Dell released Joy’s arm.
He hesitated and then said, “I am glad I was able to share Grant’s birthday with you. I know how hard it had to have been for you. I pray my presence there was a help and not an intrusion.”
“Your presence has never been an intrusion, Mr. O’Dell.” Joy was just being honest. With him. With herself.
She took a deep breath. “Perhaps . . . perhaps you might join us for dinner this evening? Nothing special. Only ordinary, midweek fare.”
To hide his surprise, O’Dell teased, “Are you not required to give Marit and Breona at least a twenty-four-hour notice?”
Palmer House’s cook and housekeeper were legendary sticklers for propriety.
Joy laughed—a real, uninhibited laugh. “I have a feeling they will not complain much.”
O’Dell nodded and smiled in return. He could not help himself—and his gaze probed hers, looking, wondering, hoping for a sign. “Well, then. I leave them to you. Until this evening.”
Joy’s laughter dissolved. In its place appeared that same shy, fearful knowing.
“Yes, um . . . very well.” She might just as well have been agreeing to a doctor’s injection for all the lack of enthusiasm she conveyed.
She opened her mouth, perhaps to rescind her invitation—but O’Dell gave her no opportunity. He raised his hat and spun on his heel, forestalling any such an action. He was halfway to the gate before she could assert her qualms or retract her invitation.
No, my dear, O’Dell thought. We have begun now, and I shall press my suit hereafter.