I’m so glad to have you for my author interview today! I’ve read a number of your books, and this one-a boxed set of Christmas Novellas with other authors-looks to be another winner. Can you tell me and the readers what genre you write and a little of your writing journey?
I write contemporary Live-Out-Loud fiction for the inspirational market. I have 25+ books published, but prior to writing books, I studied (and ultimately taught) screenwriting.
What book are you featuring today and what story can you tell us that has something to do with your book?
SLEIGH BELLS RING (http://amzn.to/2dYkhH2) is a collection of four contemporary novellas revolving around four sisters. The Tucker girls have inherited their father’s Kentucky horse farm for Christmas, the place where they grew up. It’s run-down and sadly in need of a lot of TLC to get it ready for the real estate market. My novella (“All I Want for Christmas”) sets things into motion as Jo-Jo, is the youngest of the group, gets it in her head that all four sisters need to migrate back to Bluegrass Crossing and spend one last Christmas together before they sell. The other novellas are “Her Old Kentucky Home” by Lynette Sowell; “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Barbara J. Scott; and “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Lenora Worth. It’s very exciting to delve into such a great project alongside these heavy-hitters in inspirational fiction!
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 always choose a soundtrack for each book I write and, in this case, since there were four authors working toward the same end goal, I created a YouTube playlist to inspire us. Your readers can give it a listen at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4C7DUS3pSALMDQAt1GoDo84z-0spJ8y_ In addition to the music, I dug through my mom’s old Christmas cookie recipes and some photos from our family Christmases for inspiration. My mother’s passion for the holiday was the inspiration as I created Marlena (the Tucker sisters’ mom).
What is something unique or amusing about yourself or your life that we would like to know?
I don’t know how unique or amusing it is, but I’ve recently returned to Ohio where I spent most of my adolescent life. After 20 years in Los Angeles and another decade in Florida, coming back to Ohio winters was quite a shock to the old system! The day my U-Haul truck arrived was the day of the first snow in NW Ohio, and it hardly stopped again until spring. That particular winter was the worst one on record, and my profoundly thinned blood made it a hard sell to keep me around until spring!
Give us a short biography about yourself and tell us how we can contact you (fb, twitter, website).
I was an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles for 15+ years where I went to film school and studied screenwriting. When I finally put Hollywood in the rear view mirror, I headed across the country to take care of my mom until she passed away, I traded scripts for books, and the author of LIVE-OUT-LOUD fiction was born. I think I’m best known for my Another Emma Rae Creation series and I was named ACFW’s 2015 Editor of the Year. I am passionate about animal rights and rescue, and as an ovarian cancer survivor I often work toward raising awareness and funds for research, diagnostics, and a cure.
If it’s okay, Linda, I’d also like to invite your readers to join us tomorrow night (Thursday, October 13th) for a Facebook launch party for SLEIGH BELLS RING. They can go to Facebook and search “Sleigh Bells Ring Launch Party” to find us. All four authors will be there from 8 p.m. until around 9:30 p.m., and there will be fun Christmas games and giveaways. It’s going to be a blast, and I hope your readers can join us!
That sounds wonderful, Sandie. We also have a *GIVEAWAY!* here. One free book (either paperback or 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 (http://lindarodante.com) or on this post on my facebook author site (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.)
Sure! It opens with a letter from Jo-Jo’s deceased father. Oh, and thanks for having me, Linda.
If you’re reading this letter, my attorney has finally located you. The last address I had for you was no good, so they hired an investigator to track you down and let you know about my fate. It seems you girls have scattered in every different direction, but I wanted you all to know that the horse farm is legally yours now. Not that it belonged to anyone else since the day your beautiful mom came to live here.
I wish we could have spent some time together before the cancer got a hold of me—just one of the many regrets I have these days. Baby, I hope you’ve been able to find a little forgiveness for your old man over the years. I wasn’t the best father—or any kind of father, really—but I’ve always loved you. I pray you know that, and I’m truly sorry for all the years we lost. Tuck
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
—1 Corinthians 13:7-8
Joanna had intended to sleep in past seven, especially now that she had the unfortunate option—an unusual occurrence for a Thursday morning except for her recent state of unemployment—but her internal clock had gone off at ten minutes before the hour just to irritate her. The voices in her head simply refused to shut up, and she finally surrendered and climbed out from under the multiple quilts layered over her.
She padded to the kitchenette in bare feet, still wearing her drawstring, pink-flannel pants and long-sleeved Henley. She pressed a folded paper towel into the brew basket and spooned some coffee into it before running water into the carafe. By the time she produced a mug from one of the hooks under the shelf, the fragrance of freshly brewing coffee tickled her nose. She noticed a few grounds floating around in the cup and scooped them out with the back of the spoon before stirring in the creamer. She nearly dropped the spoon when someone pounded on her door three times.
Joanna peeled her eyes the rest of the way open and squinted at the clock. “It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning,” she bellowed as she made her way across the room. Peering through the peephole, she grimaced at the distorted image of a young twenty-something with wire-rimmed glasses. The collar of his coat stood upright against the wind that howled through the narrow passageway. After a moment, he thumped his gloved fist against the door again, twice this time.
Joanna left the security chain in place and unlocked two deadbolts and the doorknob. She pulled the door back a few inches and looked out through the opening.
“What do you want? My husband is sleeping,” she fibbed.
The guy narrowed his eyes for a few beats before answering. “Miss Tucker? Joanna Tucker?”
“Who wants to know?”
The hiss of the wind through the outdoor passageway turned to a roar, and all of his sandy hair blew to one side of his head. His small frame nearly toppled over.
“I’m Stephen Sample,” he shouted. “I work for Hanks and Stern.”
“I’m sorry. Who?”
“The Law Offices of Hanks and Stern.”
She glanced over at the overflowing, metal bowl on the table next to the door, the one where she dropped all of the bills and unopened collection notices, awaiting her attention. She thought she remembered that name on at least one of the envelopes in the bowl. Or maybe two of them. All in all, there wasn’t a handwritten address in the lot of them—just various business fonts spelling out MS. JOANNA TUCKER. Or in the case of Fort Wayne Medical Center’s invoice, JOANNE ROSE TACKER. It seemed nothing ever came to her mailbox anymore without metaphoric extended hands and raised palms, seeking funds she simply didn’t have.
“We’ve been trying to make contact with you on behalf of Robert Tucker.”
Joanna’s entire body froze, more from the mention of the name than the frigid winter wind slithering in through the small opening. “I don’t know anyone by that name,” she lied and started to push the door shut.
“Ms. Tucker,” he objected, pressing his palm against the door so he could slip his business card through. “Please. Can I come inside and speak to you? Five minutes, and I’ll be out the door again.” When she didn’t reply, he added, “It’s really cold out here.”
“Wait there,” she snapped and closed the door. She studied the card as she rushed to the bathroom. She grabbed the plaid, flannel robe from the back of the door and slipped into it, burying his card in the pocket as she returned to snow-boy waiting outside. “Five minutes,” she told him as she belted the robe. “No more than that.”
“Thank you.” Panting, he hurried inside, brushing the snow from his hair. “This weather is ridiculous.”
It’s winter. And we live in Indiana. It’s not all that surprising, is it? “I just made some coffee.” She padded over to grab a second mug. “How do you take it? I have creamer, but no sugar.”
“Black is fine. Just something to warm me up would be great.”
Joanna set the cup on the small table and nodded toward the second chair. He sat, wrapping his now ungloved hands around the mug for warmth, while she retrieved her own coffee and folded one leg beneath her before lowering into the chair across from him.
“What’s your name again?” She clutched the warmth close to her face.
“Stephen Sample.” His hand left the coffee long enough to produce an envelope from the inside pocket of his coat and slid it across the tabletop toward her. “Robert Tucker retained our firm . . .”
Again, her father’s name stopped her from breathing. As the young guy nattered on, she opened the envelope and produced a small packet of papers. On top, a crisp letter of introduction on embossed letterhead bearing the name of the law firm:
Dear Ms. Tucker:
On behalf of your father, Robert Tucker, we would like to inform—
“—and I’m sorry to say . . . it was cancer.”
Stephen Sample took a slow, clueless sip from his coffee as Joanna’s heart lurched against her chest, and she jerked her head up to look at him. “I’m sorry. What did you say? He’s dead? The father I hardly knew I still had . . . is dead?”
“How?” she stammered. “What was wrong with him? What kind of cancer?”
Stephen Sample set his coffee mug on the table. “Lung.”
Sudden memories of cherry pipe tobacco swirled, and Joanna swallowed all of the other thoughts so that she could ask just one question. “How long did he know?”
“A month, possibly. Six weeks at the outside.”
Her voice softened. “And how long have you known?”
“We’ve been trying to make contact with you for quite some time. We’ve sent at least four letters. And we couldn’t find a current phone number . . .”
Joanna glanced again at the metal bowl near the door. Why hadn’t she opened one of them? She’d never imagined that letters from the Law Offices of So-and-So could have been anything except a series of collection notices. She never dreamed . . .
“. . . so I finally decided to try stopping by this address on my way in to the office to see if I could make contact in person.”
“How did you even find me?”
The young man belched out a chuckle and shook his head. “It sure wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that.”
She took a sip of coffee and slowly swallowed it. “What do you want with me? I mean, if he’s already gone. Is this some sort of notification thing then?”
“There’s a letter there from him.” He pointed to the papers she held. “The second page, right after the one from the firm.”
Joanna turned the first page face down on the table. The next—a short, handwritten note on lined, yellow paper—caused her vision to blur. No mistaking it. Tuck’s handwriting. She blinked several times to bring the words into focus. The final line of his note choked her: I’m truly sorry for all the years we lost.
The years they’d lost? How about the years he’d stolen when he walked out the door and never came back? All the birthdays he’d missed—her birthdays and the ones of her three, older sisters. She’d spent so many years watching out the window in the hope that he might happen by to give his youngest daughter a birthday hug.
And what was this addition at the bottom of the note? A Scripture verse? Oh, that was rich. Biblical reference from the guy who lived off his wife’s faith instead of developing some of his own.
Forcing back her tears, Joanna sniffed as she packaged the paperwork together again and folded it back into the envelope.
“Have you contacted my sisters?”
“Our investigators have reached all of them except Isabella.”
“Amy and Sophia already know then?” She swallowed her dismay with a gulp of air.
“I believe so, yes.”
Joanna narrowed her eyes and stared at the door over the slope of Stephen Sample’s shoulder. Why wouldn’t either of them have called her? Sure, they didn’t talk all that often, but certainly, being told that their father had died warranted a special effort. And what about Jed? Why hadn’t he or his mother let her know?
“If you can help us to get in touch with Isabella—”
“She travels a lot,” Joanna muttered. Then, when the young man’s curious stare poked at her, she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’ll call her today and tell her to look for your correspondence.”
“Excellent. Then if she’ll just call our offices—”
“I’m sure she will.”
He sat there for what seemed like forever before he finally stood and buttoned his coat. “Well, thank you for seeing me. And for the coffee.” Glancing at the envelope on the table, he added, “You have my card. And there’s also contact information inside. Have a nice day, Miss Tucker.”
A nice day? The guy had just broken the news that Tuck was dead and then wished her a nice day? After she bolted the door behind him, Joanna stalked to the table and stood over the envelope for several heartbeats before grabbing her half cup of coffee and heading straight back to bed.
“Jedediah? Are you listening to me?”
Jed’s neck snapped as he jerked toward his mother. “Sorry. What did you say?”
“Would you like a little more stew?”
“Oh. No thanks, Mom. I’ve had plenty. It was great.”
Sarah walked toward him and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Did you hear back from any of the girls?”
Jed ran a hand over the stubble on his cheek and sighed. “I’ve probably called Jo-Jo’s number a dozen times since Tuck passed. But I haven’t been able to catch her, and there’s no voice mail on her phone. I don’t even know if I have the right number anymore because her e-mails are bouncing back.” He groaned and ran his hands through his hair. “I just hope the lawyer in Fort Wayne has better luck than I did.”
“It’s a shame they all four missed out on attending the services.” Sarah picked up the empty stoneware bowl in front of him. “I have to believe they’d have come to the old coot’s funeral if they’d known.”
“I can’t speak for the others,” Jed told her, “but Jo-Jo would have been here. I’m convinced of that.”
“It’s late in the day. She should be home from work by now, don’t you think?”
“Depends. I don’t even know what she’s doing these days,” he replied.
Sarah picked up Jed’s cell phone from the counter and handed it to him. “Why not give her another try.”
Jed searched his contacts for Joanna’s number and clicked on it. Once again, a string of unanswered rings with no voice-mail pick up.
“Nah,” he commented before disconnecting and tucking the phone into the pocket of his denim shirt. “I’m headed home for the night. Anything need doing around here before I go?”
“You could kiss your mama.”
He chuckled and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Thanks for the grub.”
Jed slipped into the double-breasted, dark-brown peacoat he’d discarded on the chair and buttoned it on his way to the door. “I’m due over at the Triple Z before nine in the morning. I should be back by early afternoon.”
“I’m going over to Josie Emerson’s around ten so we can cook up a week’s worth of meals and drive them out to the Barrett clan. Todd’s on his own now with those six kids of his.”
Jed cringed and shook his head at the thought. “Be careful heading out there, Mom. The road washed out last week, and they’re rebuilding the retaining wall on the east side.”
“Yes, Son. I’ve been out to Todd’s place twice since Miranda’s funeral.”
He knew better than to play the over-protective son with his independent mother. Still, it never seemed to stop him. He kissed her cheek a second time before turning up the collar of his coat and heading out into the bitter cold.
The November chill clocked at twenty-one degrees on the oversized thermometer on the outside wall, and the stones beneath his boots crunched out the noisy sound track of his departure. He dug the key ring out of the pocket of his jeans before he crossed the front porch of the converted bunkhouse where he’d grown up. He poked the key into the deadbolt and groaned in relief when he crossed the threshold and pushed the door shut behind him.
Jed removed his gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of his coat, which he hung on the rack. Sliding an armful of logs out of the top shelf of the built-in, he carried them over to the fireplace and sat on the stone hearth. Once he’d stoked the fire into a full blaze, Jed ambled over to the leather sofa and dropped onto it. Propping his boots on the arm, he folded a throw pillow, jammed it into the curve at the back of his neck, and closed his eyes.
“Long day,” he muttered just as sleep whirled in like a sudden storm and carried him away.