Thank you for giving us time for an interview today. I am looking forward to learning a little more about you and your writing. Can you tell us what genre you write and a little of your writing journey?
Most of my novels fall under Christian Fiction, Allegory. My characters deal with real-life situations, with themes including forgiveness, deception, second chances, honor, and the need for quiet time with the Lord. Two novels, Anchored, and While I Count the Stars, are historical fiction. The characters in Anchored strive with upheaval and loss; Stars characters suffer separation and encounter relentless needs and limited resources. Each tale has a hint of humor, a whisper of romance, and shares a love story—whether between characters or between a character and his Creator.
I’ve always liked to write. Although I’m not certain what compelled me to attempt a novel, I admit that I love words—the way they can be used to paint a picture or expose the deep crevices of a person’s heart. I also possess a rather vivid imagination. This journey has thrilled me, and it’s been a whirlwind. When I published my first book last summer, I had several other novels in various stages of completion, and I’ve just released my seventh book.
None of my work could have reached a reader’s hand but for the generous people who shared their industry knowledge with me. God gifted me with people and relationships that moved my work forward, and in the process He blessed me with treasured friendships. I am grateful—and I’m having the time of my life.
What a great journey! And you’ve published a number of books, too! What book are you featuring today and what story can you tell us that has something to do with your book?
I’d like to share a bit about Anchored: A Lamp in the Storm (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1523679905). I’ve woven baskets for years, and in my collection are a number of Nantucket Lightship Baskets. When a fellow author gave me a book about the history of this particular style of baskets, I realized I didn’t know what a lightship was. Although I was embarrassed at my ignorance, a poll of fellow weavers revealed that none of them knew anything about lightships either. Determined to share my new knowledge with the world, I couldn’t help but wrap a story around the fascinating history of the brave men who manned ships near the shores of this country—the Great Lakes, the West Coast, and the East Coast—where lighthouses were not a practical solution to warn ship captains of dangerous rips and shoals.
The men who started the lightship basket tradition served miles away from the shores of Nantucket. They faced harsh winter storms, isolation, tedium, and inherent dangers, and had no relief from their duties from December through May. In my fictional world, I introduced a woman to the ship during the season in which they couldn’t put her to shore. You can imagine her impact on the crew . . . or you could pick up a copy of my book and let me fill that vision for you.
The story connects to a present day tale in which a lightship basket, which passed from one generation to the next, influences the life of a displaced teenager.
Wow. That’s sounds interesting. I can’t imagine a woman on board a ship with all men at that time. Yes, it would prove an upheaval. Can you give us a short summary or back copy blurb about the book you are featuring today?
DECEMBER 1895, near the shoals of Nantucket.
When an urgent need trumps a perilous passage, the fare is costlier than anyone imagined.
Crew member Thomas Burton, stationed aboard the lightship Nautican, is no stranger to risk and loss. In the aftermath of a shipwreck, he plucks survivors from the wintry Atlantic waters, only to have them turn his world upside down. When calamity and evil follow the victims ashore, what’s the man to do?
PRESENT DAY, departing Phoenix.
When a relocation annihilates plans and promises, and jeopardizes the future, all that remains is his faith.
Dustin Turner braces himself for a miserable senior year at Heritage High, where the social misfit faces affluent teens who own heavy doses of attitude. When he realizes the student body is blind to the lies and deception loitering in the hallways, will Dustin shrink into the shadows or will he take a stand?
When the tempest roars, where lies the safest course?
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’m a wiggler. You know the type: they sit next to you in the church pew and they cross one leg, pause ten seconds or so, then cross the other leg. I can sit at the computer for hours on end, but I usually have a foot tapping a rhythm to the song I have in my head. (I rarely listen to music while I write; my singing along distracts me from my purpose.) My two dogs remind me that I need to get up every now and then. They invite me to take them outside, but in the Florida heat, that’s a quick diversion.
I often put a 1,000 or 1,500 piece jigsaw puzzle on the top of the baby grand piano. After I write for a while, I wander to the puzzle, and while my eyes look for color and shape among the puzzle pieces, my brain mulls over my story. I can stand at the piano fitting pieces together forever, but as the dogs remind me, I have other things to do: feed them, let them out again, and sit back down at the computer.
That is me, too. the wiggler! 🙂 What is something unique or amusing about yourself or your life that we would like to know?
I still have the receipt. In May 1983, I signed my name on the invoice that declared I was the new owner of a 1940’s baby grand piano. A cigarette burn and large water stain on the lid marred a dozen layers of hand-rubbed varnish, all of it stained and darkened by age, grime, and accumulated wax. The piano parts, rebuilt by a skilled technician, belied the instrument’s distressed covering, and rendered a mellow, rich tone that a new baby grand in my price range could never produce.
As soon as the deliverymen placed the instrument in my home, I commenced my part of the restoration project—all conducted in the carpeted living room. After applying a mixture meant to loosen the old finish, and rubbing off the resultant goo with dozens of steel wool pads, I used countless toothbrushes to scrub the crevices between hinges, along wood seams, and in the tight places within the lyre. On the underside of the key cover, the gold leaf that named the piano’s creator fell victim to the process. The action induced a pang of regret. The gold-colored stencil that spells Schiller instead of Schiller Super Grand—the only replacement available—is the one piece of the restoration that needles me.
Beneath the misuse and age, the piano’s walnut wood produced an end product that stunned me. That I own such a beautiful instrument, an heirloom, humbles me. It has given me countless hours of joy.
What a great story! And we’ll assume you play!
Give us a short biography about yourself and tell us how we can contact you (fb, twitter, website).
I was a longtime resident of Central Ohio until moving near Florida’s Gulf Coast almost two-and-half years ago. While raising two incredible children and working full-time, I earned my bachelor degree summa cum laude from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. I worked as a computer hardware engineer on mainframe systems when women were a rarity in the field. My career veered into business finance, during which time the District Office of the Small Business Administration recognized me as the Women in Business Advocate of the Year. These days, putting pen to paper and writing tales has proven to be a most fulfilling endeavor.
I am a basket weaver and an avid reader, and count my participation in international short-term missionary campaigns among my life’s most blessed and humbling journeys. I firmly believe that when we give God control, He rocks our world.
I endeavor to be a talespinner to the lost, the loved, and the found. Please visit me online at http://www.valeriebanfield.com. Don’t miss the Walking the Dog Blog tab, where you’ll find a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the human end of the leash. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any news of book releases or dog lessons.
ValerieBanfieldBooks FB page is a WIP, but please LIKE my page!-https://www.facebook.com/ValerieBanfieldBooks/
*GIVEAWAY!* 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 my facebook page at 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.
We would love to read the first chapter of your book.
DECEMBER, 1895. Thomas Burton squinted, as if a heightened degree of focus could push back the haze hovering over the surface of the choppy expanse. He dared not blink for fear of losing sight of the ship altogether. When a hot white plume and a spray of red and orange specks burst through the low-lying cover and spewed into the clouds, he drew back, sputtering. The sound of the explosion reached his hearing moments later, drawing a lump to his throat and forcing him to gasp for air.
With his eyeglass fastened on the horizon, and the view eerily distorted by the mist, he watched the glow of flames as it licked the fabric of the three sails that led the schooner to its treacherous end. As the fog bell sounded again, Thomas said a silent prayer for those in the distance who would no longer hear its mournful toll.
Mate Alfred Reynolds joined Thomas on deck as a second round of small explosions vaulted into the atmosphere. He tugged the glass from Thomas’ hand, and hefted it to his right eye.
“At least it weren’t a passenger liner,” Reynolds said. “S’pose they were transporting gunpowder along with their other goods.”
“Looks like a shipment of whale oil. The ring of flames around the vessel is moving outward.” Thomas turned his head toward the mate. “Any sign of survivors?”
Reynolds shifted the glass across the horizon, left to right, up and down. “Don’t see anything except fire.”
Reynolds handed the glass back to Thomas. “If you ask me, we’ve no reason to stay on deck.”
“I’ll keep watch a while longer, sir.”
“Too cold for survivors, and you know it. Folks so dimwitted to venture out this time of year, almost serves ’em right.”
Thomas turned just long enough to send a disapproving glance to the captain’s second-in-command. “I’ll stay, sir.”
“Suit yourself. You want to keep Bannister company whilst he rings the fog bell, s’up to you.” Reynolds leveled his well-worn scowl on Thomas, his loose jowls jostling with his downturned lips. When a wave tossed against the side of the lightship, he shook the spray from his face and headed to the officers’ quarters.
The frigid air amplified the fog bell’s clanging each time the clapper smacked against its iron shell. The familiar sound, delivered relentlessly in two-minute increments, assaulted Thomas’ eardrum with each peal. His body, like those of his mates, was so accustomed to the seafarer’s warning that he could anticipate each resounding gong at precisely the moment it rang into winter’s unforgiving air. At this moment, each time the bell tolled, the hope for survivors diminished.
Captain Roy Garvin bunched the fabric circling his thick neck with one hand and blew his warm breath into his other hand. “Anything out there, Burton?”
“Not that I can see yet, Captain.”
“Yet? Unless someone was already in the water when the first explosion hit, you won’t find anyone.”
Thomas allowed a brief recess from scanning the area between ships. He studied the solemn countenance of the seasoned sailor—the man relegated to the dreaded lightship for the duration of his maritime service. Thomas found fatigue, sorrow, and defeat in every deep line in the old salt’s face.
“I know that, sir.”
He lifted the eyeglass again, leaned forward, and blinked several times. “Captain?”
When Thomas heard the Captain turn, his footsteps heavy on the deck boards as he returned to the port side, he offered the glass to him.
“Something out there, ’bout halfway between the wreckage and the Nautican, sir.”
“Probably barrels of oil.” Captain Garvin turned, as if to go.
“Beg to disagree, sir. Looks more like a raft, or maybe a small lifeboat. Request permission to lower the lifeboat, sir.”
Thomas heard Garvin snort back the first response that rested on his lips. “Haven’t you been on ship long enough to lose your optimism? We have better things to do than look at empty waters and worthless debris.”
“But, what if . . . sir?” Thomas respected his captain. He did. But the man would rather pretend no one survived the sunken schooner than to conduct a search that might put his crew in harm’s way. Captain had every right to protect his crew.
“Storm’s heading this way. I can feel it.”
“Then let me head out now. I feel an urgent need to reach the boat, or raft, or whatever it is.” Thomas paused before he added, “Sir.”
Thomas stared hard into the captain’s eyes, even as the mariner drew them into thin slits. “Is this one of your prophecy sightings, Burton?”
Thomas knew Captain didn’t mean to taunt; the man chose his words carefully and deliberately. How was Thomas to explain himself when he didn’t know why God sometimes nudged him to do something, or say something that originated outside of his own mind? All Thomas knew, God spoke to his heart. Others knew it too. Captain, included.
“If God spared someone’s life, and the waves are tossing him about while he holds onto that chunk of wood floating out there, we best retrieve him. God Almighty may have saved someone for a special deed and purpose. I aim to do my part.”
Captain released his hold on his coat, rubbed the back of his neck, and said, “I won’t send other men out with you. You may go if you have two volunteers.” This time, Captain strode to his quarters without leaving room for Thomas to comment.
Thomas ran the eyeglass lens over the dark waters. Where did it go? He closed his eyes, blinked them tightly once, and scoured the horizon again. Nothing. This time, when he closed his eyes, he said, “God? If you have a reason for me to lower the boat and turn those oars, You have to show me where You want me to go.”
When he looked again, the drifting mass was in plain view, moving closer to the ship.
Thomas scrambled to the galley and shouted, “Need two volunteers. Might have survivors. Anyone?”
His request earned silence and disinterested faces.
“Men, this is why we’re here. To save people from drowning. I need two volunteers.”
Thomas caught Andrew Miller’s eyes and fastened on them tighter than the chain holding the lightship’s anchor. Andrew peered over his playing cards and lowered his hand just far enough for Thomas to see him chewing his lower lip. Andrew emitted an annoyed, “pfft,” and dropped his cards to the table. He slapped Henry Simpson on the shoulder.
Thomas clapped Andrew on the back as they waited for the crew to lower the lifeboat into the icy waters.
“Thanks, Andrew. You too, Henry.”
Thomas and Henry strained at the oars while Andrew searched for the floating mass.
“You’re crazier than I am, Burton,” Andrew hollered.
“Then why’d you volunteer?” Thomas yelled.
“I figure I can either die from boredom, or die in the Atlantic. Ain’t got much to lose, either way.”
“That’s not true,” Thomas answered. “We talked about it before.”
“Yep, and just like before, I ain’t listening to you.”
“Just row, Burton,” Henry said.
“I see it. Small lifeboat,” Andrew yelled. When a spray of water caught him full in the face, he hunched down. “Couple more swells, and we’re on it.”
“Come alongside,” Andrew said. He grabbed the side of the small lifeboat and whistled. “Burton, how’d you know ’bout them?”
Thomas ignored the man—his most authentic friend among the crew—and scrambled to the other boat. Water in the bottom of the tiny craft swamped Thomas’ legs, almost to his knees.
A dark-haired man, sprawled facedown on the bench, didn’t move when Thomas pulled at his arm. When he flipped him over, the gash across the man’s chest confirmed Thomas’ expectation that they were too late to help him.
“Hurry, Burton,” Henry said. “That boat’s taking on water faster than any of us can bail.”
Just as ominous as the rising water were the frigid waves and blasts of cold air. They had little time in which to act.
Thomas picked up the smaller form. Just a lad. Couldn’t be more than eight. His lips were blue, but he had a heartbeat. Thomas hefted the small load to Andrew, who straddled the joined vessels and placed the boy in the center of their lifeboat.
A tarp covered the last figure, and when Thomas pulled back the protective layer, his feet all but fell from under him. A woman? Out here? That wasn’t a passenger ship. Why would a woman travel on a cargo ship in the middle of winter? Why risk it? The lad? He wasn’t a stowaway or a street urchin trying to make his way to America. He had to be this woman’s son. The man likely was her husband.
He leaned over the man’s body, pulled open his coat, and reached into his pocket. A watch. Surely, a means of identification. The woman would have to have it. Otherwise, she might not believe what happened to the man—the man whose body they had to leave in the sinking boat—whose grave was the mighty Atlantic.
When he tried to wrestle the woman’s body upwards, he found she clasped a bundle under her coat. With no time to worry about the belongings she held in her grasp, he picked her up and delivered her to Andrew’s open arms. Andrew’s eyes caught Thomas’ gaze and widened as he studied the limp frame resting in his care.
“Let’s go, men,” Thomas said.
“I’ll row. You minister to them,” Andrew said. “It’s fitting. Go on.”
It’s fitting? Why? Because sometimes God’s voice tugged at Thomas’ soul? Most of the crew mocked him, dubbed him the Sea Preacher. Or, was it fitting because he was the only crew member among the three who had a wife and a family? Thomas felt a pang in his chest, sharper than the wet water clinging to his legs and feet, and deadlier than the waves threatening to take their lifeboat to the ocean floor. He did have a family. Once.
Captain Garvin carried the lad to the officers’ quarters and lowered him to Mate Reynolds’ berth. The captain tipped his chin in the direction of his own bed and said, “Put her over there. I’ll tend to the boy.”
Just as Thomas lowered the sodden woman to the mattress, Reynolds burst into the room. In his hands he clutched a pile of linens, blankets, and clothes. He stared, open-mouthed, from one man to the other.
“Th-th-th-that’s my bed,” he said.
“That it is, Mate,” the captain answered. “And, the woman is in my bed. Would you rather have me put them in general quarters?”
“But, sir, the men will be in an uproar if we bunk with them.”
“Why? Because their captain will see all of their shenanigans? Do you honestly think I don’t know every one of them already? Every bad habit, foul mouth, and deep, dark secret? How much do you think any of us can hide while we rot away on this thing called a lightship?”
Thomas unlaced the woman’s narrow shoelaces, but waited for Reynolds to excuse himself before taking the coverings off her feet.
As he spun around and left the officers’ quarters, Reynolds raised his shoulders, set his jaw, and answered with a piqued, “Very well, sir.”
“Thank you, sir,” Thomas said.
“Why are you thanking me? What else can I do?” the captain asked.
“You didn’t want me to go out. I know that. I take responsibility for putting everyone in an inconvenient position.”
The long drawn-out exhale delivered by the captain caught Thomas by surprise.
“I may act like a cranky old salt, Burton, but I treasure life as much as you do. If I’d been certain we had survivors, I would have sent the whole crew to retrieve them. I admit I’m taken aback by your returning with a young lad and his mother, but you don’t need to apologize to anyone.”
Thomas pulled the shoes and stockings off the unconscious form. The woman was ghostly pale, but her lips were gaining some color. Her fingers, which he rubbed all the way back to the lightship, were frightfully cold, but frostbite hadn’t gained hold on her, or the boy either.
The boy emitted a weak moan and whispered, “Mummy,” but eased back into sleep.
When Thomas unbuttoned the woman’s heavy woolen coat, his lungs contracted. He covered his mouth and leaned forward, all the while trying not to retch. He’d broken the most sacred of unwritten nautical statutes when he, unwittingly, brought the woman’s cargo aboard.
“Burton, what is it?” The captain looked up briefly while he massaged the boy’s feet.
“Baby. It’s a baby,” Thomas whispered.
Captain Garvin rushed to his feet and walked to the other bed. He clutched his chest and said, “A corpse—on board ship? You know what this means. We’re doomed. Doomed.”
“Captain, surely you don’t believe in superstition.”
The captain ignored him. “I know I’m hardly a perfect man. I’ve sinned, I’ve been selfish, and I’ve not always been honest, but whatever did I do to deserve this? We’re doomed. This entire crew. This ship.”
Captain Garvin’s eyes darted from one side of the room to the other. He put his finger to his lips. “We cannot say a word. Not to anyone. Nothing. Do you understand?”
Thomas nodded. He touched the plump cheek of the baby. A girl. A small pink bow graced her pale gold hair, which was just long enough to start to curl on the ends. He closed the blue eyes and touched the perfect cherub mouth with his fingertip. Such grief this mother did not yet know.
“What will we do with her?” Captain Garvin paced across the short length of the room.
“Please, sir, we can’t just toss her overboard.”
“We have to. Superstition aside, we can’t keep her on board.”
“May I make a suggestion, sir?”
“By all means,” Captain answered quickly.
“I have a basket in my quarters, one large enough for the baby. Let me put her in it, and once the sun sets, I can lower her off the side. No one need see me. I’ll take care that the waves carry the child away from the ship.”
Captain stopped walking, swallowed hard, and said, “Go get the basket. Be quick. And, make certain a wave takes that body out to sea. Should it find a place under this ship, no amount of your praying will save us from the luck that will haunt this vessel.”
After he removed the mother’s sodden garments—with as much discretion and respect as he could offer under these conditions—and wrapped her in warm, dry blankets, Thomas lined his basket with a linen towel. Before he lowered his charge into her final earthly home, he clipped the lock of her hair held by the pink bow, unfastened the tiny bracelet gracing her wrist, and folded the remembrances into a piece of paper. As he folded the linen over the tiny form, he whispered, “I’m sorry, little one. May the angels watch over you until He comes to take you home.”