Thank you so much for visiting us today here at the CCC blog! Can you tell us about your latest release and what inspired you to write the story?
My pleasure! My latest release is “Last Chance Christmas,” part of Gilead Publishing’s Cowboy Christmas Homecoming historical collection that includes novellas by Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, and Anna Schmidt. Think cozy Christmas tales on the prairie with hunky cowboys! ;)
My inspiration for “Last Chance Christmas” is a bit of a rabbit trail, I’m afraid, but it begins with one word: Bonanza. Yep, I’m talking about the Western TV show that aired fom1959 to 1973 set in 1800s Virginia City, Nevada with Pa, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. You guys and most of your younger readers may have never heard of it, but it was a very popular TV series at the time that had a huge impact on me as a little girl. So much so that I decided to write a historical trilogy set in Virginia City, Nevada during the same time period, and my novella, “Last Chance Christmas,” is a spin-off from this Western series. It’s about a klutzy saloon girl who flees Virginia City for one last chance at happiness in Last Chance, California (a real place back then), promptly turning a widowed pastor’s family—and his life—upside down.
Here are the blurbs for each of the novellas in the collection, beginning with “Last Chance Christmas”:
Accidents Happen and Then There’s Grace …
Pastor Cole McCabe isn’t sure he’ll survive the holidays with his new housekeeper and nanny, ex-saloon girl Grace O'Malley. She’s dyed his long johns pink, taught his daughters poker, and scorched both his food and his kitchen—pert near torching his home. But he’s desperate, and she’s as destitute as they come.
Though she’s no good with her hands, Grace sure has a way with her heart. She’s brought a warmth into Cole’s house, added color to his daughters’ lives, and broken down the wall he’s built up since his beloved wife died. When Grace’s past threatens his family, they have one last chance to celebrate Christmas together at home . . . if Grace hasn’t burned it down by then.
Glad Tidings, Hearts Binding.
“A Cowboy for Christmas” by Ruth Logan Herne:
They’ve weathered a lot worse than winter. For widow June Harper, another cold front is about to hit. Most call him Hugh. She’d call him Scrooge, except as the man ensures her needs are met, June can’t help but wonder how to meet the needs of his heart.
“Longhorn Christmas” by Mary Connealy:
Netty Lewis can take care of herself, has for a while now. Some hired help over the holidays doesn’t change that. And even if Roy does take care of her, that doesn’t mean he cares for her or that he’ll stay past Christmas.
“Connie’s Christmas Prayer” by Anna Schmidt:
And no one longs for a home more than Connie Lancaster. She’s determined to return to St. Louis, and no cowboy can change her mind. But if Isaac can change her heart, maybe Connie will see the homecoming she’s been waiting for isn’t to a place but a person.
Of all your characters in this story, which one did you enjoy writing the most and why?
Oh, without question, my heroine, Grace O’Malley, because she’s such a dichotomy—an accident-prone saloon girl with a tainted past who becomes the temporary housekeeper/cook for a widowed pastor and his four daughters. The woman can sing, dance, play poker, and musical instruments, but she’s a disaster as a housekeeper, scorching food, clothing, and almost the house. But what Grace lacks in homemaking skills, she more than makes up for in love, laughter, and lessons of what’s truly important—both in life and in celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.
Can you tell us about a scene that you wrote and eventually deleted? It’s always fun to know of the little details that didn’t make the cut J
Well … not a deleted scene, per se, but deleted kisses. You see, my tagline is “Passion with a Purpose,” and in some circles I’ve been known as “The Kissing Queen,” so I just assumed I could write love scenes the way I usually do—with a wee bit more passion than the norm in the CBA. But due to the sweet Christmas nature of CCH, new guidelines were implemented after I wrote my novella, which stated no kisses between unmarried couples. YIKES! So I had to cut a lot of the romantic scenes to reflect that, which was, needless to say, somewhat painful for this author to do ;)
What made you pick these specific names of your main two characters?
Well, Grace was easy because the original title of my novel was “The Gift of Grace,” which had double symbolism for me: the gift of Grace O’Malley to a family that desperately needed her laughter and love, and then, of course, the gift of God’s grace in sending His Son to the world.
Pastor Cole McCabe was originally supposed to be Joshua McCabe because I thought Joshua sounded like a preacher’s name. But because of a story twist at the end of the novella, I decided to change it accordingly, so he became Cole McCabe, something that our brilliant Gilead copywriters—Katelyn Bolds and Nichole Parks—had a lot of fun with in teasers like: Grace has been good all year, but she’s still getting Cole for Christmas.
Moving on from your story, tell us a little about yourself. We’ll help! What’s your least favorite household chore and why?
Oh, wow, GROCERY SHOPPING! But then, I pretty much hate shopping of any kind, so my sweet, amazing hubs handles all that for me. Much safer that way—for everyone!
What are your hobbies outside of writing?
Dinners with friends, movies, and READING!
Fall is upon us, and full of events. What is a special holiday tradition you celebrate with your family?
One of our favorite Christmas traditions over the years from the time my hubby and I started dating was to go to a movie matinee on Christmas Eve. Once the babies came, however, we had to forego until the kids were older. But then we picked right up again despite the challenge of finding a decent movie we all could enjoy.
We talk a lot about faith and how it weaves throughout our fiction, here at the blog. How has your faith affected/or not affected your writing?
Well, let’s put it this way, without God, there would be no books—period. God is not only my reason to write, He is my inspiration, my motivation, my confidence, and my talent. Like Michael W. Smith sings in his incredible song, “Breathe,” God is “the air I breathe.” I love romance, make no mistake, but without God in the middle, it is flat, empty, and pointless. So I guess you could say that although I write books heavily laced with romantic passion, they are also intensely spiritually passionate as well, with God always firmly anchored in the middle.
To be honest, my debut book A Passion Most Pure was my love letter to God, and my agent said there weren’t many books like it in the Christian market at that time. She said that with most Christian fiction, you might have a church scene or a salvation scene and the characters might pray and attend church, but with my books, “God is an actual character” who permeates the book. And I would have to say that’s true. Without Him, there would be no passion to motivate me because without Him, romance is empty and unsatisfying. But WITH Him at the center, WOW, everything heats up—my marriage, my job, my writing! He makes it all worthwhile and oh, so exciting!
So, how has my faith affected my writing? It has allowed me to take my passion for God and put it into stories that hopefully will convey how natural and fulfilling an intimate relationship with God can and SHOULD be. Like breathing. My books may be fiction, but this is NOT a fairy tale here. It is possible to have a living, breathing relationship with the living, breathing God of the Universe. So when I got the following e-mail from a precious woman who had read A Passion Most Pure, I was brought to tears. She wrote:
“I just wanted to write to let you know that in all my life, I've never before read a book that has inspired me to change my life as much as this one has! The desire to turn my life over to God has never been this strong. Thank you for making such a strong impact on both me and my family!”
Sigh. Trust me—for a Christian author, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Tell us a little about a day in the life of you?
HA! It’s WAY less interesting than my books, I assure you! I usually get up at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m., suck down hazelnut coffee while I watch a bit of news with my hubby and plow through email. Next, it’s oatmeal with walnuts and bananas (new kick due to higher cholesterol at last physical) while reading Seeker blog (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/). We live on a lake, so if weather is nice, I sit/talk/pray on the dock with hubby prior to tackling the treadmill with prayer/worship followed by Bible/devotional time. After that, I finish e-mails, blog/FB comments, and minor household chores before I dive into writing till dinnertime. The day rounds out with an evening Hallmark movie, Person of Interest, or Bluebloods. See? Boring! Which is why I have to put all that angst and drama in my books, right?
We have a bit of a war going on here at the CCC blog. Anne and Jaime LOVE coffee and Erica and Gabriella enjoy a joyful cup of tea. What is your preference? Help us break this tie…
LOL … don’t count on me to be the tiebreaker because I wake up with coffee, switch to iced tea all day till late afternoon when I treat myself to a K-cup flavored decaf. ;)
And a few fun and quirky questions always reveal of lot from our authors who visit. So, first, if you were to take a boat down the Amazon river, what would you be most interested in seeing?
Parrots, macaws, and other colored birds.
If you had a choice of living in any era other than the present, what would you choose and why?
Jerusalem during Jesus’ ministry, especially on the day that Jesus died because if His death has radically changed my life for the better through mere faith, I can’t even imagine the impact of seeing Him carry that cross for me in person.
We’d love you have you share a snippet from your novel to entice us and hook us! J Please share something below:
Okay, this is a scene where the family learns that although Grace is a disaster in the kitchen, she excels in music as she sings and plays the harmonica for them after dinner.
“How ’bout we liven things up?” The children’s cheers launched her into a lively rendition of Old Susanna that had everyone singing along, except for baby Abby, who dozed on her daddy’s lap.
“Daddy, dance with me!” Sarah shouted, tugging on his arm.
Lumbering to his feet, he put a finger to his lips and carried the baby to bed, quietly closing the door behind. He returned to spin Sarah around and around, unleashing a cascade of giggles as Grace finished the song.
“My turn, my turn!” Becca shouted, jumping up and down like Grace had fed her Mexican jumping beans for dinner. Cole whirled her to another tune, his laughter rich and low as it rumbled through the parlor, causing an odd flutter in Grace’s stomach. When he put her back down, Becca staggered to and fro, dizzy and whooping like a drunken cowboy.
But when Ruthy scampered off Millie’s lap and held hands up to her daddy, Grace’s heart turned over. A slow, easy grin slid across his handsome face, and the strait-laced preacher gave way to a man wild and free. Dark curls askew and a shadow of beard that lent a rakish air, he scooped Ruthy up with a snuggle growl to her neck, eliciting a rare squeal of delight from the little girl who seldom smiled.
“Daddy, can you dance with us like we’re ladies?” Sarah asked when he and Ruthy sat back down. “You know, like they do at the town social?”
“Uh . . .” He cuffed the back of his neck. “I . . . don’t really know how to dance like that.”
Grace glanced up, jaw dangling. “What? Didn’t you dance at your own wedding?”
“Humph. Not well,” Aunt Millie volunteered, smile flat as her knitting needles clicked away. “Poor Eileen limped for a week.”
A ruddy blush validated his aunt’s jibe. “I’m afraid she’s right, so perhaps it’s best to limit my dancing to just spinning you girls around.”
“Horse feathers!” Grace laid the harmonica aside and extended her hand, ignoring the stunned look on his face.
“W-What are you d-doing?” he stammered.
“Teaching you and your daughters to dance, Pastor McCabe,” she said with an impish smile, too caught up in the tease to consider the close proximity they’d share.
He was shaking his head before she finished her sentence. “Oh, no, I’m afraid some things are better left undone.”
“Daddy, please?” The older girls begged in unison while Sarah heaved Ruthy off his lap.
Grace bit back a grin when Becca yanked on his hand without mercy, tugging him up to do her bidding like he was Sassafras at the end of a rope.
“Ten minutes,” he threatened, jaw clamped despite a tight smile. “And then it’s time for bed, understood?”
Their squeals rose to the rafters as Grace stood in front of Cole, hesitating with a sprint of her pulse she hadn’t expected. Swallowing hard, she peered up beneath half-lidded lashes, suddenly overwhelmed by his height. Barely coming to his shoulders, she gave him a shaky smile, certain she’d get a crick in her neck.
“All right, girls,” she said, voice annoyingly breathless as she took Cole’s hands in hers, “the boy positions one hand on the girl’s shoulder blade like this, then holds her other at eye level like this.” She forced a bright smile, the touch of Cole’s work-roughened hands causing her stomach to churn. Heart thumping, she guided him through each step, her gaze fused to his feet to avoid the intensity of those piercing gray eyes. “It’s basically a box pattern to a count of three,” she explained, counting loudly to drown out the ruckus in her tummy. “One-two-three, one-two-three. . .” She peeked up with a shy smile. “See? Not too hard, right?”
“Till I step on your toes,” he said with a shuttered gaze, his husky tease almost buckling her knees.
“Which,” she said, jerking away with a flash of heat, “is why you will now practice with the girls while I provide the music.”
“Coward,” he said softly, as if for her ears alone, the glint in his eyes almost roguish as he swept Sarah into his arms, leaving Grace trembling as she began to play.
“All right, girls,” he said when he’d danced with them all, “it’s time for bed.”
“But I’m too excited to sleep!” Sarah said with a pout.
“Just one more song, please?” Becca’s face puckered in a plea.
Grace met Cole’s gaze with a tug of her lip. “A lullaby might help them sleep,” she suggested meekly.
He pinned her with a probing gaze that tumbled her stomach, his sobriety barely tempered by a shadow of a smile. “One. Last. Song.” He emphasized each word before reclaiming his rocker.
Closing her eyes, Grace began to play Amazing Grace, grateful for the one hymn that never failed to soothe her spirit. And she needed soothing right now—desperately. Like the girls, she was too keyed up to sleep, but for entirely different reasons. What in heaven’s name had she been thinking, attempting to teach Cole to dance? One touch of his hand, one look into his eyes, had stirred such turmoil within she feared their comfortable friendship would never be the same. Even now her heart drummed out a traitorous beat despite the sweet and soulful sound of her favorite hymn, painfully aware he was watching, mere feet away.
When her hands began to quiver, she lowered the harmonica to sing, only to stutter on the lyrics. She felt her face flame and unbidden, her lashes lifted, gaze colliding with his. The connection lingered with such intensity, the very air seemed to crackle and hum. Cheeks ablaze, she swiftly looked away, terrified he’d sense the unsettled feelings that had taken her by surprise. Dangerous, impossible feelings, unwanted, and most certainly uninvited. Feelings that at that exact moment made her want to flee both this house and the unexpected attraction that now burned in her soul.
The plan had been for her to stay past Thanksgiving, only two weeks away, when Millie could take over again. But because of her own ineptitude with the fire, Millie’s recovery was now slated for mid-December, and Grace only hoped she could bear it till then. Another month of his easy smiles, his teasing laughter, and his tenderness toward a family who adored him and deserved so much more than she could ever give. And something she could never have. She gripped the harmonica in her lap.
Lord, help me! What am I going to do?
And then the answer came so softly, simple and pure in the lyrics she sang, imparting a tender peace to her soul.
The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, as long as life endures.
Tears stung as hope sprang anew. Because of His amazing Grace.
And, oh . . . how sweet the sound!
Jaime, Anne, Erica, & Gabrielle—thank you SO much for hosting me on your blog—it’s been fun! I love to hear from readers, so they can find and contact me at www.julielessman.com, or through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or Pinterest or by signing up for my newsletter or my Journal Jots blog. I am also part of a group blog called Seekerville that inspires, encourages, teaches, and informs aspiring writers on the road to publication and beyond. Although Seekerville has been listed on Writers Digest 2013, 2014, and 2015 “Best 101 Websites for Writers,” it is also a blog devoted to readers as well. Oh, and readers can also check out my favorite romantic and spiritual scenes from each of my books on the “Excerpts” tab of my website.
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