As I've said before, on Christmas Eve Eve I always remember our family's "Almost Christmas Stranger." And, in keeping with that, once again I'm going to post an excerpt from one of my newsletters about it--a re-re-post, if you will. The memory is especially strong this year, because the weather is much the same as it was the night she suddenly appeared on our doorstep. Dreary. Off and on rain. Such a long time ago, and I'm still wondering what happened to her.
(Oh, and the excerpt also includes my late sister-in-law's wonderful Lemon Fruit Cake recipe.)
Today -- since it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here -- I thought I'd post an excerpt from a past newsletter about a long ago, sort of Christmas Stranger incident and the person my mother and I always make a point to remember this time of year. I'm also going to re-share my late sister-in-law's recipe for lemon fruit cake. She made one every Christmas, and like all of her holiday baking, it was wonderful. (Don't let the words "fruit" and "cake" scare you.) But first, the excerpt:
"...She was my family's slightly early Christmas Stranger. She arrived on our doorstep on Christmas Eve eve many years ago, and my mother and I can no longer remember her name. It was cold and dark. My mother was sewing my angel robe for the Christmas pageant, and my little sister was a baby. The pounding on our front door was so abrupt and urgent that I was afraid for my father to open it, and even more afraid of the young girl who ducked under his arm and rushed inside when he did. She was barefoot -- and clearly in distress.
She lived in Charlotte, she was eventually able to say, and she was on her way to a party her father had forbidden her to attend, something she regretted even before the party-goers had become too drunk to drive and had lost control of the car they were in and ended up in a ditch. They managed to get the car out, but they had driven off and left her there in the dark.
She had no money. No way home. No shoes.My mother searched her closet to find some shoes for her -- gray suede penny loafers that were a couple of sizes too big. Getting her home was a little more difficult. We all piled into the car and took her to the bus station in nearby Salisbury. I remember how strange I felt, wearing my winter coat over my flannel, nursery-rhyme print nightgown.I didn't get to go to town at night very often, and at that time of year it was dazzling with Christmas lights, the kind you don't see anymore. Everything was so beautiful -- a real treat despite the strange young girl in the car who was still trying not to cry.
My father bought her a bus ticket to Charlotte -- which literally took all the money he had -- and he insisted that we would wait with her and make sure she got onto the bus all right. It seemed to take forever for the bus to arrive, but eventually it came. She got on it, and that was that. We never saw her again, never heard from her. But I always think of her this time of year and wonder what happened to her and whether she ever thinks of us in return...."
My son texted me this morning, asking if I'd find the odd rock he'd found in a creek near the house when he was a boy, take pictures of it and send them to him. Oh, sure. Why not? So I found the rock. I took the pictures. I sent them to him. And I thought I'd show them to you, while I was at it. All I know about it is that he found it in the creek, it has several flattened "facets" on the surface, it's not magnetic, and it's noticeably heavy for its size.
Like most people who were around when President Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was. I'd been in the operating room doing my student nurse thing since 6:45 that morning, scrubbed in and sterile, passing instruments, threading curved suture needles with cotton suture, suctioning,retracting, retracting, retracting some more. The muscles in my arms were still "trembly" from keeping the wound open wide enough for the surgeon to see whatever he needed to see. The smell of "surgery" was in my nose despite wearing a mask (yes, surgery has a smell), and I was walking back to the nurses residence, specifically to the ground floor classrooms for afternoon classes, so glad to be out in the fresh air, albeit briefly. When I opened the back door of the residence, the school secretary came running down the hallway toward me. Her hair was very long and oily and full of dandruff because she rarely, if ever, washed it. I remember thinking that it didn't fly out behind her as one might expect when a person is at a full run. And then she was saying the same four words. "The president's been shot! The president's been shot!." I have no memory of what happened after that, where I went or what I did. Were classes cancelled? I don't know. It's all blank now. I do know I went home for the weekend, because I was sitting on the arm of the couch in my mom's living room watching live television when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. (Why do we always refer to him by all three of his names, I wonder? Because of John Wilkes Booth?) And my next memory is of the funeral procession, everybody walking, a little boy saluting--which seemed so staged and out of place to me because he was only just three--and the drums, and the high strung skittish horse. Such a long time ago. The images fade from my mind, but not the emotion.
I keep forgetting that the DH's parents were the age of my grandparents--the DH was born when his mother was well into her 40s.
So I'm often taken aback when I find some of their old photos, like the one below. I told the DH that I'd found a picture of his dad when he was young and looking like one more mean motor scooter (slang for a "bad boy" when I was in high school.) (Yes, there were high schools back then--I didn't realize there was some question about that until one of the Grands asked me about it.)
ANYWAY. This is a photo of Raymond Lafayette Reavis in his youth, husband of Rose, father of Rachel Lucille, Gazelle, and Richard Wayne. He served in World War I (as did my grandfather). At one point, he became a policeman, and he was the only officer on the force who could (or perhaps would) go into the mill villages to keep the peace when All Heck broke loose on Saturday nights.
He worked the 3rd Watch, and when he got off work in the mornings, he often liked to put the older kids in the car and just drive to no place in particular, picking backroads at random just to see where they went. My late sister-in-law told me once that she loved doing this and was never worried about his getting them lost--unlike one of Raymond's brothers-in-law who had a really difficult time with the impromptu nature of one of these jaunts--his first and his last, I believe.
Raymond died young--when the DH was two--of complications from diabetes. The collar on his shirt makes me think that the photo might have been taken circa 1920s. In any event, it would appear that he's got his game face on. He looks like somebody who'd go fearlessly into the mill villages and settle things down, doesn't he?
Do you like prologues? I like prologues. I freely admit, though, that many times they are more for me than for the reader. They help me "anchor" my sometimes misty idea of how we got to where the book begins. (I have a hard time "springing from the Head of Zeus.") And this may be why I will have had difficulty getting prologues past editors.
In any event, the latest prologue to end up in the iMac "Trash" was this one from AN UNEXPECTED WIFE.
I was hoping you might like to read it. I'd also like to know what you think:
She kept her face
turned away from the other women in the room, her body trembling with
exhaustion and pain. The windows were open.A cool breeze from an approaching thunderstorm swept over
her, making the trembling worse. She could hear a murmur of voices—lilting
Italian voices—and occasional laughter coming from the gardens below as the
grounds keepers hurried to finish their work ahead of the storm. When she’d
first arrived, she’d thought this place was a church because of the manicured
lawns and the tall bell tower. And so it was—in a way. It had once been a
nunnery, a house of piety for the faithful as well as a refuge for the
ostracized and disappointed—women who had been forced to hide themselves away
and thus save their families from an otherwise unavoidable scandal.For all intents and purposes it was
She could see
flashes of lightning illuminating the room from time to time and hear the
ensuing rumble of thunder, but the thunder wasn’t loud enough yet. She
wanted—needed—it to be loud. She didn’t want to know what the women were doing,
didn’t want to hear the soft mewling cry of the child she had just borne. A
girl? A boy? She hadn’t asked, and no one was likely to tell her.
She didn’t know
where her mother had gone. She supposed that it was better for them both that
the midwife had banished her from the final ordeal of her only daughter’s accouchement.
What a poetic-sounding word for her situation, she thought. French. There
had been a time when she had loved studying the French language. She had worked
hard to learn and understand it, almost as hard as she had worked not to
understand the Italian spoken around her now. She was far too ashamed to wonder
what the attendants and servants said about her.
She closed her
eyes, trying not to think of the vast sum of money it must have cost her
father—and perhaps John’s as well—to send her here.She still didn’t know quite where she was despite the months
that had passed. Italy, of course. Pesaro. But was it the town or the province?
All she had been able to glean by eavesdropping on her parents’ conversations
was that the former nunnery was run by a woman of great means who had once
found herself in a similar situation and who now profited from the experience
by offering a discreet haven for wealthy young women until an ill-gotten child
could be born and conveniently removed from their otherwise impeccable lives.
She wondered how
her father had come to know about this place, just as she wondered if John even
knew she was here and if he had agreed to the plans made for their child. She
doubted it. Her family honor was more at stake than his. He would have had even
less influence regarding what was to be done than she had. It was likely that
he was back at school now, his life unchanged, while hers…
A tear slid from
beneath her tightly closed eyelids, and then another and another.
povera,” the midwife said, reaching out to touch her on the shoulder and
making her jump. She hadn’t realized the woman was so close. She turned her
head sharply to see the opposite corner of the room where the other women still
clustered, because she had understood the words despite her best efforts.
Poor little girl…
But nothing seemed
to be amiss among the other women, and she suddenly realized that the midwife
had meant her.
Poor little girl…
She began to cry in
earnest then, sobbing loudly despite all she could do.
The woman made no
effort to dissuade her from weeping. Instead, she brought towels, a basin, an
ewer of warm water and some herbal-scented soap to the bedside. Silently, she
began the long process of washing the ordeal of giving birth away, working
slowly and methodically, despite the tears and protests, until the job was done
and she had been forced to feel better whether she wanted to or not.
But the woman was
not done yet. She changed the linens on the bed and helped her into a fresh
white nightgown. Then, incredibly, she began to brush her long hair, humming
softly as she dragged the bristles through the tangled mass of curls and
ringlets that had once been a great source of pride despite her mother’s
admonitions against vanity.
“I wish I had
All the activity in
the room abruptly stopped. The words hung in the air; she couldn’t take them
back. She hid her face in her hands so that she wouldn’t have to look at the
woman who had taken such pains to give her comfort.
the woman said after a moment. “You are a mother now. God relies on mothers. He
may need your help someday.”
The woman abruptly
turned and said something to the other women in the room. None of them
responded. The command—if that’s what it was—was repeated, more firmly this
time. After moment, one of the women came and took away the basin and the dirty
linens. Another brought some pillows and helped her to sit up higher in the bed.
The woman who had
bathed her crossed to the other side of the room and returned with a tightly
“Now,” she said,
passing the bundle to her gently. “Hold your son while you can.”
As someone who has pretty much given up on going to an actual movie theater to see a movie, I really love having Amazon Prime. There is rarely anything at Tinsel Town I want to see (most of the movies are geared toward the 18 to 35 year old male demographic), and if I do go, the sound is too loud--I've literally watched a movie with my fingers in my ears-- and people insist on talking (Huh. Maybe THAT'S why the sound is so loud.) Anyway, I used to be a dedicated movie-goer. Started going when I was three just to see my beloved Roy Rogers. (sigh) But these days the aggravation cancels out any joy from the experience. So. Yesterday I cranked up the Prime and I re-watched THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). Faye Dunaway and Robert Redford at their most beautiful. Loved her hair and makeup. His wind-blown look wasn't half bad, either. I'd forgotten that the Christmas season was a subtle backdrop. There were no cell phones, of course, just Superman phone booths. Nurses were easily identifiable because they wore white uniforms AND caps, and some of it was filmed inside and around the World Trade Center. (Very sad to see that.) But the movie still held up. Why? Because of the then preposterous plot premise--which I had also forgotten--that some aspect of the US government wanted to invade the Middle East. Robert Redford's character, "Joe Turner," was shocked upon learning this. Me, this time around, not so much.
This is the result of a stroll around the yard, camera in hand. The sun is actually shining. Haven't seen much of that lately.
So look what I found:
A chestnut, of Mel Torme's The Christmas Song fame. You don't want to step on one of these unless you have on really sturdy shoes. I have no idea how a roasted chestnut would taste. I've never eaten one. I know the actual chestnut is hard to get to because of the spines on the outer covering, and if you're going to roast any, you'd better pierce them with something sharp or you'll be sorry. I also know that Native Americans showed starving Early American settlers how to use them for food. (They've probably had second thoughts about that.) And that's about it--except the DH planted the tree over my objections. Chestnut trees smell terrible when they bloom.
A brown mushroom. Make that a very LARGE brown mushroom. This thing is nearly the size of a dinner plate.
A double mushroom and a pecan. The squirrels have already started on the pecan tree, sampling to see if the pecans are ready and if they're not, throwing them down. This one is from the tree my late dad started from seed. It's always loaded, and the "load" disappears before we ever get any--mostly from all the "sampling."
A green mushroom and an acorn with its cap still on.
A red mushroom in a patch of sunlight.
You've heard of "bedroom eyes?" Well, these are "mushroom eyes." And on the high side of creepy. What are these things, anyway?
This concludes our tour of the Writer's Backyard."
My son took this photo when he was riding past the Rowan County Fairgrounds yesterday. I guess the moral here is take down the old sign before you put up a new one. Unless they actually will have a"Child & Sheep Exhibit" in September.
Do you know about found moments? They are the small incidents that occur in your daily life just for you to appreciate--or ponder. Like a big truck driver parked in the shade in the K-Mart parking lot, eating his lunch and feeding the birds out his window. Or the young boy busing the outside tables at Starbuck's, wearing his headphones and dancing up a storm like nobody was watching while he did it. Or the lone young man dressed in black, standing in the pouring rain in front of Chick-fil-A, holding up a wilted sheet of paper with rainbow stripes on it to the passing traffic--few of whom, I'm sure, had any idea what the rainbow meant.
You have to pay attention, though, or you'll miss these moments. With writers, it can go either way. Sometimes we're like walking sponges, and we soak up everything going on around us. Sometimes we're too far in the writing "zone" to notice anybody or anything.
But the other day I was paying attention, and here's what happened:
When I was in Dollar General, my home away from home (DH says if I didn't show up there every day, the DG people would call the house wanting to know what happened to me.) ANYWAY, there was a young guy in the store with a little girl who looked to be about six, and they were on a "merchandise tour." Sort of like "window shopping," as it were, only from the inside. They probably weren't buying much, but just looking at different things around the store--things the little girl wanted to show him and talk about, and vise versa. As far as I could tell, the little girl never asked if she could have this or that, but she was clearly enjoying herself, and I think he was, too. At one point, I was on the other side of the aisle of shelving where they were. I couldn't see what they were looking at and I didn't hear what the little girl said. But I heard him. He said, "Sure you can! Don't you ever let anybody tell you you can't do something because you're a girl." I rather liked that.
All of these were rooted from Mamaw Rose's (DH's late Mom's) antique rose bushes.
They are apparently very hardy because they look like this with no help from the likes of me.
In the background in this photo, is The "Butchie" Memorial Dog House. I'm not allowed to get rid of it--which I don't mind. He was a sweet old dog--if somewhat goofy, and even though he crossed over the Rainbow Bridge decades ago, I still expect to see him out here--digging holes. He always worked very hard to get his front yard looking like a moonscape. He would bark "up" at snow and "down" only at trucks. Maybe I should call this corner of the yard The "Butchie" Memorial Rose Garden.
I've been picking violets from the "violet patch" in the backyard. There are three kinds growing there: a yellow-white violet that apparently came in a bucket of peonies that were transplanted from the DH's late aunt's yard, the standard "violets are blue" violets--which are actually purple--and the ones in the photograph.
This purple and white variety is my favorite because they remind me of the locket my dad gave my mom when they were courting. It was during the War (WW II, that would be). He was stationed at Fort Bragg, and I think he bought it at a jewelry store in Albemarle when he was thumbing his way from Fayetteville to Rockwell to see her. It was gold and mother-of-pearl, and on the mother-of-pearl was a three-dimensional enamel violet with an amethyst in the center. The violet looked like one of these--and almost as real.
When I was a little girl, I used to beg her to let me see it, and she'd stop what she was doing and get the red velvet box just so I could admire it. I actually wore it once--when I was fourteen. I can't quite recall the occasion--something to do with school--but I remember the thrill of actually having the locket on.
Can you imagine what it looked like? It was truly a unique and beautiful piece of jewelry. In all these years, I've never seen another one like it.
The sad part is that the locket is now lost and gone forever, but every time these violets bloom, I remember...
I seriously wanted to be Annette way back in the olden golden Mousketeer Days, even though I couldn't do ANY of the stuff she did. (She danced on her TOES, people.) I loved the Mickey Mouse Club "dramas" she was in, like "Spin and Marty" and especially the one where she was an orphaned bumpkin who went to live with her well-off relatives in the city. I couldn't wait for the next episode.
RIP, Annette. When you and I were young, you made this little girl very happy.
The Kindle version of PROMISE ME A RAINBOW is available on Amazon today (April 2, 2013) at a special price (1.99). It was an Romance Writers of America RITA® finalist, and it received a good review from Publishers Weekly. It is, according to PW, "...eminently satisfying, delicately crafted romantic fiction..." Above all, it is a love story.
If you don't have a Kindle, you can still read the book by downloading a free Kindle app which will make the book available on your computer or your mobile device. The download link is on the right side of the PROMISE ME A RAINBOW page on Amazon.
Yesterday morning, I got "the call"--writer Lori Handeland telling me on behalf of the Romance Writers of America that my August 2012 Love Inspired Historical, THE SOLDIER'S WIFE, is a finalist for the 2013 RITA® award for Best Inspirational Romance. In case you're wondering, in the romance genre, this is a big deal. It's both a validating credential and it's a nerve-wracking process. I can say this with certainty because it's the eighth time I've been a finalist. (Won four times, lost three. I have to say I like winning better.) The award ceremony is in July at the RWA National Convention in Atlanta.
THEN, while I was still dazed from the finalist news, my editor at Harlequin advised me that Thorndyke had selected my book, THE MUSIC BOX, for large print publication. This is excellent news, too.
THEN, it was "Wait--what?" one more time. My other editor at my other publisher, BelleBooks, advised me that Amazon had selected my book, PROMISE ME A RAINBOW, for a special promo. (I know.)
All in all, Tuesday was Quite. A. Day.
Wednesday wasn't half bad, either. Wednesday afternoon I got flowers from Spencerhill, the agency that represents me in the fierce publishing world. (I said the RITA® thing is a big deal.) Aren't they pretty? A mixed spring bouquet--absolutely my most favorite flowers, especially this time of year.
So. That's the all the news at the moment. Till next time...
Here is the cover for my upcoming Love Inspired Historical, AN UNEXPECTED WIFE. Release Date: July, 2013
And here is an excerpt:
"Come walk with me," he said. "I don't think that's a good idea--" "Don't worry. We have more things to discuss than my willingness to die for you. Or live for you. Whichever you happen to need." He was teasing her, and she couldn't help but smile. "I never know what you're going to say." "Neither do I," he said.
This is my very first romance novel. It was written for the Berkley SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE line. It's been available as an ebook, but I've just had it spiffed up with a new cover. I had a pen name then--"Cinda Richards." The Berkley editor asked me to pick something that had the same initials as my real name, hopefully to cut down on any interoffice confusion. I chose "Richards" because both the DH and the #1 And Only son are named "Richard." Clever, huh? And "Cinda"--well that was because I needed a name that began with a C and because I had read enough baby naming books to know that one's name is supposedly more melodious if hard-sounding consonants--like Rs--aren't in both the first and the last name. "Cinda Richards" would--according to the naming guidelines--sound MUCH better than...say...Cheryl Reavis. So "Cinda Richards" it was, and I stayed "Cinda Richards" for four subsequent category books and a single title.
Then came the Name War.
The SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE line was suddenly discontinued, and I was hoping to be "Cinda Richards" when I moved over to my new publisher, Harlequin and take my SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE readers with me. But there was quite a squabble between the two publishing houses--Berkley and Harlequin--because I had a single-title about to come out for Berkley. Harlequin wanted the already established "Cinda Richards" name, but Berkley said absolutely, positively not.
So, my first Harlequin, actually for their imprint, Silhouette Special Edition, andtitled A CRIME OF THE HEART, came out under my real name. Shortly thereafter, that book was condensed in Good Housekeeping magazine. I was supposed to be "Cinda Richards" for the Berkley single-title book, but then I learned I wouldn't be "Cinda Richards" for the single title book--because Berkley had done an about face and decided to use "Cheryl Reavis" in light of the Good Housekeeping thing. (If you're confused, imagine how I felt. It seemed as if every other day, somebody was calling me and telling me who my writer persona would or wouldn't be. Ultimately I became the real me and I've stayed the real me ever since.)
But I digress.
I've been thinking about how I felt back then--when my very first romance novel came out. Excited. Still not quite believing it had actually happened. I was a paperback writer--aromance paperback writer of all things (never saw THAT coming)--and something I had written was about to be available EVERYWHERE.
I wasn't happy about every aspect of it, though. There was the title, for one thing. I had zero-nothing to do with the title, and WHY the Powers That Be wanted to saddle my lovely romance novel with the same title as an F. Scott Fitzgerald literary masterpiece, I do not know. I came from the "literary crowd," and I could easily imagine the thunderous click of elitist eyebrows flying upward all over creation. And then, was there some kind of cosmic synchronicity to the fact that FSF and I have the same birthday? Unsettling, is what it was.
My THIS SIDE OF PARADISE was released the same week the DH went to Texas on a business trip. While he was there, at some point, he managed to get to a B. Dalton's (remember those?), specifically to see if he could find it. He did. And when he was checking out, the clerk told him she'd read it and liked it a lot--so he made her "autograph" the book, writing down what she'd just told him. I still have it, and it still makes me smile.
Now. Just in case you're interested in the THIS SIDE OF PARADISE that wasn't written by F. Scott Fitsgerald:
Well, the film crew is still here working on the pilot for a modern day version of "Sleepy Hollow"--which is great for the restaurant and motel economy. I managed to get by to see the fake cemetery in St. Luke's churchyard today. St. Luke's is also in my upcoming Love Inspired Historical, AN UNEXPECTED WIFE, only my version is in words instead of video.
And the JC Penney store is closing. I remember going to JC Penney when I was a little girl and watching the money-holders going flying across the store on a wire up to the office balcony where you paid for whatever you bought, and then waiting for the change to come flying back again. Fascinating. (Yes, all right. I'm not a spring chicken.) Anyway, I like JC Penney. Make that "liked" JC Penney. We came to a parting of the ways recently after they went "boutique" and started trying to appeal to the 20-somethings who were six feet tall and weighed a hundred pounds.
Finally, I absolutely loved Kellie Pickler's debut on DWTS. That little girl can dance. She was every bit as good as the professionals, and I kept thinking what a long way she's come from one of Sonic's rollerskating carhops to country music star to DWTS--and she's still a sweetie pie. If they ever make a TV movie out of my THE LONG WAY HOME, she'd make a great "Rita," who is as Southern as they come and who loved to dance.