Tuesday, November 29, 2011

with Melanie Dickerson

Welcome to the Barn Door Book Loft, Melanie!
Is there a story behind this book?

After I finished writing The Healer’s Apprentice, I knew I wanted to write more medieval romances based on fairy tales, and since my favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast, it was a natural choice. I saw the story as having an English, gothic feel. I liked the idea of setting the story in a rural village in England, which seemed a good place to explore the great themes of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Historical romance is my preferred genre, but I also read some literary fiction. I love the classics, and my favorite books are all of Jane Austen’s novels and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Among contemporary authors, I love Mary Connealy’s cowboy romances, and I love Julie Lessman’s family dramas, Ruth Axtell Morren’s British-set romances, and Linore Rose Burkard’s Regencies.

Is there a fun fact about your book or the process of writing it that people might find interesting?
When I was writing The Merchant’s Daughter, I was trying to get The Healer’s Apprentice published. Nobody was interested in a Medieval, nor were they interested in a YA romance or fairy tale retellings. So about halfway through The Merchant’s Daughter, I decided to stop writing it and write something completely different—a romantic comedy, something lighthearted and fun. But when I started my romantic comedy, I got terrible writer’s block for the first time in my life and couldn’t write past the first few pages. I finally decided it must be because I was supposed to finish The Merchant’s Daughter first, so I went back and finished it. The Healer’s Apprentice found a publisher a year and a half later, so I went back and revised The Merchant’s Daughter and turned it in to my editor, and my publisher accepted it as well.

What's your favorite meal with family and friends?
My white chicken chili once won first place in a cook-off. Here is the recipe:

White Chicken Chili

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 med. Onion, minced
1 4-oz. cans mild green chilies
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cumin
2 cans great northern beans, or navy beans
1 14 oz can chicken broth
1 ½ cups chopped cooked chicken breast
8 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

In a large skillet, cook onion in oil for 4 min. or until transparent. Add chilies, flour and cumin; cook and stir for 2 min. Add beans and chicken broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 min or until thickened. Add chicken; cook until hot. Turn off heat. Add shredded cheese and stir until melted.

It’s good for taking to a sick friend, since it isn’t very spicy.

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
This is also a hard question. At different times in my life, different verses have meant a lot to me. I held on to a lot of Hope Scriptures when I was trying to get published and getting rejection after rejection. I printed out Julie Lessman’s list, which is on her website here: www.JulieLessman.com/from-the-heart and I used to read them often. Here is one: Romans 15:12-14 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And I like this one: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
The Merchant’s Daughter releases officially on November 18th, and it is a Beauty and the Beast story set in Medieval England. Here is a blurb:

An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice.

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf’s bailiff—a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past. Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff’s vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf’s future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

And here is the review of The Merchant's Daughter I promised:
As I read The Merchant's Daughter, I was drawn into Annabel's life. I could not put the book down, even though my grandparents, whom we get to see twice a year, were visiting. I spent from mid-morning to mid-afternoon reading it because it was SO good.

When I turned the last page and closed the book, I was, literally, wishing it didn't end. I wanted to keep reading and feeling like I was right there beside Annabel and Lord Ranulf. I wanted to know what happened next in their lives.

Readers of all ages will enjoy this wonderful story set in 1352, England. It's not just a book teens will enjoy, but one adults will too. And guys, this is a book you'd probably enjoy too!

You can purchase The Merchant's Daughter from Amazon.

Melanie is giving away a copy of The Merchant's Daughter. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Melanie Dickerson's The Merchant's Daughter

Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer’s Apprentice, a Christy Award finalist and winner of The National Reader’s Choice Award for Best First Book.

Melanie earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama and is a former teacher and a missionary. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Huntsville, Alabama.

You can find Melanie online at

The Merchant's Daughter

An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice.

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf's bailiff---a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past. Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff's vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

Here's an excerpt of The Merchant's Daughter:

August 1352, Glynval, England.

Annabel sat in the kitchen shelling peas into a kettle at her feet. A bead of sweat tickled her hairline while only the barest puff of warm air came through the open door.


Her brother called from the main house. As she hurried to finish shelling the pea pod in her hand and see what Edward wanted, the pot over the fire began to boil over. She jumped up, banging her shin on the iron kettle on the floor.

Snatching a cloth from the table, she used it to pull the boiling pot toward her and away from the fire. But as the pot swung forward on its hook, the cloth slipped and her thumb touched the lid. She jerked back. Spying the bucket of water she had used to wash the peas, she plunged her hand into it.

“Annabel!” Edward yelled again.

He thinks he doesn’t have to help with the work, but I should abandon my task and come running whenever he calls.

She blew on her burning thumb as she hurried from the kitchen.

Edward stood propped against the wall in the spacious front room of their stone house, scraping under his fingernails with a sharp stick. When he lifted his head, his green eyes fixed her with a hard look. “Mother was summoned this morning to appear before the hallmote.”

“I know that.” The manorial court, or hallmote, was being held today, and a jury of twelve men from their village of Glynval would decide the penalty for her family’s neglect of their duties.

“The new lord is coming to Glynval. Even if the hallmote is lenient, I’ve heard he is far from forgiving. What will happen to us? To you?” He thrust the stick at her face.

Annabel bit back annoyance at her brother’s derisive tone. For the past three years he had stood by, just like the rest of her family, refusing to do any of their required work in the fields, putting them all in this situation.

“I’ve decided to help with the harvest this year.” She crossed her arms as her brother moved closer to her. “We should all help.”

“Do you want to end up sleeping in ditches and begging bread? Help with the harvest? It’s too late to start doing your share now, little sister.” He flung the words at her, jabbing his stick in her direction with each phrase. “If you are wise, you will try to think whose bread you need to butter to see that you have a home after today.”

Annabel’s back stiffened, and she prepared for whatever offensive thing her brother would say next.

“We have to fend for ourselves. You’re seventeen years old now and well beyond the age of accountability. Maybe you know of someone who might marry you. Do you?”

“Nay, I do not.” She glared back at him, wishing she could think of a scathing retort.

He began rolling the stick between his fingers, smirking at it. “But there is someone. Someone who is prepared to smooth over our trouble with the new lord and pay the fines so we don’t have to work in our lord’s fields.”

Her brother wasn’t concerned about her, she knew — he wanted to solve his own troubles by throwing her to the wolves. But which wolf was he planning on throwing her to?

A pleased smile spread over Edward’s thin lips. “I am speaking of Bailiff Tom.”

Bailiff Tom? “He’s as old as Father!” Annabel’s face burned at the notion. She tried to think of some dignified reply, but the words tumbled out. “If you think . . . for one moment that I — ” She clenched her jaw to stop herself.

“He has been widowed these three years. Surely you’ve seen him look at you with the eye of one who is looking for a wife.”

She had seen the bailiff once or twice with a lecherous sneer on his pinched face — and been thoroughly disgusted that a friend of her father’s would stare at her that way. Marry Bailiff Tom? She would rather sleep in a ditch.

“You will marry him, because there’s no other way.” Edward leaned over her, his eyes cold and dark. “Besides, where will you get a better offer of marriage than from the bailiff?”

“I won’t marry him.” Annabel spoke through clenched teeth. “If Father were still alive, he’d never force me to marry Bailiff Tom.”

Her brother turned his attention back to cleaning his nails. “I’m afraid you don’t have a choice. I’ve already told the bailiff yes.”

Heat climbed up her neck and burned her cheeks. How dare you?

“Don’t look at me like that, dear sister. I had no choice. The new lord arrived in Glynval last night, and the reeve came this morning when you were out picking peas, summoning Mother to come to the manor house. Something had to be done to help our poor family.” He gave her a simpering grin. “Oh, I nearly forgot. Mother wants you to go to the village, to the butcher, and get us a goose for dinner.” Her brother raised his brows in challenge.

She glared at him then lifted her nose in the air, as if her life weren’t teetering on the edge of a cliff. At least this errand would get her away from Edward and give her time to think. Snatching the piece of delicate white linen from a wooden peg by the door, she wrapped it around her head, securing all loose hair away from her face, and tied it at the nape of her neck. She jerked the door open and flung it closed behind her.

The pain in her thumb drew her notice to the new red blister. She blew on it as she started down the lane toward Glynval and William Wagge’s butcher shop.

Spending the last of their money on a goose on the day their fate was being decided by a jury of their fellow villagers. Pathetic.

They would be penniless outcasts tomorrow if Mother couldn’t persuade the jury to have mercy on them. But could they truly hope for leniency from a village that resented them for not doing their share of the work?

Her family did not deserve mercy. Father had been a wealthy merchant, fully able to pay the censum so that his wife and children did not have to do the lord’s required fieldwork during harvest and at other times of labor shortage. But they were left destitute when his ships were destroyed in a storm, and shortly after that, he died in the pestilence. Even as the family of a freeman, due to their inability to pay the censum, they were now required to perform some of the same duties and work as the villeins. But her mother had insisted her health was poor and she was unable to work, and in her typical manner, she also announced her children should not have to do such menial work as harvesting grain.

For three years her family shirked their duties and went unpunished, kept safe by the old lord’s corrupt steward, who managed to postpone their fines.

But with the new lord arriving, Annabel had a feeling her family’s comeuppance was due in full. Bailiff Tom’s offer was proof enough. The bailiff, an old family friend, was using their lapse to his advantage, holding their predicament over them to force Annabel to marry him.

She shuddered.

The path to Glynval was empty, and Annabel realized most of the adults of the village would be at the hallmote to watch and see how each case played out, who won their complaint against whom, and what the ale brewers’ fines would be. She usually stayed away from the proceedings, but today she would go to see how her family fared with the twelve jurors. Whatever the jurors assessed, whatever the fine or punishment, it would be supported and upheld not only by the lord’s steward but also by the assembled villagers.

Lost in her thoughts, Annabel was surprised to see a form emerge from the shadow of the trees around the bend in the road. The figure progressed haltingly toward her, his right hip twisting at an abnormal angle with each step he took. Stephen Blundel.

She smiled at her friend. Having grown up with her, Stephen was more like a brother to her than her own blood brothers were. Stephen lifted his hand and waved.

At that moment, seven ragged, barefoot boys crept out from the trees and surrounded him. The malicious looks on their faces made her heart thump in her throat. Stephen neither flinched nor altered his pace, as though he did not see them.

With a flick of his wrist, the tallest boy sent a small stone flying. Then they all hurled rocks at Stephen, shouting ugly names at him. Dragging his foot along the ground and snickering, one of them mimicked Stephen’s crooked stride.

Annabel tried to read Stephen’s expression, but he stared straight ahead, his jaw set.

Frustration with the morning’s events surged through her. “Get away!” she screamed at the boys. She bent and dug her fingers into the dirt as she snatched up some rocks of her own. “You leave him alone or I’ll — !” She drew back her fist full of rocks and aimed them at the largest boy, the leader.

The boys scattered and halted a few feet away then formed a circle around her.

Turning on her heel, she tried to face them all at once and pin them down with her glare. They were younger than her, but some of the boys were tall enough to look Annabel in the eyes.

She checked over her shoulder. Stephen’s awkward gait had taken him far down the road, but he stopped and turned around. He frowned, probably waiting to see if she would need his help, and perhaps a little embarrassed that she had defended him.

The young ruffians began laughing and sneering at her.

“Trying to hurt someone who’d never hurt you,” Annabel accused. “For shame.”

The tallest boy crossed his arms, his tattered sleeves flapping. His bare legs were brown with filth. “My mother says you won’t be so high and holy, Annabel Chapman, now that our lord is here. Woe to the Chapmans.” The rest of the boys took up the chant. “Woe to the Chapmans. Woe to the Chapmans. Woe to the Chapmans.”

She stomped through the circle of boys, staring straight ahead as Stephen had done. The boys continued their taunts and insults, but she held her head erect and pretended to ignore them. They drifted down the road, launching a few weak insults at Stephen as they rounded the bend, their gloating laughter disappearing with them.

Stephen was coming toward her. She waited for him to catch up.

“I’ll walk with you,” Stephen said, giving her a sympathetic lift of his brows. “Are you going to the hallmote?”

Annabel nodded. “I have to go to the butcher’s to get a goose for Mother, but I thought I might see how my family fares in the court first.” She tried to look unworried, but she couldn’t fool her friend. They walked together down the dusty road.

“My mother is waiting for me at home to help her patch a leak in the roof. But I will stay with you at the hallmote if you need me,” Stephen offered.

“No, I’d rather you didn’t stay.” Annabel’s cheeks heated at the thought of her friend seeing her family’s name scorned and abused in front of nearly everyone they knew. She’d rather bear her shame alone. “I’ll be fine.”

The two of them passed an old woman bent over the field of beans next to the road. Let her not notice me, Annabel prayed as she ducked her head.

The older woman straightened as much as the hump in her back allowed and leveled her narrowed gaze at Annabel. “A Chapman. It will be your turn to tend the fields now that the new master has come, dearie!” She cackled a high-pitched laugh.

Annabel stared at the ground. Today wasn’t the first time she’d experienced the villagers’ contempt, but she blushed again at what must be going through Stephen’s mind.

It seemed to take forever to walk past the woman, for her lingering laughter to fade away. Stephen said softly, “Don’t let it bother you.”

Annabel tried to smile and say something flippant, but she couldn’t think of anything. Dread slowed her feet. Fear crept up her spine and gripped her around the throat as she came closer to the place where her family’s fate would be decided. She imagined each person at the hallmote today, derision and glee mingling on their face, as they too anticipated her family’s reckoning.

Annabel stopped and faced Stephen. “You better go on back home. Give your mother my love.” She gave him a little wave and started to turn away.

“You always have a home with us,” Stephen said.

“Thank you.” She waved again as she walked toward her fate. His words seemed to emphasize even more the trouble she was in.

She would refuse to marry Bailiff Tom, of course, and under church law no one could force her to marry. But by doing so her family would lose the only offer of help they were likely to receive — Tom’s offer to pay the lord for the work the Chapmans had not done. The lord would get what was owed him, one way or another. Would the jury order that their home be seized and given to the lord? Or would they devise some other punishment? The old lord had lived far away and never came to Glynval, choosing to send his steward instead, a man who accepted bribes. But the new lord, it was rumored, had come to Glynval to build a proper house and live here. His new steward would make sure he received all that was owed to him.

Annabel shivered at the thought of the new lord, Lord le Wyse. He was getting harder to force from her mind.

The hairs on the back of her neck prickled as she remembered the things she’d heard about him. Exaggerations, surely. He couldn’t be as frightening as people said. But they would all soon find out.

As she rounded another curve in the road, the houses and shops of Glynval came into view. Each wattle-and-daub structure was made of white plaster and a thatched roof. Chicken coops, looking just like the houses, only smaller, crowded in the backyards along with slick, muddy pigsties full of snorting swine. The animals filled the air with their pungent stench. Annabel wrinkled her nose and hurried on, forcing herself to go to the manorial court meeting first before going on to the butcher’s to get the goose. Besides, the butcher is probably at the hallmote with everyone else.

She passed quickly through the main road of the village, which was also nearly deserted. She turned down the lane that led to the manor house, a structure more like a hall than a house. The upper floor was one big room where the hallmote was held in bad weather. But today, as the weather was fine, though a bit hot and cloudy, the court would be held outside in the courtyard.

She walked up to the outskirts of the crowd unnoticed and pushed through to see the jurors standing or squatting in a group off to the left. Only two men were sitting — the clerk, who was busy writing on a long strip of parchment, and another man Annabel guessed to be the lord’s new steward, who was in charge of the meeting. The steward and clerk would probably only stay long enough to conduct the hallmote and then leave in the morning, off to see to Lord le Wyse’s other holdings.

When the clerk had finished writing, he stood up and proclaimed, “John Maynard complains of John, son of Robert Smith.” Then he sat down.

John Maynard came forward and described, in great detail, an argument he had with John, son of Robert Smith, which resulted from a missing chicken he claimed John stole from him, killed, and ate. John Maynard also brought five men with him who swore on the holy relics either that they knew what he was saying was true or that he was a trustworthy man. John, son of Robert Smith, had failed to bring his own “oath helpers.”

While the case was being decided, a man near Annabel kept looking at her out of the corner of his eye and then nudging his neighbor with his elbow and motioning at Annabel with his head.

Had her family’s case already been decided? She looked around but didn’t see any friendly face she could ask.

Finally, the case of the missing chicken was decided in favor of the complainant, John Maynard. The jury fined John, the son of Robert Smith, four pence for stealing and consuming the chicken. Four pence was a heavy fine, but chickens were valuable.

The clerk announced the next case. “The steward of Lord Ranulf le Wyse accuses Roberta Chapman and her three grown children, Edward, Durand, and Annabel Chapman, of shirking all their required fieldwork, harvest work, and boon work for the three years past, as of this Michaelmas.”

Annabel felt her face grow hot as she kept her eyes focused on the jury members and the steward. She felt as if everyone was staring at her, but she didn’t want to look around to confirm her suspicions.

Mother came forward and stood in front of the entire assemblage of villagers. She looked tense, her lips bloodless and pursed, but defiant. Oh, Mother, please don’t make it worse.

The steward called the reeve forward to attest that this accusation was true.

Annabel was surprised Bailiff Tom wasn’t there also, either to confirm or deny that her family had not done the work required of them.

The reeve confirmed the accusation, and her mother refused to deny it. The jury conferred for only a few moments, then the foreman turned to the steward and his clerk and said, “The jurors find that the Chapmans are all equally guilty and therefore must pay sixty pence per person, totaling two hundred forty pence, or twenty shillings.”

The entire assembly gasped.

Annabel felt sick. She had never heard of a fine anywhere near that amount. It was impossible. Her mother’s defiant expression, however, never wavered.

“Roberta Chapman, are you or your children able to pay this fine?”

“No, sir steward.”

“Jury, the Chapmans are not able to pay their fine. What will be their alternative penalty?”

The jury huddled together. Annabel watched them, unable to walk away until she learned her family’s fate. She should have gone straight to the butcher shop instead. More people were staring at her, and she took a step back, partially hiding behind the miller’s overfed son.

Finally the jury foreman broke away from the other eleven and stepped forward. “Sir steward, the jury says that Roberta Chapman, who is not able to pay the fine of two hundred forty pence, will send one of her grown children to work as Lord le Wyse’s servant for the next three years, doing whatever tasks his lord deems fitting, to pay for the three years the family did not do their work. If they are unwilling, they will forfeit their home and property immediately to Lord le Wyse.”

Annabel backed away as murmurs of approval rose from the circle of villagers. Soon she was on the lane, heading back toward Glynval.

Her face still burned from her family’s public humiliation, and she kept her gaze on the ground as she reentered the village, drawing her head covering closer around her face. A few more steps and she’d be inside the butcher’s shop and away from prying eyes.

“Annabel? Is that you?”

She recognized Margery’s voice and groaned. It would be impolite to ignore her, so she tried to smile. “Good morning, Margery.”

Both girls had blue eyes, blonde hair, and evenly proportioned features, so people occasionally remarked that the two of them could be sisters, but Annabel hoped the resemblance was only physical. She always dreaded Margery’s embarrassing questions. Lately she was even harder to take, bragging and smirking at having married the wealthiest man in Glynval and remarking on the fact that Annabel was still unwed. But Annabel couldn’t imagine marrying such an old man. Or any man, truth be told.

Margery caught Annabel by the arm and leaned close. Annabel leaned back to get away from the smell of garlic emanating from her.

“Have you heard the news?” The girl placed a hand on her slightly protruding belly. “I’ll be a mother before spring plowing!” She giggled then stopped abruptly. She clamped her free hand over her mouth while her eyes widened and her face turned gray.

“Are you unwell?” Annabel grasped the girl’s elbow and took a step away, afraid Margery would heave her breakfast on Annabel’s only pair of shoes.

Margery took a deep, slow breath, then another, and lowered her hand from her mouth. “That was nearly the third time today.” She smiled in spite of her pallor.

“I’ve heard that dry bread eaten in the morning before you rise is helpful for the sickness.”

“All is well with me, but I’m distressed for you.” Margery’s brows drew together.

“Oh, I’m well. I’m on my way to the butcher’s and must hurry — ”

“All the people say your mother and brothers have played our lord very false. Some say you’ll all be turned out of your home, your mother put in the stocks — or worse. Where will you go? Do you have any other family who could take you in?” She put one hand on her hip and pointed her finger at Annabel’s nose. “You should marry. I hear Bailiff Tom is looking for a wife.” Her eyes grew wide with excitement at her brilliant new idea.

Annabel’s family deserved to be turned out of their house, as they’d not served their lord according to the law — and now that would indeed be their fate, as decreed by the hallmote, unless she or one of her brothers became Lord le Wyse’s servant. But Annabel had to feign confidence or risk Margery going on about Tom.

“When everyone sees how willing we are to begin doing our share of the work, I’m sure everything will be well. In fact, the jury only moments ago decided our punishment. One of my family will work for the lord in his manor.”

A visible shudder went through Margery. She whispered, “I’ve heard the new lord is a beast.”

“Nonsense.” Annabel fixed her eyes on Margery, anxious to know if she had actually seen him.

“He has a beard and one of his arms is afflicted. He holds his arm up like this — ” Margery demonstrated by crooking her arm across her midsection. She drew nearer, until her lips were almost touching Annabel’s ear. “And he has only one eye.”

“One eye?”

“He wears a black patch of leather over his missing eye, and a scar runs through his beard all the way to his chin.”

“You saw him?”

“I heard it from Butcher Wagge’s wife, who heard it from Joan Smith, and she heard it direct from Maud atte Water, who’s to be one of the dairy maids in the new lord’s buttery.”

“You mustn’t believe everything you hear.” She could not let Margery’s description frighten her. Maybe the new lord was only very ugly, and that was why people made up such horrific stories about his appearance.

“I must go now,” Annabel said quickly, trying to walk away. “May God favor your child and bless you. Good day.”

“I’m sorry you’re in haste. You didn’t tell me what you’re going to do when they turn you out — ”

“We won’t be turned out. Good day.” Determined to get away from Margery, Annabel headed straight for the butcher’s shop. As she hurried inside, she immediately collided with a man, her sundrenched eyes almost blinded inside the dark shop.

“So glad you could come.”

Annabel blinked as the man’s face came into focus. It was Bailiff Tom.

The bailiff wrapped his hands around her upper arms.

She looked up into his small-eyed, sharp-nosed face, and then down to the hands that were holding her arms unnecessarily. Even though he wasn’t a large man, he still loomed over her.

Bailiff Tom’s greeting was odd, as if he had been expecting her. He must have arranged with Edward to send her to the butcher shop, where he’d be waiting for her. The realization made her feel sick.

She straightened her shoulders and tried to free herself from his grip by taking a step back, but he did not let go. “Pray excuse me. I was looking for the butcher.”

“Are you sure?” He chuckled in a way that made her stomach clench. His dark, oily hair hung below his ears. He leaned over her, and she smelled his sweaty odor. When had he last taken a bath? It was summer, after all. He couldn’t use the excuse that the water was too cold.

“The butcher’s not here, but I would be right pleased” — he paused as though to emphasize the last word, reaching his rusty-looking hand toward her face — “to help you.”

She jerked back to avoid his touch.

He took a step toward her. She dodged away from him, but as he was still holding her arm, she couldn’t get away. He leaned so close she could smell his breath, see a black spot on a side tooth and black hairs protruding from his nose.

“Has your brother told you about my generous offer?” His smile grew wide.

Imaginary bugs crawled over her. “Get your hand off me.” She jerked out of his grasp and turned to leave.

The bailiff leapt around her, pushing her back and blocking her way. He hovered over her with menacing eyes.

“I shall help you, help your whole family. Your brothers will be very disappointed in you if you say no to me.”

“My mother is handling the situation, and I will not accept your offer.”

She tried to dodge around the man, but he moved another step and covered the doorway with his body.

“Let me pass.”

His leer made her clench her teeth.

“Tarry awhile. No need for haste.” He grabbed her hand. “I think of you, Annabel. With your mother about to get you all turned out of your house, you should marry me. I could take care of you, could keep your family from trouble with the new lord.”

Her eyes darted to the door.

He grasped her arms again, and suddenly his lips were coming toward her mouth. Annabel turned her head, and his slobbery lips landed on her cheek. She struggled to break free, but he tightened his grip on her arms until pain shot up to her shoulders.

The bailiff growled and tried to kiss her again, muttering his vile intentions, what he planned to do to her. She couldn’t move her arms, so she stomped down on his foot as hard as she could. He oomphed, then shook her until her teeth rattled.

Her heart beat so hard it vibrated from within, but she refused to let him know she was afraid. “Get out of my way. Let go of me or I’ll raise the hue and cry. I’ll scream until every person in the village — ”

He dug a finger into the underside of her wrist, sending shards of pain up her arm. “You think you’re too good for me, but who’s going to help you now? Do you think the new lord will not punish you, will not throw you out of your fine stone house? Eh?”

Anger surged through her. She gave a sudden tug at her arm and, managing to maneuver around Tom, she stood in the doorway. He let go with a shove, sending Annabel falling backward through the door. She struggled to right herself as she fell, and landed on her hip in the dusty street.

Hooves pounded toward her, and a horse’s high-pitched whinny sounded above her head. Annabel raised her arm to protect herself.

Just inches away, the horse danced to a halt, snorting and throwing dirt into her face. The animal’s hot breath ruffled her hair. Dust clogged her nose and throat and made her cough.

The rider dismounted. “What are you doing?”

The man’s voice and accent were unfamiliar. Her hair had fallen in front of her eyes, making it difficult to see the hands that slipped under her arms and hauled her to her feet. She pulled away, looking around on the ground for her headscarf. Darting a glance at the butcher shop doorway, she saw Bailiff Tom lurking in the shadows. She wiped his vile saliva from her face with her sleeve.

“Throwing yourself in front of a galloping horse?” The stranger’s voice reminded her of a snarling animal in its pitch and intensity. “We could have both been killed.”

Shiny black boots waited beside her. Even the stranger’s stance showed his irritation.

Finally seeing her scarf, she bent and snatched it from the dirt.

Her eyes traveled from his expensive leather boots to his broad chest. He wore the most elegant clothing she’d seen since the last time she visited London with her father — a red velvet doublet and gold-embroidered shirtsleeves — a vast departure from the dull gray and brown of the villagers’ coarse woolens.

She beat the dust from her skirt as anger boiled up inside her. It wasn’t her fault she’d fallen in front of his horse. Did he think she had tossed herself into the street? First that disgusting lecher Bailiff Tom, and now this stranger . . . Her gaze finally met his face and she stifled a gasp.

A black patch covered his left eye, and a scar cut a pale line down his cheek, through his thick brown beard, all the way to his chin.

The back of her neck tingled. His expression demanded an answer as he glared at her from one brown eye.

Her surprise at his formidable appearance quickly turned to anger. She was determined to let him know she wasn’t a lack-wit and didn’t relish being treated like one.

“My lord.” Her voice was surprisingly steady. “My name is Annabel Chapman, and I am not in the habit of throwing myself in front of galloping horses. I was pushed.” She had to bite her tongue to keep from adding, And perhaps you shouldn’t gallop your horse through the village as though you’re the only person on the street.

She leaned down to continue beating the dust from her clothes.

“Who pushed you?” He shouted the question so thunderously, she forgot about her dusty clothes and stared up at him. “Where is the man who would push a woman into the street?”

Her gaze involuntarily shifted to the butcher shop’s doorway, where Bailiff Tom stood just inside. He immediately stepped back into the shadows.

The lord followed her gaze and then looked back at Annabel. “Wait here.”

His expression became even fiercer just before he turned from her and strode into the shop.

“Bailiff Tom? How dare you shove that maiden?” His booming voice easily carried into the street.

He reappeared in the doorway, clutching Bailiff Tom by the back of his neck.

Pushing Tom toward her, the stranger jerked him to a halt only an arm’s length away.

“My bailiff wishes to ask forgiveness for his behavior.”

Tom didn’t look her in the eye but said in a strained voice, “Forgive me.”

She nodded, aware of the small group of wide-eyed villagers gathering to watch.

The man let go of Bailiff Tom’s neck. After straightening his elegant waistcoat, the lord stood tall, his back straight and his broad shoulders looming over the small group of villeins that now surrounded him. He held one arm tight against his midsection as he spoke. “I am Ranulf le Wyse, the lord of this village.”

The people immediately sank to one knee and bowed their heads before him.

“I will not tolerate loutish behavior from the men of my demesne.” The people lifted their heads. Lord le Wyse’s commanding tone riveted every eye. “And I warn you not to hope for preferential treatment. My father’s steward may have taken bribes, but I’m the lord now, and,” he fairly growled, “it isn’t in my nature.”

He turned in one swift motion, mounted his black horse, and galloped away.

Annabel watched him disappear down the road, then she turned to go home, moving quickly to get away from all the people staring at her. What kind of man was this new lord? He’d assured them that he didn’t tolerate bribes or lawlessness. Her mother had been guilty of both.

What would her family’s future be at the mercy of Lord Ranulf le Wyse?

Here's the book trailer for The Merchant's Daughter:

A personal note from Esther: I absolutely love, love, loved The Merchant's Daughter! I spent a whole morning and part of an afternoon reading it because I couldn't put it down. Adults, not just teens, will love Melanie's new book. Watch for part of my review tomorrow!

You can purchase The Merchant's Daughter from Amazon.

Melanie is giving away a copy of The Merchant's Daughter. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

with Laura Davis

Welcome to the Barn Door Book Loft, Laura!
Is there a story behind this book?

There is and it is a long one, so I will try to condense it. I had a singing ministry for over 25 years. Singing was my career and a huge part of my life. Almost 12 years ago I required emergency surgery for a previous operation that went horribly wrong. I was intubated and for some reason, known only to God, I lost my singing voice. During a very long period of mourning for my voice and begging God to restore it, I began to sense God pulling me toward writing about Jesus' life. Writing was not something new to me as I’d been doing it all my life and had even had a few songs published. But writing instead of singing full-time was the furthest thing from my mind and so I argued with God.

I felt that if I did set my mind to writing full-time it would mean the end of my music ministry and I didn’t want it to end. Do you know what happens when you don’t do what God asks you to do? Well, sometimes He has to get your attention and if you’re stubborn like me, He has to get it in a BIG way. After about seven months of saying no to God, I fell down a flight of stairs and injured myself so badly that I was stuck in bed with nothing to do but write and think.

I thought about how Mary surrendered her will to God at such a young age and knew that if she could trust God with something as momentous as giving birth to the Saviour of the world, I could trust Him with the next phase of my life. So, I surrendered to God and said, “Lord, if you want to use me in a new way then here I am, take my hands and use them as you did my voice.” The story poured out of me and I didn’t stop writing until it was completed. It wasn’t until I finished and I read it all the way through that I realized the central theme was on surrendering to God. God was definitely trying to get His point across with me!

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
I love historical fiction. I particularly liked The Doctor’s Lady by Jody Hedlund and The Colonel’s Lady by Laura Frantz. Hmm…I just noticed how similar those titles were.

I've read both of those and they are really good. I loved them. If you were a style of music, what style would you be?
Neat question! I’m guessing pop music.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I accidentally broke into a church once. It wasn’t my fault! Someone left the back door of the church open and the alarms went off, the cops came and well…there is more to the story but you’ll have to invite me to speak at your church to find out what it is. LOL!

Are there things you put off doing because you dread them?
Yes! Housework and editing. Interestingly they both have to do with cleaning things up!

What's your favorite meal with family and friends?
I have a recipe that is both delicious and easy to make when company comes and you need something in a hurry. All you need are chicken breasts, Stouffer’s stove-top stuffing (chicken or turkey flavor it doesn’t matter) and cream of chicken soup. You can cut the chicken into chunks if you like or leave the breasts whole. I take my favorite baking dish, put the (thawed) chicken in first and smother it with cream of chicken soup. Usually one can is enough for a family of four. I cook the stuffing according to the directions on the box, and then it goes over the chicken. Next, stick it in the oven at 400 F for 30 minutes, make a salad or veggies to go with it and you have a nice quick meal!

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
Jeremiah 29:11 “'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” I clung to that verse after I lost my voice and I sensed God leading me in a new direction for my life.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
I have just finished a bible study to go along with Come to Me. It is a study on the life of Christ. I hope to have that out sometime in the spring of 2012. I’m also working on a book tentatively called, Finding Claire. It’s set in 1969 and centers around two young girls who discover a secret in a journal from WWII that threatens to tear their lives apart. I’m still in the first draft stage, so it might be another year until it comes out.

You can purchase Come to Me from Amazon.

Laura is giving away a copy of Come to Me. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Laura Davis' Come to Me

Laura J. Davis is a former singer/songwriter with 30 years of experience in music ministry. Her high soprano voice led her to sing in various venues across Ontario and the United States. Her concerts and messages always pointed her listeners to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In the winter of 2000, an emergency surgery resulted in the loss of her singing voice. No longer able to sing, Laura began writing full-time. Her debut novel, Come to Me, is a recent Reader’s Favorite Award Winner.

You can find Laura online at

Come to Me

Step back in time and experience the life of Christ through the eyes of His mother. Come to Me offers the reader an intimate glimpse into the lives of Jesus and his family in a way that brings them to life. The themes of trusting in God and surrendering to Him are evident throughout this remarkable story. From the cradle to the cross, Come to Me speaks to the hearts of those who are seeking and deepens the faith of long-time believers. It is a moving tale of the life of Christ from the mother who raised him to become the Saviour of the world.

"Author Laura Davis examines the life of Mary, mother of Jesus. We hear the tender maternal love, the worry, the fears and the awe-inspiring faith that allowed her to become the vessel to carry God's only Son. Laura writes with a gentle hand and yet doesn't hold back on the reality of the cross. It is a fascinating perspective and a wonderful read."
-Donna Fawcett, author of double award winning novel Vengeance (Donna Dawson), Creative Writing Instructor at Fanshawe College

Here's an excerpt of Come to Me:

Jerusalem 44 A.D.

She sat outside for over an hour meditating, praying and remembering. The rising sun wrapped her in a warm cocoon that threatened to lull her back to sleep. Mary arched her back and stretched. She ran her hands over the cream-coloured pillow covering her precious bench and yawned. Joseph had surprised her with the bench the first year they were married. They would often sit together in the early morning hours, when the rest of the world was still asleep and the sun was waking up.

How she longed for those times again, when Joseph would take her hand and they would begin the day in prayer and dedication to Yahweh. My sweet Joseph, how I long to hear your voice and feel your embrace once more.

She had known Joseph for most of her life. In a village as small as Nazareth, it would have been unusual if their paths had never crossed. Older than her by twelve years, Joseph had watched Mary grow from a child into a beautiful young woman. With careful planning, he had placed himself in her life with the purpose of marrying her when she came of age. He had called her ‘Little Mary’ and she had called him her ‘Gentle Giant,’ names said with an affection that had grown into a deep and lasting love.

“You’re such a long way up, Joseph!” she would laugh. “I get a sore neck just looking at you, much less kissing you.”

Then one day he had come into the house and said, “Little Mary, I have a surprise for you, but first, you must close your eyes!” Mary obeyed and felt Joseph sweep her up in his muscular arms and place her on something soft and luxurious.

“Open your eyes now,” Joseph said, his brown eyes twinkling with excitement. “Oh, Joseph!” For the first time in their marriage, she was able to look straight into his eyes.

“What is this?” She looked at her bare feet and wiggled her toes into the cream-coloured pillow that stretched across a new oak bench. A small gasp of surprise escaped her lips. “It is beautiful.” She sighed as she ran her hands along the back of the bench. “Hear O Israel…Oh, Joseph! You have carved the Shema into it. Oh, how precious.” She clasped her hands together and turned toward her husband. “You made me a prayer bench.” Her almond shaped eyes shone with delight.

“Ah, well … my motives are not that pure I am afraid.”

She tilted her head. “Oh?”

“Yes, I was thinking we could use it so you wouldn’t get a sore neck kissing me.” He wrapped his arms around her tiny waist pulling her close. “Or you could use it for praying.” He shrugged and smiled. “Your choice.”

She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I think for now I shall use it for kissing you and later I will use it for prayer.”

Mary sighed, a sleepy smile lingering on her face. They had dubbed it the kissing bench. They had thought it was something their children would laugh and giggle over in the years to come. What a wonderful life we made together!

It was a good marriage, despite its uncertain beginnings. So many events had happened in those early days that Mary could not imagine which memory she cherished most—the angelic visitation, the birth of Jesus, or his resurrection. The enormity of what had transpired in her life had humbled her more than she realized.

Of course, she would never cherish the memories of what they had done to her firstborn son. Forgiving them was easier than forgetting. She could never forget. How long had it been since that horrible day? She could still smell the blood and hear Jesus’ screams mingled with her own. Her chest grew tight with grief as she closed her eyes to dispel the images that had haunted her for the last eleven years.

She was fifty-eight years old and until six months ago had been with her nephew, the Apostle John, on a brief visit to Rome to strengthen the churches there. When the Emperor Claudius began expelling Jews from Rome, John had decided that she should return to his home in Jerusalem for her own safety.

“Poor John,” she muttered as she recalled the argument she had had with him over returning.

“It’s too dangerous for you in Rome now, woman!” He had pleaded with her all day and finally in anger and frustration gathered up her belongings and started stuffing them into a satchel. “As the mother of our Lord and a Jew, your life is in more danger than mine right now. This discussion is over. You will leave without any more arguments.”

Mary remembered folding her arms across her chest and swallowing the angry words that had threatened to spill from her lips. No one had ever talked to her in such a manner.

“John, if it is dangerous, why are you staying? Should I, the mother of the Messiah, become a coward and run to save my life when others are dying? It is not right. Your brother James was beheaded for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. I should do no less.”

"Jesus charged me with your safety, Aunt Mary. Would you have me dishonour my Lord by shirking my responsibilities?”

That was when she had seen the pain and anguish on his weathered face. She had finally understood. He could not bear losing her as he had his brother and so she submitted to his wishes.

He took her to Jerusalem, stayed for a while to help her adjust and then returned to Rome to minister to the churches there. She now spent her days with the other believers in Jerusalem, meeting together regularly for prayer and fellowship. Today she was expecting Luke, a Greek physician led to salvation through the Apostle Paul.

As she waited for his arrival, she kicked off her sandals and wiggled her toes. Although it had rained the night before, it was now a beautiful spring day. Mary loved the earthy smell in the air after a rainfall. It was a combination of mud, water and worms that oddly reminded her of the seaside. Breathing deeply, she leaned her head against the rough stone of John’s home, stretched out her bare feet and plopped them in the nearest puddle.

From the time she was a child, she had often gone barefoot through the hills of Galilee after it had rained, for she loved to squish her toes in the mud and feel the cool blades of grass on her feet.  In Jerusalem a plot of grass was hard to come by, which made her miss her home in Nazareth all the more. Joseph had always worried that she might cut her feet on the sharp rocks, or sting them on the nettles hidden throughout the Galilean countryside.

She sighed and closed her eyes. Oh Joseph, my darling, there is no fear of that here.

“He is risen!”

Startled, Mary shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up to see a blonde, blue-eyed man, with a clean-shaven face and strong jaw line.

“He is risen indeed! You must be Luke. John has told me so much about you. Come to check up on me have you?” She smiled, grabbed the bowl of olives that sat beside her and put it on her lap.

Luke chuckled, his dimples showing off his chiselled features. “Actually, I just wanted the chance to meet my Lord’s mother - but don’t tell John. He thinks I’m here to inquire after your health.”

She laughed, her brown eyes sparkling. “You don’t fool me—either of you. John sends so many different people to check on my welfare that it’s a wonder I can remember all their names.”

She patted the bench inviting Luke to sit. Taking some olives from the bowl, Mary proceeded to pit them. Luke watched in fascination at how quickly her slender fingers worked.

"May I help?" He asked.

Raising her eyebrows, Mary stared at Luke for a moment, then nodded and placed the bowl between them. “Jesus used to like pitting olives too. He said he found it calming.” She giggled. “Unfortunately, he ate more than he pitted.”

Luke chuckled as he popped an olive into his mouth.

“I’ll tell you what I told Jesus,” she said, shaking her finger at him. “If you eat more than you pit, then you’ve just had your supper.”

“Well then, I’d best stop eating them, as I’m used to eating more than olives at my meals.”

“Get to work then and I might feed you more than olives!”

Content in an affable silence, they settled into their work. Luke immediately felt welcome, as if he had known Mary his whole life and he told her so. Mary blushed and thanked him.

“Oh, my goodness!” She suddenly jumped up from the bench and ran into the house. Luke, perplexed at her sudden disappearance, continued pitting olives. He was about to follow her into the house when she returned with a basin of water to wash the dust off his feet. She knelt on the ground and removed his sandals. Embarrassed that the mother of the Lord was washing his feet, Luke swallowed his discomfort and allowed her to minister to him, remembering the lesson Jesus had taught his disciples the last night they were together.

When she finished, she proceeded to wash her own feet and then put her sandals back on. This led her to tell him about Joseph and his fear of her running barefoot.

“He was such a wonderful man,” she said. “He was a man who feared the Almighty, a good man—especially when I found myself with child.” She poured the dirty water from the basin onto the ground and then sat beside him. “You cannot begin to imagine what it was like during those days! I was fourteen years old, betrothed to a man much older than I and with child –but not with his child.”

She grew still and stared off into the distance. Luke gazed at her in silence, revelling in the fact that he was with the woman who had given birth to the Saviour of the world. He wondered how she had handled that night. Where was she when the labour had begun? Who had delivered the baby? Had there been any complications? Luke had so many questions, he hardly knew where to begin.

Mary’s eyelids dropped as she let her mind wander back to the night of Jesus’ birth. She had been surprised at the pain. In fact, she had never realized it would hurt so badly. Afterwards, oh afterwards, the reward of her son was so great that she had thought her heart would split wide open with love. The King of the world had been born to her!

“Happy thoughts?”

Mary’s eyes flew open. Blushing, she smiled and said, “His birth—it amazes me still.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what was it like back then? When you found out you were … um … with child?”

“It’s been over forty-four years since Jesus’ birth.” She shrugged. “Aside from my immediate family, I’ve never really talked to anyone about it before.” Mary sighed and pitted more olives as she contemplated how much she should tell the young doctor.

You can purchase Come to Me from Amazon.

Laura is giving away a copy of Come to Me. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Friday, November 25, 2011

with Amanda Deed

Welcome to the Barn Door Book Loft, Amanda!
Is there a story behind this book?

I began to write Ellenvale Gold back in 2000. I had become frustrated with the lack of Australian Historical Romances available on the market and it struck me that perhaps I should write one. It didn’t take long for the ideas to begin to flow.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Historical Romance has always been my favourite genre. I have especially enjoyed Linda Chaikin’s novels over the years. I think her Heart of India series helped me fall in love with the genre in the first place.

If you were a style of music, what style would you be?
Classical – that reveals the old-fashioned part of me, or Blues – that is more the expressive, emotional side.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
When I was a teenager, my dad told me I could decorate my bedroom how I liked. I chose to have one wall painted a peachy-pink colour, the curtains were purple, my wardrobe was white, and the other wall I decided to paint bright red – scarlet – with a stenciled “Jesus” and musical notes painted in white over it. Sounds freaky, but actually looked ok. I always remember my aunt telling me how it looked ‘tomatoey’ (she knew I hated tomatoes). LOL

Are there things you put off doing because you dread them?
Things to do with unfamiliar people, such as meeting them, making phone calls to them, even emailing them. Marketing my novels is hard stomach-knot-making work, but I’m getting better at it with the Lord’s help.

What's your favorite meal with family and friends?
Roast lamb with roast veggies and gravy. And for dessert, apple pie and custard. Yum.

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
The whole of Psalm 139 has always been special. I struggled with self-esteem for a long time in my childhood and teen years, but God has shown me how deep and perfect His love is and how intimately He wants to know me.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
Ellenvale Gold was released on the 1st of November. It is an historical romance set in the Victorian gold rush times of Australia. I wanted to honour our Aussie pioneers by highlighting their lifestyle through a romance novel. But I also wanted to weave a message of hope and grace in the pages.

You can purchase Ellenvale Gold from Amazon.

Amanda is giving away a copy of Ellenvale Gold. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Amanda Deed's Ellenvale Gold

Amanda Deed grew up in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, in a Christian home, and found faith at an early age. She has followed her passion to serve the Lord through music and literature since her teen years. She has had many experiences as she toured Australia and ministered in music with worship bands.

Now married, with three children, Amanda enjoys the variety of being a mother, administrator/book-keeper, musician and fiction writer. Amanda’s debut novel, The Game, was awarded the 2010 CALEB Prize for fiction.

You can find Amanda online at

Ellenvale Gold

It is the time of Australia’s harsh rogue-filled goldrush of the 1850’s when Miss Penelope Worthington suddenly finds herself orphaned, isolated and alone. With a large sheep station to run single-handedly, she has little option but to enlist the aid of a mysterious, but sinister stranger.

But who is the more treacherous? Gus—the scruffy, trespassing, ex-convict who co-incidentally shows up looking for work just when she desperately needs a farmhand or Rupert—the handsome, wealthy neighbour who would willingly marry her at the drop of a hat and solve her apparent dilemma?

Repeatedly, her faith is tested as she faces the unforgiving elements, deceit, lies and uncertainty. But where and how will it all end? But…is it the end? Will vengeance return or will Penny’s faith prevail?

You can purchase Ellenvale Gold from Amazon.

Amanda is giving away a copy of Ellenvale Gold. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

with Suzanne Hartmann

Welcome to the Barn Door Book Loft, Suzanne!
Is there a story behind this book?

The Fast Track Thrillers began as stories I created to entertain myself during my children’s music lessons and sports practices. I never intended for them to be published, but God had other ideas. When my daughter decided that she liked NASCAR racing, I started paying more attention to the races and decided a racecar driver would make an exciting addition to my stories. When I felt God nudging me to create a novel from my stories, I realized I needed to learn a lot more about stock car racing (since I knew almost nothing about it), so I checked out a tall stack of books from the library. I hadn’t mentioned my project to anyone because I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish the book, but when I brought the books home, my family naturally wondered why I had checked them out. I ‘fessed up and shared my dream of writing a novel, and since then they have all been very supportive.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
I read a wide variety of novels, both Christian and secular. Growing up, my favorites were mysteries and sci-fi. In high school and college, I discovered fantasy novels and read that genre almost exclusively. For the last twenty years or so, I have preferred suspense novels and thrillers of all types, as well as YA historical fiction. Once I started writing, I broadened my scope and now read all genres except erotica and horror.

If you were a style of music, what style would you be?
It would probably have to be classical music because of the way the music can tell a story. It’s not all happy-go-lucky or all down-in-the-dumps. It’s a little of both, and a lot in between.

What is your strangest habit?
My kids tease me about my “automatic pilot” when I drive. If we’re headed in a direction we normally take to a particular place, but are going somewhere different, I have to pay close attention. If my mind is occupied (like thinking about the next plot twist in my WIP), my auto-pilot will take us to our normal destination, not where we need to go. Several times, they have had to correct my course three times in a row to make sure we arrived at the right place.

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
The last half of Hebrews 12:1b “… and run with endurance the race that lies before us.” Since Peril has protagonist who is a race car driver and several settings are at NASCAR speedways, this is the perfect verse to go with my book and gave it it’s original title: The Race that Lies Before Us.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
I am currently working on the sequel to Peril, titled Conspiracy, due out in the fall of 2012. This novel picks up where Peril leaves off. Joanne’s life falls apart around her as she deals with a family tragedy and unfounded accusations against her and her boss George regarding several of her assignments. When the attempt fails, someone frames George, and Joanne determines to do whatever it takes to find out who’s behind it.

You can purchase Peril from Amazon.

Suzanne is giving away a copy of Peril. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Suzanne Hartmann's Peril

Suzanne Hartmann is a homeschool mom of three and lives in the St. Louis area. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Composition & Linguistics from Western Illinois University. To relax, she enjoys scrapbooking, reading, and Bible study. She began writing fiction when her children were young, and four of her short stories were published in a Milliken Publishing reading workbook. Peril: Fast Track Thriller Bk. #1 is her debut novel.

On the editorial side, Suzanne is a contributing editor with Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This Way Critique Service. Through her blog, Write This Way, she has become known as an author who can explain writing rules and techniques in easy-to-understand terms. Her popular Top 10 series of articles formed the basis for her e-book on the craft of writing, Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level

You can find me online at
My Website – (FastTrackThrillers), My Blog - Write This Way, Facebook, Twitter - (@SuzInIL), GoodReads – Suzanne Hartmann

You can find my books online at
OakTara Publishing, Amazon, CBD, At my website: Fast Track Thrillers


A top secret agent with enhanced strength must use her extraordinary abilities during several high-profile assignments from the White House to NASCAR tracks. When unwanted publicity threatens to expose her, she herself becomes a terrorist target, with danger surrounding her on all sides.

“Plenty of action and unexpected twists.”

Foreword by Jimmy Makar, General Manager of Joe Gibbs Racing

Here's an excerpt of Peril:

The moment Lady Anne stepped outside the Mashkoori embassy, the Washington, D.C. heat hit her like a wall. The humidity wrapped itself around her like a blanket, heightening the ball of tension writhing in her stomach like slithering serpents. As she placed a hand on the arm King Ahmad held out for her, she firmly pushed her misgivings aside. Premonition or not, she had a job to do.

While she settled herself near the king in the rear of the second of two stretch Hummers, two of his personal bodyguards took up positions by the driver’s compartment. She brushed a neatly manicured finger against a miniscule earbud as she tucked a stray strand of curly blonde hair into her elegant updo. The wallet-shaped wireless device in her purse would pick up the chatter between the Secret Service agents at the White House and transmit it to the earbud. Knowing she would hear if they spotted any danger eased some of the tension which had been building all morning. But would the well-respected agency live up to its reputation and stop the planned assassination attempt against the king, or would she need to display her enhanced strength to protect her charge?

As the driver pulled away from the embassy, she glanced at King Ahmad. The sea-green eyes in his swarthy complexion under black hair liberally salted with gray seemed out of place, but it was a tribute to the mixed European and Arabic heritage of Mashkoor, which set between Bulgaria and Turkey. Had he heard that a representative of Husam-Jabbar announced the group’s intentions on Al Jazeera this morning?

“Are you ready, my lady?” Something about the glint in his eyes and the set of his jaw told her he was prepared for whatever might come today, whether he’d heard the latest news or not. Perhaps he had become used to the constant threat. After all, every Muslim terrorist group in existence had pledged to kill the first Arabic king to convert to Christianity.

He opened a cabinet that hid a wet bar and refrigerator, pulled out a long-stemmed glass, poured himself some water, then waved a hand towards the cabinet. “Please help yourself.”

Grateful for something to focus on, Lady Anne followed the king’s lead. A sip of the water’s coolness washed clarity into her thinking as though it were a dose of fresh confidence. If this had been a normal assignment, her veins would have pulsed with restrained energy at the thought of a reason to unleash her enhanced strength.

But nothing about this mission was normal. And if she must use her abilities today, it would be under the watchful eyes of the media. The thought of the power the media held to expose her secrets sent a shiver up her spine. The ball of tension writhing in her stomach like serpents slithering inside a small cage finally burst. It was far too late to back down now. Either way, she would fulfill her duty.

A rap on the glass behind the driver’s compartments brought her thoughts back to her surroundings.

The thin, beardless guard nodded to his bearded partner. In sync, they pulled out twin Ruger .40 SWs and aimed them at King Ahmad.

Lady Anne’s hand shook, spilling water onto the floor. She tapped the king’s arm to warn him. Were the intelligence reports wrong about the attack? Perhaps Husam-Jabbar had intentionally misled them.

Thin Guard slid down the long leather seat lining the driver’s side and came to a stop directly across from King Ahmad. He straightened his back, raised his chin, then addressed the king in Arabic. Although Lady Anne couldn’t understand the words, the gleam in his eyes radiated pride and determination, not hatred.

King Ahmad looked down his long nose at the guard. “You are rude, Kalil, to speak Arabic in front of my guest. Will you condemn her to death without even the benefit of knowing why?”

Kalil glanced at Lady Anne and wrinkled his nose as though she were a piece of garbage, then nodded. “I will grant the wish of a dead man.” He pulled his shoulders back and seemed to take on the role of a judge. “King Ahmad, you have defiled both yourself and Mashkoor by taking up the blasphemous practices of Christianity. According to Hadith 9:57, it is my duty to kill you.”

Here's the book trailer for Peril:

You can purchase Peril from Amazon.

Suzanne is giving away a copy of Peril. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

with Lynda Lee Schab

Welcome to the Barn Door Book Loft, Lynda!
Is there a story behind this book?

Well, there is a lot of me in my main character, Madi. Insecurity is something I’ve always struggled with. As a child, I was very shy. As a teenager, I was insecure about everything, which resulted in a lot of rebelling and contributed to hundreds of my mom’s migraines, I’m sure. As an adult, early in my marriage I experienced some of the insecurities Madi deals with, regarding her husband and his faithfulness. That isn’t something I deal with anymore today, but I still have similar insecurities about what others think of me, as well as doubts about God’s love for me. Other ways I’m like Madi is that we share bad eating habits, a love for coffee, a tendency to waste hours of time playing computer games, and an insane fear of spiders. Other characters in the book are based on people in my life (a dangerous thing to admit, I know!). So, I guess to answer your question, there’s not really a story behind the book, but behind the characters.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
My favorite genre to read is mystery, but I also enjoy many others, like women’s fiction (I’d better, since I write it), chick lit, romance, suspense, and young adult. I prefer contemporary, but can get drawn into historical if the characters grab me from the start. Recent books I’ve read and enjoyed are The Edge of Grace by Christa Allan, Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh, Hello Hollywood! by Janice Thompson, and She Makes it Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen.

If you were a style of music, what style would you be?
Oooh…interesting question. I imagine I would be soft rock. I’m mostly on the quiet side, but the edge is right there, ready to burst out at any moment.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Well, I don’t know how quirky this is, but it could certainly be considered embarrassing. Several years ago, when my kids were 7 and 4, my husband and I were looking to move. I was driving with my mom and the kids and we spotted an Open House sign. I asked my mom if she wanted to stop with me to take a look. We saw the sign in the yard, with a few cars parked on the street, so we pulled up, got the kids out of the car and walked up to the front door. We opened the door only to see a bunch of balloons and presents, and a living room full of people. Yes, the owners were moving (hence the sign in the yard) but we’d walked into a birthday party! Fortunately, everyone laughed and informed us that the Open House was down the street. My mom and I laughed about it but my son – 7 at the time – was horrified. Once we got back into the car, he kept saying “It’s so not funny, Mom!” Poor thing. What a terrible mother I was to humiliate her son like that.

We’re just thankful we didn’t enter through the garage (which was open) and walk into the kitchen and start going through cupboards or something.

Are there things you put off doing because you dread them?
I am a half-procrastinator. Sometimes I do things I dread right away to get them done, and sometimes I put them off. I guess it depends on my mood and how stressed out I am at the moment. The more stressed out, the more likely I am to put them off and reach for the chocolate instead.

What's your favorite meal with family and friends?
Anything I don’t have to cook. Seriously. If I could afford it, I’d eat out for every meal. Dining out with family and friends is the best way to go because you can focus on each other instead of the dirty dishes. However, when I do cook for family (and I do from time to time), all are in agreement that my chicken casserole is the best. Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to try it yourself:

2 Cups (or one box) macaroni, uncooked
3 T. margarine
2 Cans Cream of Mushroom OR Cream of Chicken soup (I use one of each)
1 Cup Milk
2 Cups grated cheddar cheese
4 Cups cooked chicken, diced
1-2 Cups carrots, steamed
1 t. salt
¼ t. pepper

Prepare macaroni and drain. In saucepan, melt margarine. Add soup, milk and cheese to margarine and stir until cheese melts. Combine macaroni, cheese mixture, steamed carrots, cooked chicken, salt and pepper. Pour into a 3-4 Qt. casserole dish (I use the Pampered Chef deep dish baking stone). Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Makes 6-8 servings.

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
My favorite verse is Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” I recite this verse often! Because my mind is always so busy and distracted, I tend to stress out a lot. I need to keep reminding myself that God is God. He’s in control. And everything will be okay.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
I am currently writing the second book in the Madi series, titled, Madily in Love. Basically, Madi really wants to rekindle the romance in her marriage, so she signs up for a Revitalize Your Marriage with Romance class at church. There, she receives great suggestions on spicing up her relationship with her husband, but when she tries the tips, things don’t go as planned. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m already having a lot of fun with the storyline.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
Favorite: The creative process. Thinking a story through from beginning to end and then seeing my vision come to life through the characters and situations I create.

Least favorite: Definitely the self discipline it requires. Time management is something I’ve always struggled with. Making myself sit down and focus when I know the basement needs cleaning, laundry is piling up, my office needs to be organized, or I want to watch the episode of Survivor I missed the night before is my biggest challenge.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
That’s easy: Apply the Butt Glue and just write. Discipline has never been my biggest strength, but that book won’t get written unless I park my behind in the chair and start typing. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I have a million other things to do. One of my favorite quotes on writing is “You can fix bad, but you can’t fix blank.”

You can purchase Mind over Madi from Amazon.

Lynda is giving away a copy of Mind over Madi. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

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