I wrote a novel. In June of 2017, my novel Chasing Hope was published. As I approach the four-year anniversary, I thought I would share a bit about the book. You can find it here in Kindle and print format. There is a preview available on Amazon. You can also sign up for my newsletter to read the first chapter for free! You can do that, by clicking here or here. You can also view what some of my readers have written about the book, here.
Here is the book blurb, from the back of the book:
Dr. Ava Cooper has it all. Scratch that – she had it all. The day she buried her daughter was the beginning of the end. With one fell swoop her ex-husband took what was left of the life they created together. All that is left is a demanding boxer, her worldly possessions, and the SUV she bought as a first year resident. With nothing left of the old life, Ava heads south to help out and old friend. In the small and quirky coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina – a tiny hamlet situated on the Southern Outer Banks – Ava quickly learns that her plan to quietly fade into the background to find some semblance of normalcy is not on her new neighbor’s and staff’s agenda for her. As she settles into southern small-town living, she meets a family and a baby in the foster care system that threaten to break through her grief-stricken and heart. Will Ava be able to let hope in long enough to get back the life she desperately longs for?
This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons – mainly because it’s the first complete novel I’ve written. It’s also one that took me way too long to write. The process was daunting, to be honest. I let so many things distract me and get in the way (like my day job). Rather than be single-minded in my focus on accomplishing my dreams and using the gifts God has given me, I focused far too much on the job that paid the bills. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, I didn’t put enough emphasis on my dreams or writing what I believe I’m meant to write. I let work take over my life. I mean, take over.
I worried too much about what people would think. I shied away from writing content on my blog (I had a different blog that had a larger audience and community at one time). Overall, I just let my writing wither away under the weight of what other people would think. That’s just dumb. In years past, I was part of multiple writer communities online. Many of the people I have known in these circles over the years have gotten literary agents, publishing deals, and are cranking out books with traditional publishing houses.
It’s not arrogant to say I think that I could be in their shoes too. The only difference is, I didn’t work for it. Phew, what a sucky realization that was when I first woke up to it. It was all my fault and all of my own choosing. But one day I came to terms with this and decided I wouldn’t let my life go unlived. I wouldn’t let the books go unwritten. And I certainly wouldn’t ignore the dreams I’ve long held in my heart.
Today isn’t Monday Motivation – but we’ll call it Tuesday Truths. The only thing standing in the way of you accomplishing your dreams and goals? It’s you. It’s me. We can make all the excuses we want. But at the end of the day, we are own worst enemy when it comes to going after what we want. I just refuse to live that way anymore. So whatever it is . . . go get it, friends.
I admit it. I started Slightly South of Simple before starting a Reading Challenge in January. The theme for January was a book related to your New Years resolution. Since I don’t do resolutions, I decided finishing a book that was in my Kindle queue or on my bedside table, was close enough to a resolution.
First up was Kristy Woodson Harvey’s first book in the The Peachtree Bluff Series. I started this book during a very chaotic time last summer, as my foster son was preparing to be moved. As much as I love reading, you would have thought it would have been a little self-care. But I couldn’t bring myself to do much of anything but watch comedy specials on Netflix.
As a result, the book sat on my Kindle without being read. I read the author’s first book Dear Carolina, and loved it – especially the ways in which it incorporated Eastern NC – this place I’ve called home for so long. So I knew Slightly South of Simple had to be the first book I read for the challenge.
What did I think of it? I loved the book. But as I’m not a book reviewer, I don’t intend to dive terribly deep into the plot. What I will say is that I find her writing to be honest, heartfelt, and funny. While the book is technically not set in North Carolina, the town Peachtree Bluff is said to be modeled after Beaufort, NC. If you’ve been around a while, or read my book, you know how much I love that quirky, beautiful town.
I think Harvey writes relationships genuinely. She approaches complexities in those relationships in a way that I appreciate as a writer andreader. There were a couple of things I didn’t care for so much in this book. One of which was an obsession that a couple of characters appeared to have with body image/size.
While it rings very true that this might be something women in certain spheres are focused on, it did frustrate me as it didn’t really seem necessary to the plot itself. Who knows? Maybe I’ll come to understand that particular issue better, in the next two novels? That said, it didn’t alter my overall view of Harvey’s writing.
If you’re wondering what my February book is, it’s My Twenty-Five Years in Provence, by Peter Mayle. Mayle was a wonderful writer. He wrote joyfully about his life in France (and about food & wine – my favs). You may have seen a movie made about one of his novels – A Good Year? Mayle passed away recently. I think this is the perfect book for this month’s theme.
Here are the other books in this challenge:
January: Book Related to Your New Year’s Resolution February: Biography or Memoir March: Book in a Series April: Try an Audio Book May: Feels Like Falling! (Obviously… Then Join Us May 15 for a FB Live Discussion) June: Classic Beach Book July: Thriller So Scary You Have to Read on the Beach in Daylight August: Historical Fiction September: Book That Has Been in Your TBR Pile Forever October: New Release Impulse Buy November: One of Your Family Member’s Favorite Books December: Holiday-Themed Book
Here’s another excerpt of my novel about Lacey Mays. You can find the first excerpt, here. You can find my other fiction, here.
Whoever said you can’t go home again, forgot to pass that message on to Declan Jones. He called Lacey Mays three days ago. Scarlett Montgomery James, her grandmother, had passed away – quietly, in the home she’d shared with her husband for six decades. It had probably been the only time in her life she had stayed quiet longer than her six-hour a night sleep routine. When she didn’t show up for her hair appointment, a weekly ritual kept for thirty-years, almost without fail – her friends at The Style Bar called Declan in a panic. He drove the thirty-five-minutes from his office, to find her slumped over in her favorite chair. She may have been dead, but she was a Montgomery for heaven’s sake, so she dressed in her best to see her girls – her Hermes handbag in her lap. Of course, she never made it to get her hair washed and dried, but she sure did look good and that’s all that mattered.
“You need to come home,” Declan said to Lacey, quiet and earnest.
“I can’t,” Lacy said, the tension already building in the pit of her stomach, where it always did. “Work is – it’s crazy right now. I can’t.”
“Lacey – Sugar – you need to come. You need to bury your grandmother. There are things to take care of with the estate. You need to come home. It would have meant so much to Miss Scarlett. She talked constantly about your success and -”
“I understand,” Lacey said, the slightest warmth rising in her cheeks. There’s a tinge of connection shared, that only comes through the deep ties of biology, that can’t hide in moments like these. But she answers from the depth of her cynicism – cynicism whose foundation rests in decades of loss that she’d long hoped were buried the day her dad shot himself.
The last time she been in Pamlico County, she had been nineteen and as lost as a soul could be. Heading into her 20th birthday she mustered up the strength Donna Mays never could. Lacey had longed for a way out of that place, her entire life. So when she’d sobered up long enough to make a few things right, things she hoped were now buried with her grandma, she disappeared into a new life. Lacey handled her business the best way she knew how. And she’d handled it well enough that she didn’t need a single penny of her grandparent’s fortune.
She had reasoned that her success meant that she had not become her parents. That fact soothed the ache of loss – so why go back? Lacey didn’t need parents. She didn’t need history. She didn’t need a family home and all that it brought with it. She had created a whole new world for herself.
Before Lacey left North Carolina, her name floated on the edge of gossipy whispers and shaking heads. Most everyone thought she’d turn out just like Donna. They clucked and judged and wrote her story for her – as if they themselves were God Almighty. Her favorite critique had always been that she just needed to mature. But Lacey didn’t need to mature. She’d done that long ago, covered in blood and stroking her daddy’s hand, on the hardwood floor of a dilapidated house deep in the darkest corners of Pamlico County. She’d wisely left. She didn’t think she should return. But no one had asked her what she wanted – ever. It took her mama disappearing into the woods to make her grandparents finally stand up for her. She’d never forgiven them for leaving her with her parents until that moment.
Lacey didn’t want to go back to the land where nothing changed. Literally nothing at all. “I understand,” she continued. “But I just can’t. I don’t have the kind of job I can just walk away from. You of all people should understand.”
“I just won’t take no for an answer. You are needed here. Come home. Even if it’s just a few days. I’ll get everything ready for you to make this as easy as possible. Come home,” Declan Jones said, his accent, dripping in his signature Lenoir County drawl. “Your grandparents did everything they knew to do for your mama. They knew they failed her. But they didn’t fail you. Look at where you are now. They are – they were – so proud. Come home. It’s time.”
And just like that, Lacey knew going home couldn’t be avoided. She closed the door of her office to avoid prying eyes, booked her flight, and did her best to talk herself into a calm indifference about returning to the one place in all of the world she never wanted to see again. From the 5th floor of her Newport Coast office, Lacey felt the tension tighten into a bigger knot. Nausea gripped her then. It grew by the moment until she couldn’t hold it back. She raced for her trash can, sitting next to her desk, throwing up – over and over again until her body, shaken and weak, couldn’t take anymore. She laid down on the floor and reached for the cell phone, now lying behind her – having dropped it earlier, as the first wave of sickness shook her body. She tapped her way through a few screens until she reached the photo that she kept with her always. She took a deep breath and saw her own eyes staring back at her. She kept this photo in her phone at all times. Then again, she saved it everywhere – in her cloud, on her computer, and on flash drives – and on every photo website she had ever run across.
Every living soul in the town of Seaside and its surrounding farms and communities, had long ago decided why Lacey Mays stayed away. But they had no idea. Gripping the phone to her chest, Lacey curled into the fetal position and let the tears fall. Nearly sixteen years after leaving the agony behind, she would pay the piper now.
The long dirt driveway, lined with live oaks, that lead to Scarlett and William James’ home, is exactly the same as sixteen years ago. It is as breathtaking as always, with ancient live oaks towering as a tunnel above and covered in Spanish moss. The sun’s beams shine through the trees in streaks. There’s a quiet dance of light and dark in the south – the warm of the golden light, the heat and steamy temps during the long summer months, and all of those supposed gentle manners. But it’s also dark with past sins, handed down through generations, rolling and roiling under the surface of what is supposedly polite society. Lacey rolls down the front seat windows of her rental car – she can’t help herself. The air is thick, hot, and sweet with the scent of jasmine that grows along the fence line. There’s a brisk breeze off the Pamlico sound and it blows through the car, blowing Lacey’s hair every which way. The memories she has long locked away are unavoidable now.
Her life hasn’t been normal, to say the least. In the same way that she has, since her father shot himself, Lacey operates out of two sides of her being. She longs for this place in the way an orphan would long for home. And yet, she is repulsed just the same. She pulls up in front of the house, puts the car in park, and sits for a moment. There are no other cars around. At one time, this was a plantation, in the truest sense of the word. Over time, bits and pieces of land were sold off. Now it’s a measly fifteen acres of sound-front real estate in Pamlico County. The nearest town, if you can call it that, is Seaside – about ten miles away. Her Granddad had successfully beat back developers for the last fifteen years. As new luxury housing popped up deeper and deeper into Pamlico County, William James held on tighter to what remained of his family’s roots – telling anyone who would listen, that someday his Lacey would make this place home again.
For Lacey, a long string of blurry nights and faces, slowly covered the horrible day her dad died and her mom disappeared. One choice led to another. And then another. Until she couldn’t ignore her worst nightmare, the catalyst for finally helping her get out. But she’d long ago buried this life – deep under impenetrable concrete of her will and determination. Breaking through it would take a miracle. In the rear-view mirror of her parked car, Lacey watched the rising dust of an approaching car. She looked in the mirror to reapply lipstick, and then stepped out, taking the steps two at a time at the front of her grandparent’s home, ready as she’ll ever be to greet lawyer her family’s lawyer.
“Lacey! Is that really you? I can hardly believe it.” Declan steps towards her. She’s perched on her favorite spot, on the top step, her back resting against one of the white columns that tell anyone who happens upon this place, it’s a bonafide slice of the American South. “It’s so wonderful to see you, Shug” he says, reaching out to hug her.
“So nice to see you,” Lacey says, holding her hand out to the white-haired, lawyer. She doesn’t succeed in keeping the hug at bay. He wraps her in a hearty bear hug.
“It’s wonderful to see you – actually see you. I’ve followed your career. Well, the Mrs. has more than anything. She keeps me updated and always shows me when you’re in the magazines and such. We’ve taped every episode of every show you’ve ever been on. It’s impossible not to be proud of a Pamlico County girl that has made such a name for herself. We are proud.”
“Well thank you.” Changing the subject, Lacey says, “The house looks great. It’s been so long since I’ve been here. Nothing has changed at all. Shall we go inside?”
“Of course. I’m sure you’re tired after your trip. We can get right down to it and then I’ll leave you be.”
Two hours and a rocks glass filled with Bourbon later, Lacey sat on the back porch, looking out at the sound. The sweet scent of clover, seeped up from the hot ground. The clover covered the lawn in a way that would have infuriated her granddad. It comforted her. She hated that it did. But the slight warmth that had flushed her face when Declan Jones had called just 48-hours prior, returned. With a furrowed brow and a determination to keep everything in its proper box, she stuffed the feelings back down and reviewed some of the details from her meeting with Declan Jones.
“The house, the property, and all assets belonging to your grandparents, with one exception, are all yours. The total net worth of the estate is around ten million. If you’re smart about it, you’d never have to work again.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No. Not kidding at all. Your granddad has always been a shrewd business man. He has invested and saved well.”
“Apparently. What about Donna? I’m assuming I inherited all of this because she’s dead. Or in prison.”
“Neither,” Declan said. Lacey’s eyebrows raised. “She’s doing okay. Right now,” he adds quickly – qualifying the statement. “But your Grandparents believed it would be best if you manage the estate and make decisions about whether she should receive any financial assistance.”
“Ah. I see. Well let’s not talk about her. I would, however, like to talk about something else. I’d like to sell the house and land. Before I dive into that, do you have any realtor recommendations? I will head back to California as soon as I can.”
“You’re not going to be able to sell the house.”
“Your grandparents specified that the house and property cannot be sold unless there is a drastic change in the financial status and the funds are needed for you to live off of.”
“It can’t be sold, ever?” Lacey asked, incredulous. “Like ever?”
“Well that’s one way to do it.”
“How’s that?” Mr. Jones asks, looking a little confused.
“Never mind. I can’t exactly run my business and manage this place, too. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they would pull a stunt like this. I’m sure you’re busy, but while I’m here I’ll be looking for someone to take care of the house in my absence. Unless there’s already people doing that? Can you help me with this?”
“There is a staff in place – a gardener, caretaker, and housekeeper. The caretaker and housekeeper have been with your grandparents since around the time you left. They’re very loyal – a married couple – the Wilkins’. It’s your call if you want them to stay, of course. But I took the liberty of scheduling a meeting with them tomorrow at 9:00. You can change the meeting of course. But I thought it might be good to get something on the calendar. The meeting with the funeral home is just after that.”
“Okay, thank you,” Lacey said, stuffing the fear that flashed before her, as far as she could, as quickly as possible. They spent the rest of the meeting going over details. Since starting her Public Relations company, she quickly made a name for herself. Her rise was meteoric. Her clients and the money they represented didn’t intimidate her – not even remotely. And her grandparent’s money certainly didn’t either. Even still, the fear twisted more knots in her gut. This place held every last bit of her most horrible and painful memories, her worst choices, and of the greatest losses of her life. In spite of the beauty of the sound, the Spanish moss-covered trees, and the clean, still air, this would never work. She wouldn’t allow it to work.
The only thing that made sense to her had been to sell the house and its contents – literally all she considered had been left of Lacey Mays. Well, almost everything. Clearly her grandparents had other ideas about how she would manage things after they’d gone. She settled deeper into the Adirondack chair, as the fear settled even deeper still. Wiggling out of this didn’t look possible.
When Lacey Mays was five-years old, just days before she started Kindergarten, her father killed himself. If anyone in the county had been asked, they would have said it was only a matter of time that either Bob or Donna Mays would have ended up dead. They fed more than one of each other’s addictions and spent years on a downward spiral of hopelessness. On that summer evening in 1988, Bob Mays had finally had enough. Lacey’s daddy lay crumbled in a heap of blood and brain matter, just inside the kitchen. Lacey saw the whole thing from start to finish. And when her mama flew past her, out the front door, instead of staying there with her only daughter, somehow, in all of her too grown up-ness, Lacey knew she had lost both parents.
Moments before running home, she’d heard her mama’s voice, high and floating on the late afternoon wind. She thought it was nap time. And yesterday, her daddy had taken the paddle out and beat her bottom until she couldn’t sit, because she’d ignored her mama. She wouldn’t make that mistake again. Her white sandals carried her as fast as her little feet could run – toward the peeling paint of their two bedroom clapboard house. A house as deep into Pamlico County, North Carolina as a house could be. It wasn’t until she was in the doorway, one foot on the hardwood floor of the living room, the other still on the porch that she’d realized that Donna Mays wasn’t calling for her. She was screaming. She was screaming in a way Lacey had never heard before. Her daddy pointed a gun at her mama. She yelled out, “Don’t. Don’t do this!” And then, before Lacey’s mother could finish her sentence, a crack-pop filled Lacey’s ears and the room.
Her father fell to the floor. In one split instant, Lacey tried to believe, as her innocent-self commanded her to believe, he would be okay. And then, when her mama turned to see her in the doorway, her wild eyes filled with that thing that overtook her when she was high, she knew. She knew what her innocent-self could not. Her daddy was gone. Donna Mays stood paralyzed for a moment in the doorway between the living room and the dining room, tears running down her face. She started to move towards the front door and her daughter. But she ran past Lacey – out the door and toward the woods at the edge of the property.
Lacey, too grown for five and yet not, steeled herself in the way Donna Mays was not capable. She ran to her daddy and dropped to her knees. It wasn’t really him anymore, his face unrecognizable and distorted. The screaming came from deep inside her five-year old self. She turned to the door to see the bright pink of her mama’s shirt slip into the woods. Every last ounce of child left in Lacey’s heart and mind, slipped right out of her then. In her newfound adulthood, she stood and picked up the phone from a side table.
She dialed 9-1-1 like her Grandma and Grandpa had taught her, like she was supposed to do when her parents were hurting each other or when she couldn’t wake her mama as had happened on more than one occasion in the past. She dialed and waited for the person on the other end to answer. And just like that, when the helper answered, Lacey packed up her heart in a box and buried it deep into the dark soil of her mind where it would remain hidden from sight. Her reply to the calm woman on the other end of the phone line, “My daddy is dead.” By the time the paramedics, sheriff, and her grandparents arrived, Lacey Mays had become someone else entirely, someone she had never been created to become. It took the local sheriff’s four hours to find Donna Mays. She lay in a heap of her own vomit, deep into the woods. But it didn’t matter that she’d been found, as far as Lacey was concerned.
My novel, Chasing Hope, is about . . . hope, light, and healing after fighting your way through grief. It’s about loss and renewal. It’s about finding a family where and when you least expect it.
I’m hoping to return back to my Sample Sunday tradition to end 2018 & head into a new & BIG year for my little family. So in keeping with that, here are some of the first words I wrote for this novel that holds a special place in my heart.