Here’s A Little Something For You

Last night was my very first book signing/book talk. Other than me speaking far too fast, forgetting to take out my gum, and accidentally wearing my sneakers instead of the pair of strappy sandals I had picked out, it went well.

One of the things I had talked about was how I often cut scenes that I love or entire characters because they just don’t fit in the book. I save them off into a separate document and there they sit until I decide they’ll live in another book or I share them as extra content.

I haven’t shared any of that in a long time so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do it. Without further ado, here is the alternate opening scenes of The Broken Trail.

 

 

At gate ten in the Regan National Airport Katherine Grant waited for her flight in front of a bank of flat screen TVs, one of which was playing the news program she’d just finished taping. She watched as the on-screen Katherine eviscerated the argument Senator Baxter had raised for yet another educational bill that was all show no go. Despite having been in Washington for two decades, the man hadn’t done his homework. He trotted out his talking points with an almost casual sort of disdain practically daring anyone to disagree.  By the time Katherine was done with him he was speechless, red-faced, and angry. He should have known that in the talking head game you do your homework or you think on your feet. He hadn’t done either. She was a master of both.

Watching the exchange she expected to feel good. The bill he was proposing was so convoluted, so over-reaching it would have paralyzed small school districts and alienated home schoolers while completely failing to aid the urban districts it was targeted at. It had to be stopped and she’d done her job in making sure that happened.  Usually these small victories made her feel satisfied, but lately it was taking larger and larger ones for that happy vibe to settle in. Being a hired gun was getting old. Or maybe it was the road that was aging badly. There was no charm left in another day, another airport for sure.

She felt the row of chairs she was sitting in rock a little as someone took a seat on the end. “He never had a chance, did he?” She gave a little start and turned to find Helena Murkos, a Washington heavy-hitter, sitting in her row. Katherine had met Helena years ago and although not friends, their interactions had always been friendly. Helena was well into her fifties, sporting the female version of a power suit and blunt-cut gray hair. Katherine liked Helena, but cautiously, like a cat you don’t know; maybe they’ll purr for you, maybe they’ll bite you.

Helena watched the last of the clip, specifically the part where Katherine ended her rebuttal on the one-liner, “It may be pretty, but this dog won’t hunt.”

Helena chortled. “Nice touch.”

“I’m glad you’re amused. Can I assume, then, that the administration is not in favor of this new beast of a bill?” Katherine kept her tone carefully light.

“It is beastly at that,” was Helena’s non-answer. “Let’s just say that your government is grateful for your service today.”

“Politics as usual, is it?”

“Considering the source, criticizing it would have been…tricky.”

Katherine huffed out a laugh. That was an understatement. No party took down their own guy, unless he was someone they could spare and this guy was not. “Politics is what it is.”

“Right, backstabbing, underhanded, soul-crushing,” Katherine replied before adding a wink. She didn’t want to annoy Helena, but she wasn’t about to hide her disdain for the whole business.

“Is that why you’ve been avoiding the big chair?” Katherine cocked her head to the side in confusion. Helena was a king maker, the kind of woman who could get you a job with one phone call or end a career with a whisper, but Katherine didn’t think she was on her radar. At least, not enough for Helena to have followed her career that closely.

“I’m not avoiding any big chairs. You have one in mind?”

“Heard you were offered provost – rumor says it was Ivy League – and you turned it down. Heard you were offered a cabinet position in Powell’s administration and turned that down too. I assumed it was because California is not your style.”

Katherine was stunned. So Helena did have her on radar, but she had no idea why. Over the years there had been a few high-profile jobs, but nothing to garner this much notice. “Those were both great offers, but just at the wrong time. I’m not sure I’m interested in that kind of commitment.” In fact, she’d been thinking about taking a few months off. Home was more a post office box than anything else, but she did have a beach house on the Cape near her mom. She’d been toying with the idea of taking it off the market for rental this summer and actually living there for a while.

“Hmmm…” Helena had a speculative look on her face. “Well if no provost for you, or deputy secretary of the whatever, then what are you after? Not to sound cliché, but where do you see yourself in five years? I doubt you got those doctorates just to do the cable news circuit.”

Katherine had gotten those degrees after Life Plan #1 had crashed and burned, literally. When she was picking up the pieces and moving on she’d found a calling and she’d put her entire heart into it. “I’m open to whatever comes my way,” she shrugged. “I don’t like to limit myself by guessing what I will want in five or ten years.”

“Interesting. I think you’ve got the right idea there. I get calls from far too many people your age trying to restart stalled careers or begin new ones and it’s clear they’ve no idea what it is they want.”

”So forty is the magic number for reboots?” Katherine asked.

“You’d be surprised. You know, something came across my desk the other day, an opportunity that few administrators at your level would touch. The pay is a joke, the school is tiny, and there is pretty much no prestige to be had. I doubt I’ll find anyone to take it.”

“But, you make it sound so attractive,” Katherine joked. Helena smiled, but only briefly.

“The school is unique. Gorgeous campus up in the mountains in Maine. Lovely old brick buildings, small pond, picturesque town.”

“So far it sounds like every private school in New England.”

“Ah, but what makes it unique is the student body. Half are day-students from the nearby resort community and surrounding towns, but the other half are boarding students who are almost exclusively kids about to age out of foster care. The school runs a program geared to helping them transition to independence and adulthood. It’s a vocational program and it’s had great success. But, they’ve had some troubles in the last two years.”

“They think a new administrator will fix their problems?”

“Last one was a disaster. Came in promising changes and managed to make all the wrong ones.  Enrollment tanked, parents started complaining, and the state started asking questions about why they were paying for students who ended up dropping out or failing. Put simply, if they have another year like the last, they will lose their grants and probably most of the day-students.”

“So they need a miracle,” Katherine mused, and Helena nodded, a slight smile on her face.

“Good grief, you’re thinking me.”

“I am.” For once she wasn’t being sly. “If I knew that you had your eyes on a big chair of some sort, either public or private, I’d never suggest it. If you were on a fast track, I’d never consider you, but your career has already been all over the place.” Katherine tried to argue, but Helena cut her off. “Who goes from principal to superintendent to principal again and then becomes a policy analyst who moonlights as a consultant? Nobody.”

“But I’m not really looking right now-”

“And it’s a Christian school. You’re a Christian, right?”

Katherine nodded although she hadn’t been to church in about a decade.

“Besides, you take tough jobs in districts I wouldn’t walk thorough without an armed guard. You’ve also lived in those districts while you worked. Something else I probably wouldn’t do. You can rough it up in Maine.”

“But a private school isn’t my-”

“It’s got the exact population that typically draws your interest.” Helena interrupted. “Kids at risk. These students have nothing to look forward to when the system dumps them out at eighteen. The world does not have its arms open to foster kids. No matter what the motivational posters say tugging on bootstraps alone isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need a high-school diploma and some kind of edge. This school gives them that.”

She tried to object again, but Helena rolled right over her. “They’re only asking for one year. They want someone to come in and be the heavy, make the tough changes, get the ball rolling. They’ve already lined up a Maine native to take over once the hard work is done. He’s a bit green so they’re looking for someone to pave his way, give him a head start and multi-year plan to implement.” While Katherine searched for a polite way to say no thanks, Helena added, “I’d consider it a personal favor if you’d take a look at their offer. A serious look.” Katherine felt a sort of sinking sensation since there was no way she’d say no to doing Helena a favor. Effectively, she’d just been painted into a corner.

“Okay. If they can email it to my assistant I’ll take a look.”

“Consider it done!” Helena clapped her hands together. On the loudspeakers Katherine heard her flight’s boarding call announced. She stood, gathering her stuff and noticed that Helena had done the same, but she had no luggage with her, just her phone and she wasn’t heading to the gangway either.  She spotted Katherine looking puzzled and chuckled. “Turns out I’m not flying today after all.”  She left with a jaunty wave over her shoulder.

“Sneak attack, that’s what that was.” Katherine muttered under her breath before pulling out her phone and calling her assistant. Heather picked up on the second ring.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on a plane?” she asked.

“Boarding now. Did Helena Murkos call you today?”

“Her office did. They wanted to schedule a meeting after the taping, but I explained you were flying right out.”

“Guess who met me at the terminal.”

“No way! That’s why they wanted to know when your flight left. Was she ticked about you skewering that senator?”

“No, highly amused, but that’s beside the point. She also suggested I take a look at an offer, so I wanted you to keep an eye out.”

“It’s already here. If that’s what this is,” Heather said. “’Sweet River Christian Academy’ sound right? Maine?”

“Yah, that’s it. When was that sent?”

“Like, a minute ago.”

“Man, she works fast. Okay, send it to me and when I land let’s go over it.”

“Katherine, you can’t be serious. The compensation they’re offering…” Heather trailed off and it sounded like she was scrolling through it, reading the details. “Well, bonus. Apparently the job comes with housing, cute little house. Victorian, wrap-around front porch, legit English country garden out front, lawn out back. You should see the window boxes.”

Katherine felt a tiny spark of interest. A cute house certainly would be a bonus. It had been a while since she’d lived in anything other than a hotel room or apartment. “Okay, I’m boarding. I’ll text you when we land.” Katherine hung up and made her way on board. Once they were at cruising altitude she pulled out her laptop, logged into the wifi, and brought up the web page of the school.

The pictures showed a beautiful campus and the town’s main street with American flags on the telephone poles and quaint shops lining the road with window boxes filled trailing vines and bold petunias. Katherine felt a sort of pang of homesickness. Sweet River reminded her powerfully of her own hometown, the one that she’d left behind when her hopes of having a big family died.  She’d dreamed about living there for the rest of her life, raising her kids in a big house complete with a sprawling back yard, tree fort, and tire swing. The sting of that loss had lessened over time, but it had never really gone away. Before her thoughts could get melancholy she remembered the pledge she had made herself the day she left.  She was going to play the hand she’d been dealt and try not to mourn all she’d lost.  Marriage and family were not in the cards for her.  Never really had been.

 

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At the Smooth Moose Bar Mac sipped his coffee and waited for the wonders of caffeine to go to work on his sleep-deprived brain. The older he got, the less potent caffeine seemed to be. He needed at least four cups to get him through a nightshift. On the stool beside him, Pete Coleman spun in place and grabbed his arm, causing him to slosh the hot liquid over his hand.

“Sheesh Pete, you-.”

“Look there. She’s on.” He pointed up at the TV over the bar. Mac looked up and saw some cable news program. There was a politician he somewhat recognized going head to head with a woman he didn’t.

“Who on earth is that?” Mac asked, irked about his burnt hand and his lost coffee.

“Dr. Katherine Grant. She’s that education expert we’ve been trying to recruit for director.”

“The trustees think they can get some TV pundit to come up to Sweet River?” He was unable to keep the incredulity out of his tone. It was crazy to think anyone who had the clout to appear on TV was going to give it all up to run a tiny school in rural Maine, no matter how great the school was.

“Greg says he has an old friend who knows her, some Washington insider, gonna lean on her to take it.”

Mac looked up at the screen again. Dr. Grant was busy tearing through the politician’s argument and in general, making him look like a fool. She wasn’t being a battle-axe though; she was funny – even folksy. She was attractive too, younger than him with dark blond hair. As she turned to face the reporter he spotted a scar running from the hairline over her right ear, across her cheekbone and down, almost to her lip. It was thin and white, which he knew meant the wound had been deep.

Ever the cop, Mac couldn’t help but speculate what the circumstances were. It was odd that she was clearly wearing makeup, but she took no pains to cover the scar. He assumed that meant she was either proud of it or she didn’t care that much about looking perfect. The latter was a rare, but very fine trait in an attractive woman. “She’s got a hell of a scar on her face.”

Pete squinted up at the screen. The man was sixty-five so he could be forgiven for forgetting that his glasses were in his pocket instead of on his face.

“Chest pocket buddy.” Mac offered quietly. Pete spun on his stool to give him a glare and then fished his glasses out of his pocket and took a better look.

“Dunno how she got that scar, but if I was a betting man I’d say glass from a car accident. If she was a guy I’d say knife fight.”

Mac laughed at the idea of a woman who appeared intelligent and refined getting in a knife fight. Not that he’d put it past her with how passionately she was arguing. Clearly a fighter.

“Anyways. Greg thinks she’ll take it. Said her secretary agreed to an interview. That’s a good sign.”

“Well good luck. It’s a great way to start your first year on the board of trustees. What a hassle. I still think you’re nuts for taking it on. You haven’t even retired from the wardens yet.”

“Board meets four times a year. It’s not a hassle. Besides, it was an honor to be asked.” Pete sat up a little straighter, his chest puffed out.

“They just picked you because you’re old. All that gray makes you look smarter.” Mac gave him a side-eyed glance and got enough time to dodge the backhand aimed at him.

“Watch it son.” He huffed and finished off his coffee. “You ready to hit it? I’ve got poachers to catch. Can’t sit here gabbing with you all night.”

“Yah.” Mac reluctantly slid off his stool and left a ten on the bar.  He tipped well at the Moose considering it was the only place open after midnight and the bartenders brewed a fresh pot if they saw a uniform arrive. The night shift was not normally his gig, but he didn’t have family to speak of or anyone to go home to so when someone needed coverage, he’d offer. It was better to feel useful than to feel alone, or at least that’s what he told himself.

Tonight the shift should at least be a bit interesting. He was backup for Pete’s hopeful bust of a family of poachers that had been in his sights for half his career as a game warden. Pete suspected there would be both trouble and additional charges so he’d called Mac in on it. Most likely Mac would stand there looking menacing while Pete did his job, but at least it was something to keep him awake. He smiled when he thought of how different the night shift in New York had been. Back then there was never a slow night. Although, back then he had twice the energy and half the brains. Getting into his cruiser he followed Pete out of the parking lot and into the night.

The Truth Beneath Our Surfaces

As regular readers know, I have a book coming out shortly – The Broken Trail. It’s a contemporary Christian romance in which a smart, successful education consultant travels to a rural Maine town to help turn around the local private school and ends up locking horns with the town’s police captain. I write fiction that reflects the real world so there’s some challenging stuff in it; the challenges of kids in foster care, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and the damaging impact of church gossip. Not light stuff. At heart, it’s a love story, but it doesn’t look away from all the struggles surrounding the couple.

Katherine, the main character, is downright unlikable in spots (but in the end I promise you’ll love her) because someone who has survived what she has, someone with her wounds can be tough to deal with. On the surface Katherine is intelligent, successful, even nice. To get by she made a habit of not letting anyone below that surface other than her mom, her sisters, and her best friend. They know the real, messy,and complicated person who is in desperate need of healing. I bet you can think of one person in your own life (maybe even you) who fits this description, someone who smiles on the outside while a whirling mass of conflict inside.

A photo by Jeremy Thomas. unsplash.com/photos/jh2KTqHLMjE

As the book opens Katherine has traveled to Maine to work a contract that she’s overqualified for with the hopes that a small town and the wilderness around it will bring her some peace. She doesn’t know how to change and deep down inside, she doesn’t know if she can.  Pete, one of the central characters, spots this conflict from the first time he meets her and she’s surprised because she’s managed to fool everyone around her for years. Little cracks in her surface appear right about the time Mac, our hero, decides he’s falling for her, and she starts to lose hold of her carefully constructed facade.

We all have a version of that facade. It’s the face we put on for the world when we’re hurting, or feel a need to protect ourselves. We put up that shield in all sorts of places,

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Source: Wikimedia

cocktail parties, school events, work, and sadly, sometimes church. One of the many things I love about the church I attend is that it’s  a safe place to leave your facade behind. And if you bring it, the good souls there will probably see beyond it anyway. People there are ‘broken in the good way’ so to speak and they encourage others to be the same, compassionate, kind, patient, speaking the truth in love. That doesn’t mean that at coffee hour I don’t haul my shield up in preparation for small talk. Luckily, more often than not, it’s half-hearted and I end up having a conversation with someone who hasn’t bothered with theirs at all.

The truth is that even folks who are well put together and look like they’ve got a handle on it, often don’t. One of my favorite things is getting to know someone who is willing to be real, to let themselves be vulnerable enough to be honest about themselves and their struggles. It’s where true friendship begins. Too many humans are walking around in armor, protecting themselves against the slings and arrows of fate along with the judgement and nastiness of others. It’s a lonely way to be. When we build these walls we keep out more than just the bad stuff.

 

 

Book News!

The Broken Trail will be out on October 1st! Right now you can pre-order the digital version for a ridiculously low price. Click here for the linky-thing: The Broken Trail

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, there’s lots more places to go to get extra content, book teasers, my deepest thoughts etc  My Twitter handle is @CricketMacD. Although I warn you in advance that’s my personal Twitter so it’s filled with all my fandom stuff as well as a healthy dose of politics and the occasional gripe about how hard writing is because we all know…

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I’ve got a whole Pinterest board dedicated to the book and even a board started for the sequel so check it out there as well.

And today I even started a Tumblr blog, cause you know – I’ve got so much spare time (this is a joke I have no free time).

I like social media, although I’m not in love with how you can lose hours to it. Anyone else find they look up from a ‘quick few minutes’ and find it’s six hours later?

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Anyhoots, these are the neat places you can go to check out more content, updates on versions (Print copy links coming soon), and read more incredibly witty things by me!

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A Pitch for Forgiveness

In the business world as well as the creative industries there’s something called the ‘elevator pitch’. It’s a way to summarize your project for a prospective customer/agent/publisher/producer. The idea is to make the pitch concise enough to fit the length of a ride in an elevator from one floor to the next. It’s something that writers have to develop in order to promote their work and it’s something I am terrible at.

I don’t generally do concise. In my day-job world I’ve had to learn to curb my verbose tendencies. My six paragraph, heavily-researched emails have long since turned into bullet points and brief phrases. But in my writing life? Not so much. Pitches are important though so when I was on the spot to offer one a few weeks ago (and I’m not sure how well I did) I knew it was time to sit down and really think about what The Broken Trail is about and how to communicate that in just a few words.

It’s a contemporary, Christian romance, but what else is it? I’ve never written a book with genre predominantly on my mind. Every book I’ve ever written (it’s up to three now) I’ve started with a character and a seed of a plot. First book was Kennedy and her recovery from a trauma. Second book was Elsa and her secret identity. Neither of these books has seen the light of day. The Broken Trail started the same way though – Katherine popped into my head almost fully-formed. “What if a highly-intelligent, privileged, but wounded woman went to teach in the rural North Woods of Maine?” That was the seed that started it all.

Now that the seed is a fully-formed flower I have to find a way to describe it that makes someone want to read it. To describe a morning glory one might say it’s an Impomea, a typically annual climber with trumpet-shaped flowers, but would that do justice to this?

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Nope. My first few tries at an elevator pitch were just as inadequate.

The book is a love story, sure, but it’s also a story of transformation. Katherine has to change in order to find love with Mac, She has to forgive an old hurt in order for it to heal. It’s a painful lesson many of us have to endure over and over again until we finally accept it. There are people out there who will hurt us and never apologize, never be held accountable for their sin against us. It’s human to refuse to forgive them, but that impulse leads to bitterness and in the end poisons our lives.

If I was into tattoos at all I’d put “Forgive and Be Free” somewhere on my person as a reminder of how good it feels to let go of anger, resentment, and bitterness. It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I finally got it, that God had forgiven me for every evil thought and deed so who was I to keep my forgiveness from anyone else? Letting go of the wounds from what was at times, a difficult past, was like gaining wings. The happiness that followed was a bonus I never expected. If you’d asked people who knew me then they would probably say it was about the time I stopped wearing all black. And they’d be right. Color came back into my life when I learned to let go and forgive.

These days I am still the same angry creature of my youth, but it’s brief. I flash, flare, and flame out. I can’t keep a hold of a grudge, or remember a slight, or stay worked up about a hurt I’ve suffered.  It’s not because I’m so perfect, my family can tell you that. I’m quick-tempered, occasionally exacting, and frequently anxious. I am a sinner who has been redeemed, not sin-less, a work in progress.  But I can forgive because Jesus lives in me and He has absolutely no time for that nonsense. Who am I to hold a grudge when the maker of heaven and earth has seen fit to forgive me?

As Forgiveness is a main theme in The Broken Trail, so is Love in all its forms: eros, agape, phileo, storge. There’s something important to know about love.

 

Love Keeps

That list you have in your head that you pretend isn’t there? Time to cross it off and throw it away.  This doesn’t mean that you loan money to your gambling cousin again or you restore ties to your ex-boyfriend who hurt you so badly, it means that you let go of that hurt and forgive them as you have been forgiven. And, like Katherine (or Elsa), you let it go.Elsa Peaces Out

Now, after all this discussion you might be wondering if I ever did come up with an elevator pitch for my book?  Finally, I settled on this: Katherine Grant is a woman with everything but peace. In a tiny town in the mountains of Maine she tries to find it in her budding love for the town’s police captain, but she learns that she has to deal with the brokenness of her soul before she can truly offer her heart to anyone.

Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

Follow me. I have cookies.

Hey folks!

A little news. I have an author page up at Amazon! Right now it only has the short-story anthology I was published in, but coming soon will be The Broken Trail! You can follow me there to get a link to preorder the moment it’s ready! How cool is that? Oh, and sequel info will be there as well so FOLLOW ME! I should have some epic pic here, but all I could find was

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This is true. I have the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  Follow me and be rewarded!

https://www.amazon.com/author/christamacdonald

Just because I’m nice, I’ll even post the recipe here:

 

  • One stick of butter (not margarine, ladies please. Margarine is oil)
  • 1/2 cup of packed DARK brown sugar – yes it matters that it’s dark
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract (good stuff, regular stuff, just make it the real stuff)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 & 1/4 cup of AP flour
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp of salt (if you’re using salted butter you can reduce to 1/8th or a pinch)
  • 1 bag of Ghiradelli Chocolate chips (This is the ‘secret’ of this recipe. These chips are so dang tasty and at the portion I put them in… guaranteed success)
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  • Optional – nuts of any sort. My family does not care for them so I leave them out.

Directions:

Beat butter and sugars together in stand mixer until light and fluffy. If no stand mixer available hand the husband or the kids a bowl and spoon and have them do it. 😉

Add vanilla and egg and beat again until smooth.

Add all remaining ingredients – yes I said all. (I don’t bother with the sifting thing. I put in the flour first, then the salt and baking soda and finally the chips. Only then do I mix and it seems as though the chips aid in making it all fully combined, but not over-mixed. It creates a soft and crisp cookie. I may be wrong, but I think this step is crucial)  Mix until just combined.

On a cookie sheet lined with parchment (or wax) paper scoop out cookies in even portions. Best done with a small disher, but two spoons will do. Bake at 355 degrees on a rack in the middle portion of the oven for 12 minutes.

CHECK THEM AT TEN. I’m not kidding. Depending on how small you dished them out, they may be close to done. Always take cookies out when they are slightly underdone and set them on a trivet on the counter. They’ll need a few minutes to finish cooking. Then slide them onto a cooling rack.

These are simply sublime when warm, but just as good when cool.

Since my husband told me he loved me after just two weeks of dating I know he didn’t marry me just for these cookies.  But sometimes, I suspect these have at least confirmed for him that he was right all along in his choice of a wife.

 

Elsa Peaces Out