Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cold Queries and Contests DO Pay Off {with Special Guest Jill Kemerer}

It's Laurie! While I'm busy welcoming a new baby, I've invited some lovelies to keep you company. Please give warm Alley hugs to my beautiful friend, agent-mate, and brand new DEBUT AUTHOR Jill Kemerer as she shares her journey to publication and gives us a peek at her new book!

Sometimes it seems as if the publishing industry is all about who you know. But what if you’re on a tight budget and can’t make it to a big conference this year? Or you went to the conference, and instead of editors and agents begging for your work, you didn’t get any interest at all?

I’ve been there. There have been many years I’ve tearfully offered cyber waves to my friends attending conferences I couldn’t afford. And when I finally did get to a few conferences, I had so-so pitch sessions that left me in tears.

So what’s a writer to do?

We need an agent to get our books in editors’ hands. And we need editors to buy our work. Hang around any group of writers for a while, and you’ll hear how hard it is to get that coveted agent.

I submitted my early books directly to editors since the publishing house I was targeting didn’t require an agent. I feel really bad for the poor editors who had to read those books! By the time I was ready to query agents, my writing had improved to a point I was humbly confident I’d produced a good book.

Research is vital when you’re querying agents. I scoured websites and agent profiles to verify if they represented the books I wrote. I also followed blogs and talked to friends with agents to get a feel for what I wanted in the relationship. I narrowed my list down to my top five agents, and one stuck out in my mind. I just had a gut feeling we’d be a good fit.

After weeks of praying and researching, I sent queries to three agents. I had never met any of them. I didn’t have a recommendation. But I had faith, prayer, and experience.

My top agent? Requested the full. About a month later, I got the call!

I’m still with Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Agency, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s worked hard for me for years, and she’s encouraged me through rough times. I’m blessed!

One misconception about getting an agent is that they’ll automatically sell your book. Yes, some writers will sell right away, but like the rest of my writing journey, it wasn’t that easy for me. It took over three years after signing with Rachel to sell one of my books. During that time, I continued to write, submit books, and enter contests.

In May 2013, I noticed a pitch contest through Harlequin Love Inspired called Happily Editor After. I thought Shana Asaro would be a good fit for my voice, so with my agent’s approval, I signed up. In May 2014, I got the call! I had SOLD my first book. Small-Town Bachelor officially releases tomorrow, and it’s on store shelves now.

If you’re an aspiring writer, don’t be afraid to cold query agents. And keep your eyes open for ways to get your work in front of editors. Inspirational writers, enter ACFW’s Genesis contest and My Book Therapy’s Frasier contest. Romance writers, enter RWA’s Golden Heart contest. If you see pitch contests for publishers you’re interested in, sign up! You never know, maybe you’ll get the call too!


About Jill

Jill Kemerer writes inspirational romance novels with love, humor, and faith. A full time writer and homemaker, she relies on coffee and chocolate to keep up with her kids’ busy schedules.

Besides spoiling her mini-dachshund, Jill adores magazines, M&Ms, fluffy animals, and long nature walks. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children.  Jill loves connecting with readers, so please visit her website www.jillkemerer.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Small-Town Bachelor

A Place to Call Home
When Reed Hamilton arrives in Lake Endwell for a family wedding, he expects to do his part as best man then head back to the big city. But when a tornado postpones the wedding, the town is in shambles and Reed is injured. Thankfully maid of honor Claire Sheffield offers him one of her cottages to recuperate in.

Dedicated to her family and her dream job at the zoo, Claire is all about roots. She's this city slicker's opposite, yet as they help the town rebuild, Reed is captivated by her stunning looks and caring ways. He can't ask Claire to leave the life she loves for him, but he also can't imagine ever leaving her behind…

To find out where Small-Town Bachelor is available for purchase, click here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Imperfect Hero by Varina Denman

Good morning! I'm pleased to welcome Varina Denman to The Writers Alley today. Varina's novel, Jaded, released last month and focuses on a under-touched topic in Christian circles - being wounded by the Church...and what to do about it? Though set in a fictional world, it portrays the very real hurts Christians can inflict on one another - but also the very real healing God brings from the brokenness.
Welcome, Varina!!

As a child, my favorite stories were Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Each was a magical fairy tale of a beautiful princess saved by a handsome (and seemingly perfect) Prince Charming. I would read and watch these stories repeatedly, never tiring of the predictable plot because—every time, without fail—the prince saved the damsel, and true love reigned eternal.


When I hit my teen years, I embraced the quest to find my own prince, and soon I married, planning to live happily ever after. Except I didn’t. Sure, my husband was a prince and we were happily married, but my life was no fairy tale. Marriage is difficult, and real men are not storybook characters.


It took me a while to realize I had placed my prince on a pedestal, setting him up for a fall. And it took me even longer to realize I should have placed God on that place of honor long before I went looking for a husband. I had things twisted up a bit, but God and my husband were patient while I figured it out.


Now I’m writing contemporary romance, and every time I start a new book, I tend to draft my hero as a tall, dark, handsome (and seemingly perfect) prince. After all, that’s the character I fell in love with as a girl, the one I dreamed of as a young woman ... but also the one I discovered didn’t exist in real life. Anywhere.


So as I work my revisions and edits, I whittle and polish my hero. If he’s incredibly handsome, then I won’t allow him to be hugely successful. If he’s the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, then he may end up with a receding hair line. If he always says the right thing to make the girl feel better, then he probably has trouble holding down a job. In short, I make the guy REAL.


This is no fun. It reminds me too much of real life when I’d rather disappear into blissful storyland. However, I resist the urge to write perfect stories with perfect characters because of my tendency to get my priorities out of alignment. If I spend eight hours a day creating a flawless man, it makes my real-life husband pale in comparison. (Even though he’s remarkable)


So instead, I write real men—like my real husband—and at the end of the day when I shut down the laptop, my imperfect hero reminds me that even though life is difficult and real men are flawed, it’s all right. This damsel will still be saved. Because my first love, my true Prince Charming, my savior ... is the Lord Jesus Christ.

You can learn more about Varina at her website - www.varinadenman.com

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring into Reading with These April Releases

April doesn't only bring showers, but also some great story-adventures! Great stories and great storytellers are blooming, so check out our list of a few April releases!


Kathryn Cushman

The amazing Kristy Cambron

Another beautiful story by Katie Ganshert

Deeanne Gist

Dee Henderson

a debut novel by A.J. Cattapan

And there are SO MANY MORE!! To discover which new releases are com

Friday, March 27, 2015

Juicy Words and Tasty Pages

Ever gobbled up a book? Obviously I don’t mean actually chewing up the paper and swallowing it down. Not the right kind of roughage. Trust me on this. What I mean is, do you remember a particular reading experience where you were almost literally voracious for the next line, and when you had devoured the whole story you were left sated and blissfully full?

Whether reading or writing, a storyline that satisfies is the ultimate goal of the journey. Some stories are snack sized and fluffy, others are a Thanksgiving feast you will feel long after the last bite. Some are simply a sweet treat and others are for sustenance. But I think we can all agree that a great story told poorly is like consuming empty, unsatisfying calories. What’s the point?

The words are not only the skeleton of your body of work but they are also the lifeblood, the muscle, the nerve endings, the skin, AND the cosmetics. Each one nourishes the body of the story while feeding the readers appetite. Word choice is so very crucial simply because your words not only ARE your story, they also give it its flavor. You might be thinking, right. Words+Plot+Paper=Story…. What is she getting at?

What I want you to ask yourself is….

How well seasoned is your story? How flavorful are your words?

Using lots of big, high-falutin, twenty dollar words can quickly get tiresome. You may have an exceptionally large vocabulary and like showing it off but more often than not this will slow and frustrate the reader. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your reader doesn’t have to stop and seek out a dictionary to figure out what you are trying to say. If they can’t draw meaning from the context you are using words that sour rather than stimulate your reader’s taste buds.

On the contrary, using only bland, basic language and descriptions can make a reading experience rather stale and uninvolved. And a bland meal might fill your stomach, but very few will be anxious to go back for seconds.

Whether I’m reading or writing, running errands or having a conversation with a friend I am always on the lookout for what I like to call “JUICY WORDS” to store up in my arsenal. These are not just terms that describe foods or reference our sense of taste. They are sensory words that are so flavorful, whether in tone or feel, meaning or cadence that they activate my senses and awaken my palate so I can almost taste them! Jeans might look buttery soft molded to lean hips. A cutting remark might swallow down like a breath of broken glass. A laugh could be effervescent. The wind melodic. There are so many liberties you can take to make ordinary words vivid and succulent and ultimately extraordinary.

And how do we do this? Simple. Befriend a Thesaurus! (The resource--My sons think this is a dinosaur!) Also keep a notebook handy to jot down a word or phrase that grabs your attention. Inspiration is everywhere!

Wanna play writers workshop? Do you dare put your words to the test? This could be lots of fun! Let’s see how tasty our pages are….

1. Post a line from page 7 of your WIP that you feel is the juiciest morsel you can find.


2. Then find another one that could use some extra spice and we’ll shake some seasoning on them. Let’s do this workshop style. Any and all suggestions welcome.

And don’t forget to check up on your stuff from time to time. Flip to some random pages and have a taste. Are you salivating?

Happy reading, writing, and editing!
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 

She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's the Purpose of Your Story?

Let's face it. There are a lot of stories in the world that are cute, or entertaining, or suspenseful, or even well-written. Yet when we come away from them, we find no "take away" value. Same thing with movies and tv shows. How many times have we consumed stories that are just a standard sweet romance or edge-of-your-seat adventure?

Now, there's nothing wrong with these stories. We can definitely all use some just-plain-old-entertainment movies or books from time to time. Think of how heartwarming Hallmark movies are during the stress of Christmas preparations, for instance. They serve a particular function that I, for one, think can be very valuable.

But many of us-- here on the Alley and our dear Alley friends-- are called to something different. We are called to stories with a purpose. We are called to stories as a ministry.

Photo by nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And with that calling comes a great responsibility.

A couple years ago at the ACFW conference, Robin Jones Gunn shared during one of her keynotes that she always prays before she starts a story-- not only that she will catch God's vision for the book(s), but also that her readers would be receptive to what God wants to say to them. Such a simple concept, and yet I found it profoundly challenging.

To pray for readers, in particular, is challenging to me because it presumes there may be readers, and that takes a heart-level investment to do. But let me ask you this. What would happen if we became so intentional about our books that we asked God not only for the right publishing house, or the right agent, or even the right concept/foundation/theme? What if, instead, we prayed for our readership? That God would make their hearts sensitive to His message, and guide our own fingers over the keyboard? That each book would challenge and leave a lasting effect not only on ourselves, but on others? And not for our own interests, either, but for God's?

In that paradigm, something shifts. Stories are no longer bound up in our own interests; they become intertwined with ministry. Readership. Encouragement. God's purpose. And that greater purpose helps carry us through the ups and downs the writing life brings along.

Let me ask you this. When was the last time you ardently sought God for clarity and direction of His calling in your writing life? Are you going about aimlessly, hoping He blesses your efforts? Or are you creating with Him, enjoying the process? Are you praying for your future readers and vision-casting for your stories, or have you lost hope anyone will ever really read them, let alone be challenged by them? It's so easy to become disheartened, especially the longer we write, as a coping mechanism to all the inevitable rejection and criticism we come across. Ask God to renew your vision today, and watch where He leads-- in your stories and in your life.


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For Fun...The Letter Game

Today I thought I'd try something fun and a bit different. You may have seen this on Facebook...even if you did, it will be fun to play here.

Here's what we'll do. I'll post my answers. If you want to play, copy the questions into a comment, and your letter will be the first initial of your last name. Use that as the first letter in your answers to the questions. Clear as mud?


Here are mine:

I was given the letter -C
1. Something I hate: cold weather
2. Something I love: chocolate
3. Somewhere I have been: California
4. Somewhere I would like to go: Curaçao 
5. Someone I know: Cathy Daniel
6. Favorite movie: Casablanca
Like this and I will send you a letter ( it is harder than you think).


Cara Putman is the award-winning author of 20 books. You can connect with her online at her websitefacebooktwitter, and more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Power of Our Character’s Wounds

As novelists we often think “big picture”, don’t we? We think of the absolute worst possible thing that could happen to these characters and then work at making that happen. As well we should!

But the same should not always be applied to their backstory. We often think something absolutely catastrophic has to happen to our characters in their backstory to make them the people they are today. Something as catastrophic as a rape, watching your family be murdered before your eyes, abuse, or some other form of physical or mental trauma need not always be the wound or black moment in our character’s lives.

Sometimes it’s something as simple as something that they were never told while growing up.

A wound does not have to be catastrophic to create a lie that your character believes.

A wound does have to match the character’s personality and backstory to give credit to why they 
believe the lies that they do.

An example: a female character with a strong father’s presence where she knew she was loved, but has issues with accepting that another man she might fall in love with and marry could truly be interested in getting to know and cherishing her.


Because of one thing she never heard while growing up: the value she would have as a wife and mother.

She was never told she didn’t have value. But it was just one thing she never heard. A comment omitted from all conversations. And it wasn’t even something she was aware of until she became an adult.

It was a subconscious truth she didn’t realize she needed to hear that became a wound which led to a lie she believed about herself and her worth. A lie about her worth that would reflect on her friendships and relationships with other people.

Do you see how you could spiral this lie of someone’s worth is a hundred different directions? And it started with something as small as something this character didn’t hear while growing up. She might have had a poor home life, she might have had a great home life. There is a paradox there of being loved and cared for, but desiring the need to be cherished, but not believing she is worthy or good enough.

A characters wounds (there is usually always more than one in a good story for depth) and lies (definitely a plural must) can’t be resolved in the light of truth, unless you know the backstory of why those wounds happened in the first place.

And that backstory does not have to be huge or catastrophic. Now, in that same vein, if you have smaller wounds that lead to bigger lies and life struggles, I would suggest having a couple different wounds. You don’t want your character to come across as weak, immature or incapable of surviving—they have to have an attitude of survival though their circumstances—tied to their wound and lie—continue to knock them down.

Another example of this? Our character meets a guy she really likes, but finds out later, though they have been in near constant contact and interaction, he is not attracted to her at all. Just friends. How would that affect her current wounds and lies and what/who would she turn to in answer to that?

Sometimes what seems to be the inconsequential and “boring” wounds and lies we gloss over, actually turn out to be the better subplots and plots for our character’s lives and stories.

The point of this post? It’s not always in the big, wild or crazy backstory that we have to take our characters—even your action thriller or murder mystery can have a characters with what would seem “small” wounds and lies that have ballooned over the years of believing these untruths. It’s all in the writing and crafting of the character and stories.

Taking my example from above, how would you spin those lies into a novel plot thread? 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a country girl now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado, employed as an administrative assistant at Wordserve Literary. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A SNEAK PEAK of A Side of Hope

I don't normally do this.

But I saw the doctor today for a problem I'm having with my hand, and the meany is making me wear a brace on my right hand for 2 weeks to see if it helps, on top of some medication.

While I can type with it, it isn't the most comfortable thing to do for a very long period of time (and honestly, my hand is throbbing, woe is me!) And since I'm a writer, I'm trying to preserve my typing time!

I was going to just do a repost of an old blog post, but thought of something else I could do with minimal typing

In just a week and a half *gulp* my newest novella, A Side of Hope, is releasing! So I thought I'd give you all a sneak peak at the first chapter....

Hope you all enjoy it! Release date will be March 31st!

Chapter 1

What a cruddy day.
Slamming the door of her Chevy coupe, Tilly Davis wanted nothing more than to go inside, take off this stupid outfit, throw these heels in the trash, and soak in a nice, hot bubble bath.
Yes. That sounded just about perfect.
How stupid could she get? Everyone had dropped hints about her birthday for weeks, and every time, she’d reminded them how she did not want a big production made out of her fortieth birthday. She was turning thirty-five for the sixth time. That’s all. No big deal.
But as much as she did not want a big fuss over this day, never in a million years had she imagined they would actually listen to her—especially Beth, Maddie, and Allie.
Because of her love for her friends, she'd decided to be a good sport about whatever they were planning behind all their whispers and conversations that quickly changed when she entered a room. She’d taken a little extra time with her clothes this morning. Worn a skirt instead of dress slacks. The only skirt in her closet, actually. And heels. Yes, she had walked around the Sandwich Emporium, schmoozing with customers, helping frazzled waitresses, talking a few of the kitchen staff out of spitting in irritating customers’ food, all the while wearing stupid, stupid, stupid cursed heels. She almost broke her ankle on three occasions, too.
And all that misery, for what?
Beth, her best friend and bowling partner extraordinaire, had dropped off a card this morning and hugged her, then rushed off to do a showing with one of her clients. Reuben had waved and called “Happy Birthday!” as he headed home for the day, and reminded her that she could take off at seven. His “gift” to her or something. Maddie, Reuben’s wife, had called to let her know she couldn’t have lunch with her as planned because the babies would not stop rolling around and kicking each other in her belly, causing some not-so-stellar digestive issues. Tilly had stopped her before getting a graphic play-by-play of the issue.
Her mom and stepdad mailed her a sweater that looked like it’d come from Martha Stewart’s closet, and her dad had wired her his annual $1,000 and sent a postcard from some Caribbean island she’d never even heard of. It was signed from him and Brandi—the "i" dotted with a heart—whoever that was. One would think at sixty-five, he’d have settled down by now. Yeah, not-so-much.
There had been no other phone calls or well-wishes.
Even the other girls on the bowling team had been quiet.
So yes. Here she was. The Big Four-Oh. Her birthday. All alone. With feet that probably had bunions on them. That’s what old people got, right? Oh, and gray hair. Then again, she’d taken to dying her hair various colors for years. She’d recently ditched the red, cut off and straightened the curls, and opted for a layered, chin-length dark brown. She wouldn’t know if she had a gray spot unless her hair stylist told her so.
And Cheri was much smarter than that.
This was not where she had envisioned herself being at forty. At twenty, she'd had dreams of spending this day with a husband at her side and a couple of kids. Settled. Happy.
Most days she'd argue that she was exactly where she wanted to be in her life. But a little voice in the back of her head screamed at what could have been if she'd only spread her wings a little all those years ago.
But she hadn't, and no amount of wishful thinking could change the past. She wasn't even sure she wanted to change it.
Making her way to the back door, she shivered at the November wind that bit at her skin. A weary breath escaped her lips. This day was almost over. She’d sulk for a few more hours in her “early” inherited house, then wake up tomorrow, fully forty, and take on the world.
Only a few more hours….
She put her key into the back door and let herself in. The house was dark and quiet.
Like it is every day. A tinge of sadness gripped her heart, but she quickly brushed it away.
Shedding her shoes, she tossed the evil things into the trash. She would tear off her skirt right there in the mudroom and trash it too, but that would mean having to buy another one the next time there was a wedding or funeral to go to. And considering her idea of a shopping spree was cuddling up on her bed with her laptop and credit card, the thought of having to go to a store to clothes shop was enough to keep her skirt on.
Stepping into the kitchen, she flipped on the light.
Surprise!” Party horns tooted and black streamers fluttered across the room.
Tilly clutched the door jam, praying her aged heart wouldn’t completely give out on her. Everyone she could possibly think of stood around her kitchen, breakfast area, and even into the dining room. Her bowling girls—Beth, Lena, and Lauren. Reuben, her boss, and his wife Maddie. Allie, Stew and their crew. Pastor Greg and his wife. Rachel and Cam, a few waitresses from the Emporium, and some familiar faces from the singles group at church.
As the chaos and cheers started to die down, Tilly shook her head and scanned the crowd. “What—How—?”
An over-sized Maddie waddled forward, looking all adorable in her belly-hugging black top and maternity skinny jeans. “Did we surprise you? You didn’t guess, did you?”
Tilly pressed a shaking hand to her hip. Thank you, Jesus, for making me keep my skirt on. “I—yeah. You definitely surprised me.”
Reuben walked up beside Maddie and put his arm around his wife, then lifted his other hand that held a fluted glass in the air. “Sorry for all the secrets. I know you wanted low-key, but you know my sweet Maddie.”
Tilly smiled, ignoring the warring feelings inside her—relief that her friends hadn’t forgotten her and embarrassment for such a fuss being made. “You know, a simple cake and card would have done the trick.”
Maddie pulled her toward the kitchen table, clearly ignoring her. “Come on. You have to see the cake.”
On the table stood a two-tiered, zebra-striped cake. On the side was written in hot pink fondant, “40 is Fabulous!”
The cake was so completely opposite of Tilly’s tastes she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “It’s—lovely, Maddie. Thank you.”
The young mommy-to-be elbowed her in the side. “Thought we’d bring out your inner diva.”
Yeah right. Back in the day, maybe.
Lately, she felt more “dud” than diva.
She stood up straight, not caring that her 5’9” frame towered over most every woman in the room. Today was her day. Maddie was right. Maybe she needed to unleash her diva just a bit.
Beth, Tilly’s only close single friend, pushed her way through the crowd and squeezed her with a hug. "Happy Birthday, Til. Are you surprised?"
"You have no idea. I never imagined you guys would sneak into my house."
Her friend shrugged. "I have a spare key, remember? Maddie did the rest."
Reuben began to light all the candles, then tossed Stew the matchbox. “Help me. Otherwise we’ll be here all night.”
Tilly looked at the cake again, taking in what she’d missed at first glance. An obscene number of candles lined both tiers of the cake. “Don’t tell me you really put forty candles on there.”
“Of course we did.” Maddie linked her arm around Tilly’s waist. “A girl only turns old once.”
Oh, geez Louise. “You better be glad you’re pregnant right now.”
She winked. “Only reason I knew I could get away with it.”
A few minutes later, the cake stood in a blazing glory of black, white, and pink, and Allie started everyone off in a slightly off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
As the lights flickered on the cake, Tilly stared, knowing that at any moment, she’d be beckoned to make a wish and blow them out.
The background noise and people faded from view, and all she could see were the flames, licking at the frosting, as if begging to consume more than the tiny wicks they were perched on.
Maybe that would be her wish.
For years, she’d been content with her tiny perch. Had fought for it. Refused to relinquish it, grabbing hold with all her might. She didn’t need a lot of extra stuff to make her happy. Stability was what she’d craved and thrived on, anything to avoid the topsy-turvy era of her youth.
But now she was faced with the fact she was no longer a spring chicken. Hadn’t been for quite some time. Maybe—maybe there was more out there for her than just this little box she’d created for herself and taped off long ago.
Eighteen years ago, to be exact.
As a chorus of “blow out the candles” rang in her ears, she inhaled the largest breath her lungs could hold, made a bold wish, and let the air out in a long, slow, controlled whoosh.
Cheers erupted from those looking on.
The cake stood dark, flames completely extinguished.
A blur of commotion followed. Beth ushered her into the dining room, sitting her at the head of the table, and plopped a plate of cake and ice cream in front of her along with a large stack of cards.
Tilly fingered the first card. “You guys didn’t have to do this.”
With a grunt, Maddie lowered her prego self into the chair beside her while Beth went back to serving. “Oh, hush. We wanted to. You do so much for everyone else. It’s exciting to finally be able to do something for you.”
She made her sound like some philanthropist, which she definitely was not. “I don’t do that much.”
“Last week you came over and cleaned my house after I told you I’d been having trouble getting enough energy to do it myself these days. Last year you came up with the idea to donate the leftover bread the restaurant can’t use to the food pantry. Not to mention the fact you singlehandedly created the church’s food pantry a few years ago and do most of the running of it yourself. And then—”
Cheeks warm, Tilly squirmed in her seat. “You don’t have to list my activities. I’m well aware of how I spend my time.”
“But you aren’t well aware of how much we appreciate you. Throwing you a birthday party was the least we could do.”
Tilly scooped up a spoonful of cookies n’ cream and shoved it in her mouth, excusing herself from responding to the over-the-top praise. The cold cream swirled on her tongue, bringing back unwanted memories.
Memories of being so poor that dinner had consisted of a shared scoop of ice-cream—and that was it.
It was a good memory, though. One of the rare ones she still held onto from that brief time in her life.
The party guests all squeezed into the dining room, some sitting, most standing. Reuben instructed her to start opening cards.
One by one, she complied.
They each held gift cards to various stores, including one to a nail salon in Chicago from Rachel and Cameron, friends of Reuben and Maddie’s, and by default, friends of Tilly’s. She’d never drive that far, period, much less to get her nails done, but it was the thought that counted. She smiled and thanked them.
One card left. She opened it, but no gift card sat inside. Instead, a handwritten message.
“Your gift is an extra vacation day with pay and three escorts to Chicago to spend all your loot! Yup, a day of shopping and pampering with Maddie, Allie, and Rachel! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”
Nervous prickles bounced on her skin at the thought. Suddenly, she was regretting her birthday wish. Not that she didn’t love these crazy women. But shopping with them for a whole day was almost akin to punishment, not a birthday gift. Especially in the city. She hadn’t been farther than Yorkville since she was a teenager and intended to keep it that way.
But still, she wouldn't hurt their feelings for the world. She’d figure out a way to beg out later, although she’d happily take the vacation day.
She stood, card in hand, and surveyed the group. All friends. People she loved and would do most anything for. Some days she felt so alone, but at this moment, she couldn’t remember why. “Thank you, everyone. You have no idea how surprised I am and how much I appreciate all of this. I’m overwhelmed.”
Maddie clapped her hands. “Okay, game time!”
Games? Planned by Maddie? Oh no. Tilly opened her mouth to protest, but the chime of the front doorbell interrupted her. She glanced at Maddie. “Were you expecting someone else?”
“Nope. Everyone who said they were coming is here.”
Reuben squeezed in behind her and nodded toward the front TV room, known as the “porch” to most who came here. “I’ll see who it is.”
Glancing at the clock on the far wall, Tilly frowned. It was a quarter ‘til nine. Too late to start crazy Maddie birthday games, and definitely too late for uninvited guests.
She turned to thank Allie and Maddie again and find a way to delicately suggest they forgo “birthday games,” but a hush from the crowd brought her gaze back to the doorway.
Air lodged in her lungs. Her body refused to breathe. Blood rushed to her head, and the world tipped on its side.
Her hands grasped for something to hold her up and fell upon the back of the chair. It didn’t make sense. Why was he here? Today? After all these years? “A—Adam?”
Reuben stood, arms folded across his chest, giving the new guest a fierce look. “Tilly, you know this guy?”
The man with dark hair and sharp gray eyes fiddled with his hands for a moment then shoved them into his pocket. He looked—older. Age had only agreed with him, though. Light lines creased his eyes. His jaw was still strong and solid, covered by short stubble that begged for a razor. Gone was the immature “boy” whom she’d once thought she would love forever. In his place was a man whose presence threatened to destroy everything. “I—I didn’t realize you had this much company.”
Words jumbled in her brain. “It—it’s my birthday. I didn’t know—I mean, they surprised me.”
Stew, Allie’s husband, flanked Adam on the other side. “Tilly, who is this guy?”
She blinked and swallowed. What should she say? Most people—those few who even remembered him—probably thought Adam a good-for-nothing guy who was long gone years ago. No one had even mentioned him for well over a decade, and no one, not even her best friends, knew her secret.
Her eyes set on Adam again, and suddenly the years slipped away. She was twenty-two and facing the man who chose a career over love and shattered her heart into a million pieces in the process. Words stuck in her throat, hollow and lifeless. She blinked. The only thing she could think to say was the truth. “I’m sorry. Everyone—” She looked around, her eyes touching on confused and bewildered faces. “This is Adam. My husband.”

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romanceand A Side of Faith. She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.