I’m very pleased to welcome fellow Tule author Anne McAllister back to the spotlight–her books always charm me and they will you, too!
One of the best things about being a writer is the people you meet. That sounds a little weird, I guess, because unless you’re working with a co-author, writing is basically a solitary profession. But since I’ve been writing, I’ve met a lot of great, supportive, interesting people – people who go out of their way to make a writer’s day.
People like Nan. Nan and I have never met face-to-face, but she’s always been there to support and encourage and provide opportunities for other authors to share stories about their books, their lives, their writing process and to the provide readers with glimpses of so many different ways in which books finally get written. So, thank you, Nan, for having me here today – and the other days you’ve welcomed me to your blog. And thank you to all the writers I’ve learned so much from by reading what you’ve posted here.
One of the very first questions that comes up whenever I am asked to talk about writing is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I don’t think there’s a writer on earth who hasn’t been asked that. And for the most part, ideas don’t come – to me anyway – fully formed. They are like seeds. They get planted – somehow – and time passes, and some never get thought of again. But others kind of poke me at odd moments, like when I’m going to sleep or talking on the phone or cooking dinner or in the middle of a parent-teacher conference. All those have happened to me. And then sometimes the ideas disappear again.
But some stick around. Some are a starting point — a first scene perhaps, or a family story that begs to be inserted to make sense of why a character does what he does. Or, in the case of The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle, which came out from Tule Publishing this month, the idea that initially sparked the book became a scene nearly at the end of the book itself. It was a scene with a toddler kneeling on the floor in the middle of the night, staring up in wonder at the colored lights on the family Christmas tree.
A little background might help. I knew that toddler. He was my toddler. And one night shortly before Christmas quite a lot of years ago now, I woke up about two in the morning and saw an unexpected faint glow coming from the stairs the led down to the living room. I got up to investigate, crept down the stairs to the landing where the stairs took a 90-degree turn and from which I had a view of what should have been a darkened living room.
It was still mostly dark — except for the unexpected glow of the lights from the Christmas tree we had put up the day before.
Then I saw him, kneeling in the middle of the room — our eighteen-month-old son who had climbed out of his crib, had gone downstairs in the dark, found the plug behind the tree, and plugged it into the outlet. So he could stare at the lights, at the tree – with a sense of wonder that I still remember to this day.
I was telling my editor about it one day and we both said at the same time, “That should be in a book.”
I didn’t know the first thing about the book at that point. I didn’t know the boy – or his father. I didn’t know anything except that the memory – and the boy – wouldn’t leave me alone.
Who was he? Where was he? What was his story? While I was thinking about, while walking the dogs and shoveling the snow and working on a different book (because it’s always easier to think about the book that’s coming rather than the one I’m working on now), I realized that I had a father for him all along. Deke Malone had been mentioned in his sisters’ books, The Stardust Cowboy and The Cowboy Crashes a Wedding. But at that point I didn’t know much about him except that he’d had some issues with his own father and had no intention of having children of his own.
Until he had one, that is.
I put the pieces together. Deke and Zack – that was the little boy — seemed to fit. Fathers and sons. Families. The ones we’re born into. The ones we create. The loves we leave behind. The loves we find when we least expect them. The events that shape peoples’ lives that we don’t understand – until they give us a little glimpse into their souls. These were some of the other pieces that resonated. Some I already had but I didn’t even realize it until Zack wouldn’t leave me alone, until I started looking around, asking questions, finding answers, looking for themes and patterns, discovering the emotional shape of the story.
Books are, for me, patchwork quilts of memories, experiences, emotions, sights, sounds, hopes and dreams, stitched together, sometimes embellished and taking on meanings I never imagine at the beginning of the story.
The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle turned out to be like that. It was a story of a family that stitched itself together. Deke Malone and Erin Jones each had their futures planned out – and then real life intervened. Deke got a son he never expected. Erin lost a husband she dearly loved. They’d had a past together, but back then, they’d each had different expectations.
And now? Well, now there was Zack. Now there were Erin’s three children. Now old expectations might give way to new hopes because now it was Christmas — a season of miracles and of love.
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The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle
The last present he expected – a nearly two-year-old son!
Deke Malone never gave a thought to having kids – until the day Zack came into his life. Now he can’t imagine not being a dad. It’s not easy, but it’s the best thing he’s ever done. It’s the hardest, too, because it takes him back to Montana for the holidays – to give his son a family and make peace with his own father if he can. He never expects to run into widow Erin Jones.
Once upon a time, when they were barely more than kids, Erin was madly in love with Deke – while he thought she was his best friend. A lot has changed in fifteen years. Erin’s a widow now, with a young family of her own and a wealth of loving memories behind her. Could she really be so lucky the second time around?
Deke thinks it’s their first real chance. Besides, it’s Christmas. And isn’t that the season of miracles . . . and love?
To give you a little glimpse into Deke and Erin at the beginning of their story, here’s a little snippet of Deke’s early days as a dad:
Deke hadn’t told anyone about Zack right away. He’d needed to get used to the idea of having a son himself first.
He hadn’t had the faintest idea how to be a father. Before Zack’s arrival in his life, Deke had never changed a diaper or spooned oatmeal into a waiting mouth. He’d never paced the floor with a crying child or felt parental panic at a spiking fever or gotten ill at the sight of blood.
Not then. But he’d learned. Fast.
He was on a first-name basis with a pediatrician now. He had been to the hospital emergency room with a teething child, been patted on the head and reassured by a trio of long-suffering nurses. He’d felt foolish after the fact—but had been so vastly relieved that teething was all that had been making Zack scream that he hadn’t cared about appearing foolish at all.
He loved being a father. It was astonishing, but true. He loved the little boy who wrapped his neck in a tight hug, who laughed at his animal noises, who wept tears on his shirt front, who peed on his bare feet.
And an introduction to Erin, who had been Deke’s best friend when they were in high school:
Just like old times?
Erin hoped not. The last thing she wanted was more of the aching desperation of unrequited love she’d felt for Deke Malone during those years.
It didn’t even bear thinking about!
It was certainly the last thing she’d been thinking about when she’d set out for the ranch where her brother’s family now lived to share Thanksgiving dinner that afternoon.
Driving over the river and through the woods, trying to teach her French-born children to sing that old song, she’d been thinking that, while the move back to Elmer had been a good idea, it was also very true that “you couldn’t go home again.”
Things changed. People changed. And thank God for that. There was no way on earth Erin wanted to go back to being the sappy, passionate, awkward twenty-one-year-old she had been when she had last lived in Montana.
She liked herself the way she was now, thank you very much. At thirty-six, she was a strong, independent, competent woman, a devoted mother, and a respected freelance photographer. She was a widow, yes, and she had loved Jean-Yves dearly and missed him every day. But she was a capable adult who knew how to manage on her own.
She had made sure her parents understood that before she opted to move back to Montana. She wanted to be near them, wanted her kids to know their grandparents and their uncle and aunt and cousins. But she also wanted her family to respect her independence.
They assured her that they did. But recently, her mother had taken to saying things like, “You may not always be alone, Erin. There will come a time when you’ll be ready to look at men again.” She’d given her daughter an encouraging pat on the arm.
Her sister-in-law, Felicity, had agreed. “I did,” she said. And Erin remembered that Felicity had been a widow when Taggart met her.
“Maybe someday,” Erin had allowed because she didn’t want to argue with them. But she didn’t really believe it either.
Jean-Yves would be a hard act to follow.