The holidays are rushing by, but there's still time to enter my contest to win a free e-copy of McShannon's Heart AND a critique of fifteen manuscript pages by editor of critically acclaimed novels, Patricia Thomas. Just post a favorite holiday recipe as a comment to this post. I'll be drawing for the prizes on New Years Eve. So far I have seven entries, so your chances are good!
Christmas Eve. We're heading out to spend the evening with my parents in a few minutes, but before I go, here's a gift for you.
A few weeks ago, a writing friend of mine suggested I write a Christmas story about Trey and Beth McShannon and their children. The idea grew on me, and here it is. It takes place thirteen years after McShannon's Chance. I hope you enjoy it, and may all of you have the best of holidays and the brightest of New Years. Enjoy!
“Matthew, for goodness’ sake, close the door.”
Matthew McShannon made a face at his older sister as he stamped the snow from his boots. “Chelle, for goodness’ sake, quit bossing.”
Chelle tossed her dark curls and went back to cutting biscuits to go with the beans Ma had baked for supper. Matt deliberately kicked some snow in her direction on his way to the stove. Chelle might look fourteen and try to act twenty, but she was still only twelve and needed to be reminded of it often.
The scents of salt pork and molasses wafting from the oven made Matt’s stomach rumble. He pinned his gloves and scarf to the line over the stove, where years of stored sunshine poured from the fire, forcing back the chill of the December afternoon. Winter had come early to the Colorado foothills this year.
Steam started to rise from Matthew’s jacket, carrying the unmistakable smell of damp wool. He rubbed his hands to warm them, then fumbled with buttons. The lamp glowing on the table turned the dark window beside him into a mirror, reflecting the cabin’s log walls, the bright Indian rug on the pine floor and the ladder leading to the loft. Pa had added rooms on either side as the family grew, but this room hadn’t changed since he’d settled here in ’65. Somehow, the older Matthew got, the smaller it seemed. Now, at nearly twelve, there were days when it seemed too small. Today was one of those days.
Lamplight struck the glass ornaments Ma and Ethan were hanging on the Christmas tree across the room. Matt had always loved the glittering blue and gold birds with their tails of real feathers, treasures from Ma’s childhood home in Philadelphia, but not this year. He frowned in the glass at Ma and Ethan’s ruddy heads, at little freckled Abby sitting on the floor near them, and at his own blond, blue-eyed reflection. A hop out of kin, Mrs. Baker at the store called him. Knowing he looked like his grandfather McShannon, whom he’d never met, didn’t help.
He dipped water from the stove’s boiler into a basin, diluted it with cold from the pump and washed his hands. Ma looked over her shoulder, smiling. “Will your father be in soon?”
“Yeah, he’s just checking on Diamond. He’ll be done in a minute.” Matt hung his jacket by the door and curled up on the bunk where Dad used to sleep before Ma had come along. Ethan tucked a paper snowflake among the branches of the little pine and brushed his hands together with satisfaction.
“I’m done, Ma. Matt, is Diamond going to have her foal?”
“Pa says any day now.” Matt shrugged, annoyed at himself. What’s wrong with me? Last year I would have been as excited as Ethan about the foal. Why not now?
The lamp flickered in a gust of cold air as Pa came in, banging the door behind him. Now the room felt even more crowded. Matt and Pa seemed to rub each other the wrong way more and more often this winter.
Ma came across the room and slipped her arms around Pa inside his unbuttoned coat. “Trey, you’re freezing.” A little woman not much higher than his shoulder, she stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “Hurry and sit in. Supper’s ready.”
“And I’m ready for it, Beth.” Pa shrugged out of his coat and hurried to wash up. Chelle took her biscuits from the oven and put them on a plate while Ma dished up the beans. Matt took his seat and bowed his head with the others as Pa said grace.
“Thank you, Lord, for this Your bounty and for allowing us to be together on the night of Your Son’s birth. Amen.”
The trace of a Southern drawl in Pa’s voice irked Matt somehow. It made him think of places he’d never seen, and wouldn’t be able to see for years, if ever. Like Ma’s ornaments. He sighed into his plate. Things had come to a fine pass when you couldn’t enjoy a Christmas tree.
Ethan spoke around a mouthful of beans. “It’s my turn to name the new foal, isn’t it Pa? How about Thunder?”
Pa nodded. “Thunder Cloud would be a fine name if it’s a colt.” All the colts born on the place had Cloud in their names after Flying Cloud, Dad’s old stallion. A horseman already at six, in a way Matt knew he would never be, Ethan’s round face beamed with pride.
“If it’s a filly, I’ll call her Glory.”
Matt dropped his fork. It clattered against his plate as words tumbled out like water bursting a dam. “Glory’s a stupid name for a horse. Can’t you think of something that makes some kind of sense?”
Ethan’s quick temper flashed as Matt knew it would. “That’s what you think, mister big-for-your-britches. Speak when you’re spoken to, come when you’re called.”
A warning spark lit Pa’s dark eyes. “That’s enough, boys. Eat your supper.”
Ethan stuck his tongue out. Before Matt could think, he snatched up half of the buttered biscuit on his plate and pitched it at Ethan’s head. It grazed him, leaving a smear of butter on his fore head before hitting the floor with a dull splat. The next thing Matthew knew, Pa’s rough hand grabbed his shirt collar. “Up to the loft. Now.”
With the strength of anger, Matt tried to jerk free and almost managed it. “He – ”
Eyes stinging, Matt scrambled up the ladder and dashed between trunks and boxes. He threw himself on the bed jammed against the back wall. His hands balled into fists as he stared into the shadows that hid the roof’s peak.
Four more years, no more. I’ll scrape the money together somehow, get on the stage and never show my face in Wallace Flats again.
He stayed there, nursing the painful knot in his chest, while the family finished eating. He heard the click of plates as Chelle cleared the table, then Ma’s light step on the ladder. Matt closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. In a moment, he felt her hand on his hair, then heard her soft tread as she retreated.
“He’s asleep. I hope he hasn’t picked up that flu that’s going around the school. He hasn’t been himself today.”
Pa answered, murmuring something about age that Matthew didn’t quite catch. He lay still, listening to the familiar sounds of supper being cleared away.
It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old With angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.
Chelle’s soprano rose clear and light as a feather above Ma’s lower, richer voice carrying the melody. Pa joined in the next verse, his baritone a touch off key but still somehow pleasing to the ear.
Silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n...
A gift. What gift was there in Christmas when everything worth having was beyond your grasp, like the silly girls’ stuff Chelle oohed and aahed over in the shop windows when they made a trip to Denver?
They sang Once in Royal David’s City next, then O Come All Ye Faithful. The carols went on until the dishes were done and the door of the pantry cupboard clicked shut.
“Ethan, Abby, bed.”
“Aw, Ma, it’s only seven thirty.”
The smile in Ma’s voice carried up to Matt. “Ethan, you know Santa won’t come until you’re asleep. Go on now. Abby, come here.”
The cabin grew quiet. Matt pictured Ethan asleep in the room they shared, curled up in a ball, his mouth open. Abby would be lying on her stomach in her crib, her carroty hair tumbled across the pillow, and Chelle would be on the hearth rug reading, her long legs folded Indian style. The thin rustle of tissue paper and Ma and Pa’s muted voices told Matthew they were wrapping gifts. The knot in his chest grew tighter. Should he even bother pretending he still believed in Santa Claus this year? Last year he’d had his doubts, but now, without anyone saying anything, he knew.
By the time Pa blew out the lamp, Matt’s eyelids were growing heavy. He let them close. The next thing he knew he was staring out the loft window, shivering, his quilts kicked off onto the floor.
A few ragged clouds blew across the remains of an old moon, fading the sharp shadow of the barn roof. His back ached from the lumps in the little-used chaff tick on the loft bed. Why hadn’t someone wakened him to go down to his own bed? Grumbling under his breath, Matt climbed down the ladder.
The dim moonlight showed him the presents under the tree, but he ignored them and padded across the room. He’d acted like a kid and he’d have to say sorry at breakfast, but that wouldn’t cure what was eating at him. Nothing would, until he figured out what the problem was.
It was so still he nearly jumped out of his skin when the front door creaked. He whirled around and saw Pa’s tall shape silhouetted in the moonlight.
“Pa, is it Diamond?”
“Yeah.” Pa’s shadow leapt as he stepped to the table, then vanished when he lit the lamp. He poured a cup of coffee from the enamel pot on the stove and scraped back a chair at the table. “What are you doing up?”
“You left me up in the loft.”
Pa ignored his peeved tone and gave Matt one of his thoughtful looks. “I meant to wake you in a minute. Diamond had a little filly.”
Shame for the way he’d acted at dinner heating his cheeks, Matthew stood rooted in place, torn between going to Pa and turning away. It always seemed to be like that now. “Are they all right?”
“Couldn’t be better. She only laboured for a couple of hours. Come here, son.” Pa patted the chair next to him. Matt shuffled across the floor, the chill seeping through his socks. Pa still had his coat on; the smell of hay and horses began rising from it in response to the stove’s heat. Pa’s smell. Matt slid onto the chair and parked his elbows on the table, the scent pushing and pulling at him both. He sighed and said what had to be said.
“Sorry about dinner. Ethan just makes me so mad at times.”
Pa sipped his coffee while the silence built between them. Then, with a suddenness that made Matt jump again, he set his empty cup on the table.
“Get your coat on and come out with me.”
It didn’t occur to Matthew to argue. He bundled up and followed Pa out into the star-swept night, into the rich, still, dark air of the barn. Instead of lighting the lantern, Pa just sat on the grain bin, his shape barely visible in the darkness. The soft scraping of hooves in straw was the only sound until he spoke.
“You don’t seem much interested in Christmas this year, Matthew. Last year you were almost as excited as Ethan.”
Matt kept his distance, leaning against the half-door of old Flying Cloud’s stall. “Santa and all that stuff...it’s for kids. I’m not six anymore.”
He heard Pa’s dry chuckle, could almost see the glint in his dark eyes that would accompany it. “You sure aren’t. You’ve grown like a weed this year. At this rate you’ll be almost as tall as me next Christmas. You’re growing up, and growing up is never easy.”
“Growing up? Hell, I won’t be twenty-one for – ”
Dad didn’t chuckle this time. He roared with laughter, drowning out Matthew’s words, ignoring his ‘hell’ completely. “Twenty-one? For Pete’s sake, Matt.”
“What’s so darned funny?”
Pa shook his head, his laughter dying away into the rafters. “I’m not laughing at you, son. In a year or so you’ll understand.” He drew a deep breath and let it out, the steam showing in a patch of moonlight. “Matt, you’re all McShannon on the outside and all Surette on the inside.”
Matthew said nothing. After a pause, Pa went on. “When I was your age, there were times when I felt like the only thing keeping me from everything I wanted to do was time. Do you ever feel like that?”
“Yeah. I remember. Where I was, was never where I wanted to be. Even at Christmas.”
“Yeah, even at Christmas.” Matt pressed his back tighter to the wood behind him and tried to swallow his anger, but he couldn’t quite manage it. It might have been easier if he’d known why he was angry. “Pa, why do people lie to kids about Santa Claus? Because I know he is a lie.”
“Who told you that?”
The way Pa spoke, Matt could picture one dark brow lifting. Feeling foolish, he scuffed a heel on the frozen floor. “No one. I’m smart enough to put two and two together. The tags on the gifts are always in Ma’s writing, and Chelle never even mentions Santa any more. It’s all just a story, like the one you tell about the animals being able to talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. Only, if you wait up to hear them, they won’t. Because it’s just a story.”
Pa let out another smoking breath, Matt’s stinging tone rolling off him like water. “Are you sure? Have you ever waited up to hear them?”
“Of course not. You and Ma would never let us.”
“Well, it’s just about midnight now. Be quiet and listen.”
Pa sat very still on the grain bin. For the next minute or so Matt strained for every sound, but he heard only the sounds of the horses in their stalls and a coyote down in the river valley, a mile or so off.
Just a story.
Then he thought of the books he liked to read that took him to places all over the world, of the stories in the carols they’d sung after supper. Of the way Ma had touched his hair when she came up to the loft. Of the excitement on Ethan’s face at the thought of Santa coming. Matt listened with his heart, and he understood.
“Pa, light the lantern.”
A match flared. Pa hung the hurricane lantern on its hook in the middle of the aisle. He held Matt’s gaze for a long moment, then smiled.
“What did you hear?”
“Nothing special, with my ears at least.” Matt shrugged. “I guess there’s more than one kind of truth, isn’t there?”
Pa nodded. “Yeah. Matthew, don’t wish your life away. Twenty-one will come before you know it. And don’t let Ethan get to you. He’s only six, after all.”
“Yeah.” Matt crossed the aisle to look into Diamond’s stall. The black mare lay stretched out on her side. The color of dark chocolate, with the same white star on her forehead as her mother, the new foal lay curled up beside her, her spindly legs in tangle. Pa came to lean beside Matt, his warmth reaching through to dissolve the knot in Matt’s chest. They shared a smile that brought them closer than they’d been in a while, then he turned back to the mare and foal.
This morning I checked on Bluewood Publishing’s website to find McShannon’s Heart listed in the bookstore as available. Here’s the link: Bluewood Bookstore Now, I can go around calling myself a multi-published author, at least when no one can hear me. SCROLL DOWN TO ENTER MY CONTEST TO WIN A COPY!
It feels good. I’m fond of Rochelle and even fonder of Martin. He reminds me of some of the musicians I knew in my time as a member of the Halifax Harbour Folk Society, including my DH.
We met through music. After putting my guitar aside for a couple of years while I completed my Masters degree, I decided I wanted to start playing again. Everett had posted a notice at the Dal Student Union, advertising for students. I phoned the number and started taking lessons from him.
I knew he was a gifted musician the first time I heard him play. By the time my first lesson was over, I knew he was also an excellent teacher. That’s a more unusual combination than you might think – many gifted players don’t know how they do what they do, they just do it. My guy is a quiet, reserved type, much like Martin, so I didn’t begin to figure out what kind of a person he was until a few weeks later.
After my second lesson, we agreed to meet at the Folk Society’s weekly coffee house. It was my turn to host that December night. When the song circle ended, we stepped outside to find that it had started to snow. Hard. I insisted I’d be okay driving home, as it was only a few blocks. We said goodnight and got in our separate vehicles.
When I pulled into the yard of my apartment building, lights flashed in my mirror. Everett’s lights. I’d been so focus on the road as I drove that I hadn’t noticed him following me. He bumped his horn, backed out and drove away. He wasn’t looking to be asked in, wasn’t looking for anything, he just wanted to be sure I was all right. We didn’t know each other well at all, but that was when I started to think of him as a possible keeper.
I think of Martin as the same type of man, well worth knowing once you get past his reserve. I hope readers will enjoy him as well.
I received my edits for Heart the other day, have gone through them (no major changes - phew!) and am ready to ship them back. It looks like I'll have an e-book release by Christmas! If you'd like to enter my CONTEST win a copy, or a critique by freelance editor Patricia Thomas, PLEASE SEE MY LAST POST.
I'm including an excerpt below, of Chelle's first meeting with Martin. And, for this week's Folk Friday, Kathy Mattea's beautiful rendition of "Mary, Did You Know?" Enjoy!
She hurried down the slope and, as she expected, found a young lamb caught by its fleece in the bramble’s thorns, nearly exhausted from struggling.
“You’ve got yourself in a fine mess, haven’t you?” Chelle didn’t relish the thought of getting her hands in among those thorns, but she didn’t see much help for it. After a quick glance around, she wrapped one hand in her cloak and started pulling the branches away from the lamb’s fleece.
In spite of the protection, the thorns reached through to her skin. The lamb didn’t help. Not as exhausted as Chelle had thought, as soon as she freed it from one clinging branch it struggled and got caught by another. By the time she lifted it out of the bush, she’d earned a couple of nasty scratches and mislaid her temper.
As she bent to set the lamb on its feet, a dog’s bark startled her. Still crouching, Chelle spun around and faced a grizzled black and white Border Collie, standing a few feet away with its teeth bared and hackles raised. Luckily, the dog’s owner stood close by. Her heart in her throat, Chelle released the lamb and slowly raised her gaze from a pair of heavy boots to eyes the color of a stormy sea.
“Come, Gyp.” The dog returned to the man’s side at the curt command. Hands in his pockets, he watched Chelle straighten up. She felt herself blushing under his cool stare.
He’d be as tall as Trey, perhaps an inch or two taller, but with his bulk he didn’t look it. He reminded her of Charlie Bascomb at home, broad in the shoulders, thick in the legs and torso, but the resemblance stopped with his build. Charlie was quiet and easy-going, always wearing a smile, but there was nothing approachable about this man with his lowering brows, grim mouth and slightly freckled face. His features, along with his rusty hair, told Chelle who he must be.
“Hello. I’m Chelle McShannon. You must be Martin Rainnie.”
The Collie stood braced beside his master, the fur still standing up on the back of his neck. Mr. Rainnie looked no more welcoming. He spoke as curtly as he had to his dog.
“Aye. What are you doin’ out here?”
It seemed Jean had done the man a favor by saying little about him, or perhaps Dales farmers were usually rude. Chelle lifted her chin and showed him her bleeding hand.
“That’s obvious enough, isn’t it? That lamb’s fleece was caught in this bush. I freed it.”
Mr. Rainnie looked her up and down with those cold gray-green eyes, then softened his tone and made an effort to curb his broad Yorkshire. Perhaps he’d recalled that his daughter was living with her family.
“So you’re Jack’s niece. I didn’t know you’d arrived yet.”
“We arrived yesterday.” Chelle fished a clean handkerchief from her skirt pocket and wrapped it around her scratched hand while she fumbled for something to say. “I’ve been out for a walk to the end of the fell. The view is lovely.”
His tenacious-looking mouth twisted in a sardonic grin as he stepped closer. “Aye, but it’s not very sustainin’. Not much but sheep will grow up here. This is Carswen fell, and the village down below is Carston.”
Chelle took in his well-worn work clothes and large, work-roughened hands. Martin Rainnie’s face showed the effects of wind and weather, but she thought the lines around his mouth and eyes came from bitterness. He looked like he could do with more sleep and less of the whiskey she smelled on him. With the breeze plucking at the sleeves of his faded canvas jacket, he seemed as much a natural part of the landscape as the sheep and the moorland grass, and just as rugged.
“I thought as much. Dad mentioned it, so I came out for a walk to see it for myself. I was on my way back when I decided to follow this trail and heard the lamb.”
He shrugged and stuck his hands back in his pockets. “You could have spared yourself the trouble. This is my flock, and I check on ‘em every day. You’d best get home and look to those scratches.” With that, he strode past her toward the sheep, his dog at his heels.
Chelle watched him go, his shoulders high, his broad back stiff with annoyance. Because she’d rescued one of his silly sheep? She turned on her heel and started back toward the village, muttering under her breath.
“I’m sorry for your daughter, Mr. Rainnie. As for me, the next time I find one of your animals in trouble, I’ll be leaving it alone.”
I don't have an exact release date for McShannon's Heart, but I'm expecting it to be available as an e-book before the end of the month, so it's contest time! Here's how this is going to work: post a favorite holiday recipe as a comment, and you'll be entered in a draw for one of three e-copies of Heart, AND a very special prize: A critique of fifteen manuscript pages by freelance editor Patricia Thomas. Pat is an RWA chaptermate of mine, and a good friend. She's worked for several publishing houses and edited critically-acclaimed novels including Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin. The winner of her critique will be a lucky writer indeed. So, bring on those yummy sweet or savory holiday recipes, and good luck in the draw!
I love traditional English Christmas music, but this uniquely Canadian carol has always been a favorite of mine, as much for the story behind it as for the music.
The Huron Carol was written in 1643 by Father Jean Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary priest to the Huron nation in Quebec. Written in the Huron language, the song was Brebeuf's way of conveying the meaning of Christmas to his charges.
By all accounts Brebeuf was a capable, well-intentioned and highly charismatic leader, but the success of his mission among the Huron became a double-edged sword. A split occurred between those who wished to hold on to their own traditions and those who embraced European ways. Weakened by division and by European disease, the Huron were overrun and destroyed by the Iroquois, and Father Brebeuf became one of the first Canadian martyrs.
Blame it on the writer in me, but to my mind the sad story behind the Carol adds to its poignancy. I've heard it performed in French, English and the original Huron. I enjoy playing it myself. The English lyrics are as poetic as the melody is haunting. Enjoy!
I'm a teacher, an amateur musician and, for over thirty years, a writer. I fell in love with words at a very early age, and the affair has been life-long.
Glimpses of the past spark my imagination. There's an archaeologist buried in me somewhere. I'm currently working on a series following the McShannon family as they put down roots and find love in the old world and the new, against the background of the American Civil War. Along with this series, I'm writing a story set at the time of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. I'm really enjoying delving into the history in my own backyard.
I write for children as well as adults. When I'm not writing I garden, play guitar and spend time with my DH, our cat Emily, and our dogs Chance and Echo, the most spoiled Duck Tolling Retrievers on the planet. I live in Nova Scotia, in my opinion the most beautiful place in the world.