Welcome to my "stop" on "The Next Big Thing" blog hop. And thank you to my writing (and real life...though long distance) friend, Jane Richardson, for tagging me to participate. In turn, I've asked some of my writing friends, Donna Michaels, Susan Macatee, and Victoria Pitts-Caine to participate, and they'll be posting their "The Next Big Thing" on November 21st.
"The Next Big Thing" is a ten-question and answer discussion blog in which we discuss...yes! the next big thing we're working or recent releases. In my case, I just found out that my February 2013 release from The Wild Rose Press, "Jenny Cussler's Last Stand," was released early to Amazon.com for a three-month exclusive in their Kindle program, so I'd like to talk about that book.
Question 1: What is the working title of your book?
As you can see, the title is "Jenny Cussler's Last Stand." It's a contemporary romance between a Native American social worker who grew up on a reservation and a European-American social worker who grew up in the city. The title is a variation of the term Custer's Last Stand.
Question 2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
Some years ago, I went to a Native American Veteran's awareness camp sponsored by the Yakama Nation in Washington State. The camp was set deep inside the reservation, high on the slopes of Mount Adams. For one glorious week, I was surrounded by handsome Native American men and beautiful Native American women, the traditions, the gathering and story telling around the community campfire at night, the spiritualism and sensuality (to me) of the sweat lodges, the beauty of the remote camp with clear starry skies, the ceremonial drumming and dancing at pow wow, and the generosity and good humor of the Native Americans who told their individual Veteran stories and guided us toward a better understanding of Native American culture. And a story was born... :-)
Question 3: What genre does your book fall under?
"Jenny Cussler's Last Stand" is a contemporary romance. I am partial to time travels, or any story with a bit of historical element to it, but I just had to tell this story, and in a way, it feels historical in that the traditions and practices of the Native Americans in the camp really haven't changed all that much in the last hundred years. Some things are done as they've always been done--the ceremonial drumming and dancing, the sweat lodges, the culture of oral histories.
Question 4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmmm... Interesting question! I don't actually ever use actors to portray my characters when I'm writing the stories. In fact, I request that my publisher/cover artist NOT put faces on my book covers so that readers can make up their own beloved faces. So, I don't have any particular actors in mind for the parts.
Question 5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Against his better judgment, Native American social worker, Clint Hastings, an advocate for veterans on his reservation, falls for Jenny Cussler, a non-Indian city girl, who doesn't think she can ever leave the city for life on the reservation.
Question 6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
"Jenny Cussler's Last Stand" is published by The Wild Rose Press.
Question 7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Aha! Let me check my notes. Thank goodness the computer keeps track of that sort of thing! It looks like it took me about eight months.
Question 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I'm afraid I can't compare it with any other books in my genre. I'm not aware of any quite like this one.
Question 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I'll be honest, like a lot of gals, I've always had a fascination with Native American men... In fact, I actually met and fell in love with a half Native American man I met at the camp... And we are still together nine years later! :-) Although he was born on the reservation, he grew up away from the reservation, and refers to himself as an "urban Indian." I took the romance once step further, established conflict, and developed a love story from a traditional Native American man who works on behalf of his people, and who is torn by his love for a non-Indian city girl who cannot imagine living on a reservation for the rest of her life.
Question 10: What else about this book might pique the reader's interest?
Many of my readers seem to enjoy my descriptions of scenery, locale and setting. I hope I've captured the mysticism, the Native American spirituality, the glorious beauty of the surroundings of the camp on the slopes of Mount Adams, an active volcano, in the Cascade Range of Washington State.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked past her to see Gary positioning his vehicle at the exit of the parking lot while he waited for passengers and vans to sort themselves out in a caravan. One short woman with striking red hair jumped out of one of the vans and ran toward the building. Her fellow passengers signaled her to hurry as the vehicle moved into the lineup.
Clint brought his attention back to Celia. “Didn’t you come in a van?” He searched for Celia’s vehicle. The side doors of the government vehicle were open and the passengers gazed at Celia expectantly.
“Welllll, yessss, but it’s so crowded in there. Can’t I ride up with you, Clint?”
He swore she literally batted her violet eyes at him. Blue eyes had never been his thing. He sighed. Good manners were though. His grandmother had made sure of that. But still...he didn’t want to ride with her for an hour.
“Well, I wish I could give you a ride, Celia, but I’ve already got a passenger, and there’s no more room. The back is filled with bags and equipment.”
“Oh, really? Well, maybe this other person could ride in my van?” Celia looked around for the mysterious passenger, and Clint knew he’d better act fast.
“Gee, I think that’s probably asking too much. Listen, I’ve got to go round the passenger up, so I’ll see you up at the camp.”
He swung around and head back toward the building. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Celia heading dejectedly back toward her van.
With a vague plan to hide inside for a few minutes, he strode up the sidewalk and pulled open the door. Attached to the knob on the either side was the short redhead who came flying out the door and landed against Clint’s chest.
Clint reached to steady her, and she backed off immediately.
“Excuse me! I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was on the other side of the door.” She looked up at him with widened chocolate brown eyes that caught him by surprise. Her freckled cheeks stained a rosy red, and she dropped her eyes to his feet.
“No, I’m sorry. I was just dashing in to get something...” Clint slid a quick look toward the parking lot. Celia waited by the side of her van, watching him.
“Well, excuse me, I’ve got to catch my ride.”
“Listen, I’ve got an extra seat in my rig. I’m bringing up the rear. Your van looks crowded and hot. And they’re already pulling out.”
She turned to see that indeed her van was moving behind the lead vehicle. The door remained open and several arms signaled for her to run.
“I can still catch them...” She prepared to run, but Clint caught her arm in desperation.
“Please ride in my SUV,” Clint begged. “I’m trying to avoid giving someone a ride. Please... I’m not being a creep or trying to pick you up or anything.”
She looked at her arm, then up into his eyes. He let all the desperation he felt show as he flicked a glance toward the watching Celia. She followed his eyes. Clint dropped his hand, completely ashamed he had manhandled her.
“Oh, is that...? Are you...? Does she want to ride up with you?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. I can’t... Help me.” He couldn’t keep the childish desperation from his voice.
A twitch started at one corner of her mouth, and a dimpled peeked out from the side of her chin. She lifted one arm and waved to her van to signal them to move on. They slammed the side door shut and drove away.
“Okay, my good man, lead on.” Her curvy lips widened to a grin. A twinkle in her eye caught his attention.
“Thank you, thank you. I owe you.” He strode toward his vehicle and lifted a casual hand in Celia’s direction. She climbed into her van with a shrug, and the vehicle moved into the slow moving line.
“No problem. I’m game. I was tired of riding in that hotbox anyway.”
“Good. I’ve got air conditioning. My name is Clint Hastings, by the way.” He reached out to shake her hand before he opened the passenger door. She slid into the gray cloth upholstered vehicle.
“Not Grey Eagle or Running Bear?” she murmured.
He paused and leaned on the open door for a moment with a grin. “Nope. Looks like I’ve got some white folks in the woodpile somewhere.” He chuckled.
He crossed around to the front of the vehicle and climbed in to hear the end of her laughter. The sound lightened his heart.
“So what’s your name? Sacajawea?” He stuck his keys in the ignition and started the car.
“Not likely. I’m probably the only white person you’ll ever meet who doesn’t claim to have a drop of Indian in them. My name is Jenny...Jenny Cussler.”
Clint turned to her with a start. “Custer! Custer?”
Jenny gasped. “No, Cussler, not Custer. No, not Custer. Oh, geez, that would be weird.”
Clint plastered a grin on his face and relented. “I heard you the first time. I just thought I’d tease you a bit. Custer isn’t such a popular name in Indian country.” He adjusted the air conditioner and cool air swept into the car.
He moved his vehicle into position behind the last of the government vehicles.
“So what kind of name is Cussler anyway?”
“Irish, I think. What about Hastings?”
He glanced at her in surprise. Her eyes continued to twinkle.
“Ummm...white, I think.” Would she laugh again—that warm sound that suddenly made him think this week would be fascinating? There it was! The laugh...coming from somewhere deeper than her throat. Her dark lashed eyes crinkled at the corners as she looked at him. Celia who?
Jenny couldn’t believe she was sitting in the front seat of an SUV of a stranger, and a strange Indian at that. It was not what she had imagined when she awoke at 3:30 that morning to dash over to the VA and catch the government van. She’d been flabbergasted when the tall, handsome Native American man she’d spied earlier had waylaid her and asked for help. He certainly didn’t look like he needed her help.
She tore her eyes from his aquiline bronzed face and fixed them on the slow moving vehicles in front. They drove through the edge of town and turned south toward the mountain, past extensive fields of hops which were notable for the tall poles which supported the hearty vines.
She felt suddenly tongue tied in his presence but forced out the words uppermost in her mind.
“So, who was that gal? Was she supposed to ride with you? Is there a story?” She cast him a quick sideways glance before returning her gaze to the road ahead.
His voice resonated with a timbre that captivated her completely. His evasive answer only deepened his voice.
“You know what gal!” She turned a direct gaze on him. Her lips twitched. “The beautiful blonde? Waiting by the van? The one I saw you talking to earlier? Hmmmm?”
The bronze on his cheeks darkened...adorably. He slid her a quick glance from beneath dark-lashed almond-shaped eyes.
“Oh, that one! Celia. Did you see me talking to her earlier? Really? I saw you run into the building.”
It was Jenny’s turn to blush. “Well, nervous bladder, I guess. Don’t ever tell me I can’t...um...use the bathroom for an hour. I panic.”
Clint threw back his head and laughed, a deep, husky sound that made her join in.
“I see,” he murmured when he caught his breath. “Well, you’ll be glad to know there’s a rest stop along the way...if you need it.” He flashed her a mischievous smirk. A dimple in the middle of his cheek peeped out. Jenny did her best to keep breathing. She kept her nose on the scent.
“Thank you. Good to know. So, you were saying?”
He threw her a quick glance.
“Oh, Celia.” Again, color sprang to his dark cheeks. Jenny chuckled...silently.
“Yes, well, she was at the camp last year. She wanted a ride up to camp.”
“And you didn’t want to give her a ride? Why not?” Jenny figured she’d really never see him again after the week was over. She could tease him all she liked...and for some reason, she really wanted to tease him.
“Well...uh...” He leaned his left elbow on the driver’s side door and ran a harried hand across the smoothness of his shining black hair. “I just...she already had a ride.”
Jenny crossed her arms and regarded him with affectionate suspicion, only vaguely aware that she had fallen under the spell of a man she didn’t even know.
“I had a ride.”
“Well, it looked like your ride was taking off.”
“They wouldn’t have left without me. Don’t hedge. I did you the favor. What’s the story, Mr. Hastings?”
Clint opened his mouth and closed it again, revealing an angular jaw line that looked as if it could be quite uncompromising. In fact, he looked downright mulish for a moment, but to Jenny’s relief, he gave in with a chuckle.
“No story. She’s from the Portland VA. She followed me around a lot last year. I couldn’t get away from her.”
“Oh,” Jenny murmured. She knew the feeling...of wanting to follow him around. She’d have to watch herself at camp to make sure she didn’t fawn all over him. He obviously didn’t like to be chased by women. “She’s very attractive. Are you married or in a relationship? I don’t see a wedding ring.”
“No, no. I’m not married.” He threw her a quick look and grinned. His teeth glowed white against his dark skin. “I just wasn’t...you know...”
“Yes?” she prompted. She knew how to get information from recalcitrant men. She did it for a living as a therapist.
“You know...I wasn’t interested.” He shrugged, keeping his eyes on the road. “She’s a nice woman and everything, but...just not my type.”
“Hmmm...” Jenny stared at him for a moment, realization suddenly dawning. Her heart dropped to her stomach. How could she have been so stupid? Of course! “Oh, you probably only date Native American women. I see. Well, that explains it.” She found herself rambling nervously while she tried to dampen her budding crush.
She looked out the window to her right but not before she saw Clint swing his head in her direction.
“I...uh...—-” Clint began.
Thank you all so much for visiting with me on the blog today. Don't forget to check in with Donna Michaels, Susan Macatee and Victoria Pitts-Caine next week on November 21st for their "The Next Big Thing."