With my first Christmas party of the season in full swing, I was enjoying myself immensely getting to know my three special guests, Debra Holland, Marie Higgins and Elizabeth Ayers a little better. Now, whilst I was having fun spending time with them, it occurred to me that they might have different ideas about the perfect party guests so I asked them, out of all their characters, who they'd most like to spend Christmas with and why.
Elizabeth pondered for a while before answering: "Tate and Ari from A Challenge, because they are so grounded. I'm sure their house is beautifully decorated, the food will be outstanding, but most of all, I know if I were there, I'd get to see everyone from River City." Sounds like an excellent reason to me, but then I am the world's most disorganised person!
Marie answered immediately, but then seemed as if she would change her mind: "Oh, hands down…it would have to be my characters in Charmed By Knight. They are so cute together, and funny! And nothing ever goes the way they want it. Then again…I really like my spunky, charming characters in Falling In Love Again, too. AUGH! Decisions, decisions… Can’t I just spend Christmas with them all?" I have to sympathise with her because they all sound like they know how to celebrate Christmas and they're the best sort of people to party with.
Debra had no hesitation either in her choice. "I'm going to have to say Nick and Elizabeth from Wild Montana Sky because they were my first. It's because of them that I'm a writer and my life is what it's like today. I wish I could hug them and say thank you, you're given me so much!" Isn't that wonderful reasoning? And, of course, if their author wants to spend time with them, surely we readers will too?
I was a bit surprised Debra hadn't chosen Marta Heisman, the little German girl from A Christmas Pageant to share her Christmas because, as she explained: "I put both my grandmother and my mother into her character. My grandmother was sent to boarding school when she was nine and she was so lonesome and homesick., that years later she could talk of that time in her life and still convey her emotions. My mother went to first grade not knowing English because her parents only spoke German at home. That was a difficult experience for her, and she made sure it didn't happen to her younger siblings."
Debra's grandmother was clearly a powerful influence in her life: "My grandmother, the matriarch of the family, is the one who really solidified having special Christmas Eves. When my mom was growing up, they were poor immigrants, but my grandmother made the holiday special. She and my grandfather were very creative. She could knit and sew, and my grandfather could make furniture. So the dolls would always have new outfits, and my mother and aunt had new clothes. The clothes, even if made from feedsacks, had embroidered yokes and handmade lace. There was new doll furniture and a big doll house that always needed new decorations. And most of all, there was love. My beloved grandmother been gone ten years, but her presence is still strongly felt." What a warm and beautiful Christmas story, Debra and it really does capture the spirit of Christmas. As, of course, do Debra's Montana Sky Christmas stories, so let's find out a bit more about those now.
About Montana Sky Christmas
The stories in Montana Sky Christmas are about various kinds of Christmas love--the romance between a man and a woman, the devotion of a husband to his wife's memory, or the love of a child for her goose.
Debra has very kindly released a coupon for you to claim this book FREE from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/242925 - Use coupon code RU39G at the checkout.
Here is an excerpt from Irish Luck, from Montana Sky Christmas
Sally O’Donnell finished off the end of the scarf, cut the yarn, and stuck her two knitting needles into the ball before setting them into an Indian basket at her feet. She gave the knitted weave an anxious glance. Is it good enough? “That’s the last one, Ma,” she said to her mother, who sat in a nearby chair, darning a stocking.
The O’Donnell family had finished supper, and Sally and her parents had gathered in chairs around the stone fireplace. Three kerosene lamps burned in the room, giving flickering light that combined with the fire to push back the darkness. One glass lamp perched next to a pile of stockings on the little table between Sally and her mother. Her father mended a plowing harness by the light of another lantern hanging from a bracket on the wall, and the third glowed between her ten-year-old twin sisters, studying at the table. Across from them, her fourteen-year-old brother, Charlie, bent over his slate with a piece of chalk in his hand, scratching out the answers to arithmetic questions.
Sally held up the scarf of undyed wool for her mother’s approval. “That’s number twelve.”
Her mother reached over and fingered the weave of the scarf. “Well done, my dear.” She gave Sally an approving smile. “That will keep someone nice and warm.” She slipped the wooden darning egg out of a stocking she’d mended, and placed it on the table beside her.
“I’ve enough of them now, Ma. Can I bring the scarves to town tomorrow?”
Mrs. O’Donnell glanced at her husband for his opinion.
Her father laid down the harness and gazed at Sally, concern in his eyes. The lines around his mouth deepened. “I do na like the idea of ye going into town in the winter,” he said in his Irish brogue. “It’s a two-hour ride, Sally. What if a storm blows up?”
“I’ll take shelter in town. You know the Nortons will let me stay with them. Please, Da. There’s only three days until…” With a tilt of her head, she glanced at the younger children, not wanting to say more. But her parents were in on her secret plan to provide a special Christmas for her siblings.
Her parents exchanged glances.
Ma selected a new stocking, slipped the wooden egg inside, and turned it over to expose the hole in the heel. “Let the girl go, Rory.” She began to darn.
Her father stared into the fire, mulling over the idea.
Sally was wise enough to let him be. He’d come to a conclusion, and that would be that. There’d be no hurrying him, no matter how she begged. But she studied his face to see if she could glean his thoughts.
The minutes passed. Although her mother placidly continued her handwork, she kept giving her husband quick glances. The firelight glinted off her auburn hair, and when she gave Sally a reassuring smile, she looked too young to have a grown-up daughter.
Not for the first time, Sally wished she’d inherited her mother’s beautiful hair color. All the O’Donnell children had their Da’s dark hair and navy-blue eyes, but luckily for them, not his angled features. They each had their mother’s oval face and refined nose.
At eighteen, Sally was old enough to recall the holidays when they lived in Virginia, and the whole family gathered at her grandparents’ home. She remembered the rambunctious games with her cousins, as well as the food, the candy, the stockings filled with nuts, rare oranges, coins, and small presents, and most of all, the decorated Christmas tree with the presents underneath.
But since the O’Donnells had traveled to Montana to homestead their own land, life had been hard and money scarce. At the most, Christmas meant Ma baking a cake or a pie and knitting new stockings or mittens or a cap, a reading of the Biblical story about the birth of Jesus, and singing carols after dinner. A special day. One they all looked forward to. But the meager festivities didn’t match Sally’s memories.
Sally wanted her sisters and brother to have the lavish Christmases she’d experienced in Virginia, or at least as much as possible, given the family’s limited means. This year, her parents had agreed.
Da was going to cut down a tree. Ma had saved sugar and white flour for a treat, although she wouldn’t tell Sally what she was going to make, saying that something needed to be a surprise for her. But there still wasn’t money for presents beyond the wool stockings Ma knitted after the children had gone to bed.
So Sally had come up with a plan to take her scarves to the mercantile and trade them for candy, nuts, and three oranges. Maybe if she possessed some Irish luck, there’d be enough for some fine cotton to make handkerchiefs for her mother and father. They’d be so surprised. She could barely sit still in her seat just thinking about how wonderful Christmas would be this year.
Finally, her father spoke up. “We’ll see the weather in the morning, mavoreen. If the sky is clear, ye can go.”
“Oh, thank you, Da.” She clasped the scarf she was holding to her chest. “Thank you!”
He held up an admonishing finger. “Ye just be careful.”
“I will, Da. You know I will.”
“That I do, daughter. Ye are a good, dependable girl. And proud I am that ye are doing this--“ he glanced at the children engrossed in their work “--when you could be using the money for yourself. I know you need a new dress.”
“That doesn’t matter, Da. This one’s fine. It’s not as if I go anywhere, anyway.”
Just saying the words made Sally remember her occasional restlessness, an odd longing that came sometimes despite the closeness of her family. Like usual, she dismissed the feeling.
Da sighed. “I know. And that’s na right either. Ye are almost nineteen now. Maybe this summer we’ll try harder to get to town for church and such. See if ye find a man you fancy.”
“I don’t need a husband, Da.” Sally looked around the room and smiled. “I have everyone I love right here.”
Famous last words, eh? I'd take bets that the famous luck of the Irish will be doing jigs around Sally and A. N. Other this Christmas.
USA Today Bestselling author, Debra Holland is a three-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist and one time winner. She’s the author of The Montana Sky Series, sweet, historical Western romance, and The Gods’ Dream Trilogy, fantasy romance. Montana Sky Christmas is her latest self-published book.
Debra has written a nonfiction book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving from Alpha Books (a subsidiary of Penguin). She has a free ebooklet available on her website, http://drdebraholland.com: 58 Tips for Getting What You Want From a Difficult Conversation.
Who interests you more - your heroes or your heroines? It depends on the book. Sometimes one or the other will catch my attention more, and their character is easier to write. Anthony "Ant" Gordon in Stormy Montana Sky was like that.
E-books or print? I like both, although the convenience of my Kindle is great!
Dogs or cats? Both again. I have one dog, a sheltie, and two cats.
Sunshine or snow? Sunshine. I'm a Southern California girl, and I like the pool and the beach and working out in the park with my women's fitness bootcamp.
Christmas or Thanksgiving? Christmas. I still love giving and receiving presents!
Favourite party drink? I don't much like alcohol, so I usually stick to water with a lemon in it. Or I might have a glass of white wine if I'm not driving. On Christmas mornings we have mimosas. Probably one of the reasons we need naps later.
Thank you Debra!