J. Grace Pennington

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“I Think They Felt Hopeful to Her”

I won’t announce that “I’ve been on a blogging hiatus” since you already know that if you follow my blog at all. I’m sorry for not warning you all ahead of time — the holidays just got so busy and I got out of the habit. But I’ve been thinking of blogging ideas for the new year, and I’m excited to share them. I’ll be on a more regular schedule, among other things. But in the meantime, here’s a story I wrote last year for you to enjoy. I know it’s a little late, but merry Christmas!

It was an unspoken policy on most class-A vessels not to have any ship-wide Christmas celebrations. There were too many people from too many different backgrounds, and the prevailing policy of ISA was one that was tolerant and respectful of all of its various members. But the Surveyor was different, because Captain Trent insisted that by celebrating Christmas or various other traditions we were giving the crew a much better opportunity to practice tolerance and respect than if we did nothing at all. “No one is forced to join us,” he insisted. “If anyone finds Christmas offensive, they can stand on the sidelines for one day and be glad for those of us who celebrate.”

Still, it wasn’t a huge deal. The B-Deck lounge was decked out with a faux tree and ornaments, and some of the crewmembers would put on a concert or two, and those who wished exchanged gifts. Sometimes the Captain would have a few close friends to the officer’s mess or his cabin for a special dinner, but that was all. People had more time off, and the schedule generally relaxed for a few days before picking up as normal again.

The trouble became procuring gifts secretly. Especially if I wanted to get anything for the Captain or the Doctor. Nothing could be ordered or brought aboard without the Captain’s express approval, and the Doctor was altogether too smart and too observant. Not to mention that supplies could sometimes take months to be delivered, so we had to think far in advance to get anything to the ship on time. I usually solved this problem by making things, and the only things I knew how to make were mechanical. I’d invented a portable hand dryer for the Doctor a few months back, and had kept it tucked safely in the bottom of my closet behind my shoes, knowing that it was safe there. The Doctor never thought about his own clothes more than was absolutely necessary, let alone anyone else’s.

It had taken me a long time to come up with something for the Captain, but at last I’d programmed a new pad to connect to all of his electronic books and catalogue exactly what books he had on them and where to find them. He could even touch a title on the catalogue and the corresponding story would open on the applicable book.

I had gotten the Captain to help me order a new apron for Almira, and I wracked my brain about Guilders for weeks before finally deciding on socks. It made me wrinkle my nose, but they were practical, and Guilders liked practical.

Crash and I had a game of just giving each other whatever we happened to see on our way out the door to greet each other wherever we happened to be in the vicinity of the holiday, so I never worried about him. He’d probably end up with a lightbulb or a bit of laundry I hadn’t put away. The best had been the time that he arrived as a surprise, and in my search around my quarters I couldn’t find anything detachable except the short, blue curtains on the portholes, so I’d ripped one down and presented it to him. I’d probably end up being the lucky recipient of a bolt or an old worn out communicator.

This year, however, I had a new problem. August.

August had arrived only six months before Christmas the year 2320, and I hadn’t been able to think of anything in the first two months I knew him, and by then it was too late to order anything, and I tried in vain to think of something to download. So Christmas Day found me desperately gathering a plate full of cookies and tying a bow around them. One thing I had learned was that August didn’t like chocolate, so the plate was mostly full of decorated sugar cookies, with a few oatmeal raisin and peanut butter mixed in.

I slipped into the lounge, where people were exchanging gifts, making toasts, and laughing in the merriest way. Gripping the warm plate of cookies, I looked around the room for my brother, but couldn’t find him. Of course. August wouldn’t be at a party.

I rode the elevator down to C-Deck, found his cabin, and rapped on his door four times. “August!” I called. I could hear faint, indistinguishable sounds from inside. “It’s Andi.”

“It’s open,” his soft voice called in return, and I balanced the cookies on my left arm and used my right hand to press the button on the side of the door.

It slid upward, and immediately music met my ears.

August sat at his desk, boots propped up on top, a drink in his right hand, his face illuminated by the dim lamplight. The music came from his computer, and I vaguely recognized it as being a style from the mid-nineteen hundreds.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
let your heart be light
from now on our troubles will be out of sight…

His eyes were closed when the door opened, but he opened them as these lines played, and he smiled at me. “Hello, Andi.”

“Hi.” I smiled back. “Can I come in?”

“Of course.” He slid his boots off the desk and onto the floor and sat up straighter, placing his drink on the desk as the music continued to play. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.” I handed him the plate of cookies, feeling a little shy suddenly.

“Thank you,” he said, his soft, Austrian accent blending perfectly with the quiet scene. “It was very thoughtful.”

I briefly wondered if he’d gotten me anything, but pushed the thought from my mind. “I looked for you at the party in the lounge.”

“Oh yes, I’m sorry. I meant to go, I guess I didn’t realize the time.” It felt like a lie, one that he believed.

“It’s okay.” I listened as the song changed to something about a snowman named Frosty who was a jolly, happy soul. “This is nice.”

He nodded, and looked towards the computer. I thought for a moment he wasn’t going to say anything else, but just a hint of awkwardness infused the silence, he spoke. “It’s what I do every year.”

“Why?”

He turned to look at me, studying my eyes for a moment. “She always loved the ‘oldies’ as she called them.”

I instinctively knew that “she” was our mother, and a longing washed over me, tinted with jealousy. “Why?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. She liked old-fashioned things. I think they felt hopeful to her. Like something good from the past coming back. I think she felt like she belonged there.”

It was a longer sentence than he usually made. I listened more carefully to the music now, as it shifted into lyrics about rockin’ around the Christmas tree. It was unfamiliar, and I felt suddenly like an intruder. I stood up hastily. “I’ll leave you to it, then….”

“No.” He looked up quickly. “It’s okay.”

As I slowly sat down again, he added, “She was your mother, too.”

I nodded, forcing the tears to stay in my eyes.

For a moment we were both silent, listening to the songs. They ranged from jazzy and playful to thoughtful and wistful, but they were all Christmasy. All hopeful.

“He wasn’t always like that, you know,” August began.

“I know…” I hastened, but he kept talking.

“I remember one time… it was before you were born… I remember wondering why her stomach was so big.”

I smiled a bit, and he kept looking at the computer screen.

“We were making cookies. Dad was in the other room reading the news, and she let me make a special cookie for him. It was supposed to be a starship, but since I formed it myself, it was probably more of a shapeless mass. But it looked amazing to a three-year-old. She let me decorate it, too. All by myself.”

I didn’t stop a tear this time. Reaching into the inner pocket of my uniform jacket, I pulled out a picture of a smiling, brown-haired woman who bore quite a resemblance to myself.

“I gave it to Dad after it was done. He said it was perfect. He smiled at her.” He stopped there, and the music went on uninterrupted for a whole song. Then he shrugged. “A silly memory I suppose.”

I reached out and touched his arm, still clutching the picture with my other hand. “Not at all.”

He pulled his arm away gently to wipe his eyes. “She loved Christmas. For awhile I didn’t like it, because of that. But… I guess it didn’t take me long to figure out that remembering her was a good thing, and this was one of the ways to do it.” He shrugged again, and fell silent. It wasn’t awkward this time, and we both listened as a song I recognized, Auld Lang Syne, played. When it was over, he turned towards me and laid his hand on the cookies.

“Thank you for these, Andi. I tried to think of something to get you, but….”

I touched his hand, to stop him. “You did give me something, August.”

He smiled, and we went on listening to the Christmas music our mother had loved.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sale!

I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter that all three Firmament books would be on sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but I didn’t mention that they aren’t the only ones! Several of my colleagues are also putting their books on sale for the biggest shopping days of the year! Check out this list and see which ones strike your fancy. Hard copies will be on sale on Friday, and ebooks on Monday, and coupon codes are listed next to the book when necessary. If there is no coupon code, the price at the link is the sale price already, which makes it even easier! Happy shopping!

Since I haven’t read most of the books included, I can’t necessarily recommend them, so keep that in mind. But if you’re in the mood for something new, this is the time to give them a try without too much risk!

Books:

Kendra E. Ardnek
The Ankuluen: Cyber Monday
Saffron’s Big Plan and Other StoriesCyber Monday
Do You Take This Quest?: Cyber Monday

Faith Blum
A Mighty Fortress: Black Friday  [V4Y5K36D — 10%] and Cyber Monday
Be Thou My Vision: Black Friday [7626YZAK — 20%] and Cyber Monday

Sarah Brown
The Prodigal Pup: Black Friday [SB14CP31 — 25%] Cyber Monday [SB14CP31 — 25%]
Learning Lessons from Furry Friends: Black Friday [SB14CP31 — 25%] Cyber Monday [SB14CP31 — 25%]

Kelsey Bryant
Family Reunion: Black Friday [YFY84GHU — 20%]

Elizabeth Ender
RansomedBlack Friday [GNE6VUXY — 30%]

J.J. Francesco
Blood Chain: Cyber Monday

Julie Gilbert
Nadia’s Tears: Cyber Monday

Leah Good
Counted Worthy: Black Friday [K7CVNEER — 40%] and Cyber Monday

Melody Grubb
The Land of Calais: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Warmth of His Eyes: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Send Me, Lord Jesus: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Rachel Heffington
Anon, Sir, Anon: Black Friday [9MTYHSX3 — 25%] and Cyber Monday

Rebekah Jones
Journeys of Four: Cyber Monday
Grandmother’s Letters: Cyber Monday
A Year with the Potters: Cyber Monday

Jaye L. Knight
ResistanceBlack Friday [Q45HN6G9 — 25%] and Cyber Monday

Tina M. Neely
Diamond Hair Princess: Black Friday

Joel A. Parisi
Shadow Play: Cyber Monday

J. Grace Pennington
Radialloy: Black Friday [Y2XHGYDN — 25%] and Cyber Monday
In His Image: Black Friday [KXNZ7PYN — 25%] and Cyber Monday
Machiavellian: Black Friday [UFXGUYMM — 25%] and Cyber Monday

Jennifer Sauer
Why Rodney Never Should’ve Gone to the NAPIC: Black Friday [F76DDR7S — 45%] and Cyber Monday

Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Touch My Tears: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Third Side of the Coin: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Cara Simmons
The Haven: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Leviathan: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Champion: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Jordan Smith
Finding the Core of Your Story: Black Friday [NL4NJXWS — 30%]

Rachel Starr Thomson
Reap the Whirlwind: Cyber Monday
Lady Moon: Cyber Monday
Angel in the Woods: Cyber Monday

Therese Heckenkamp
Past Suspicion: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Frozen Footprints: Black Friday

Melika Dannese Lux
City of Lights: Black Friday [FNB98MY6 — 35%] and Cyber Monday
Corcitura: Black Friday [GU46WHKT — 55%] and Cyber Monday

T.R. Lykins
Last Heartbeat: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Life Gift: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Melanie D. Snitker
Calming the Storm: Cyber Monday

Cowboys and Horses and Guns, Oh My!

I love westerns. True, I haven’t read many, but I have watched dozens of old B-westerns, several western TV shows, and a handful of bigger-budget specimens. I wrote a western mystery myself, and one of the best things that came from that was a friendship with the awesome Elisabeth G. Foley, a much more prolific western writer than myself, who very kindly took me under her wing when I first published Never and showed me the various tips and tricks of promoting stories in this genre. I’ve since been able to read some of her work and have loved it.

I haven’t read her most recent novella, Corral Nocturne yet, mostly because the release date is today, but I am really excited to read it soon! The synopsis really has my attention:

Life on her brother’s ranch is lonely for Ellie Strickland. Ed’s ungracious manners and tight-fisted habits keep visitors away and his mother and sister close to home. But when Cole Newcomb, son of the wealthiest rancher in the county, meets Ellie by chance, he is struck by an unexpected impulse to rescue her from her solitude—and Ellie’s lonely summer is transformed.

When Cole asks her to go with him to the Fourth of July dance, Ellie is determined that nothing, from an old dress to Ed’s sour temper, will stand in her way. By the time the Fourth of July fireworks go off at midnight, will they herald only more heartache, or maybe—just maybe—a dream come true?

Sound a bit familiar? This couldn’t be a western version of Cinderella, could it? We’ll have to read it and find out!

But today, I’m not only promoting Corral Nocturne, I’m also sharing the Rafflecopter giveaway that goes with the release! The prize package includes an ebook copy of the novella, an mp3 of the song “After the Ball,” a pink cameo ring (in the style of a special brooch from the story), and a custom made Corral Nocturne bookmark.

To learn more about Elisabeth’s writing, you can visit her delightful blog The Second Sentence, or check out her profiles on Twitter, Goodreads, or Pinterest. I myself will be reading the newest book as soon as I can get my hands on it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’d Like to Thank…

Today’s the day. The official release date of Firmament: Machiavellian. Sure, it lacks a little “oomph” because it’s not going quite how I planned — there were some problems with the paperback, so it won’t be available for a day or two, but the Kindle version is already out, so for those of you who like electronic books, you can now purchase that version on Amazon! And I’ll let you know when the paperback is up.

But somehow, I don’t feel like making this release all about me. I may be the writer, but there are so many other people that have been there for me and supported and helped me that I honestly don’t think of it as just my book. And in honor of that, I’d like to try something I haven’t done before — I’m going to post the special thanks from the book here. I want all of you to know how much I rely on all of the people listed.

To each of the following people — thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Machiavellian Special Thanks

First I’d like to thank my family, for their support of this book and my writing in general. They are my biggest fans, and the ones who have to put up with me during the days where I miss chores, stress out over deadlines, and remain in a zombie-like state while trying to figure out those sticky plot twists. I especially thank my parents, who have always encouraged my writing, and my brother Adam, who always lists me as his favorite writer. I’d also like to thank my sister Hope, who was the first person to hear this story all the way through.

Next, a huge thank you to my wonderful test readers: Jonathan Garner, Aubrey Hansen, Lawrence Mark Coddington, Jeremiah Stiles, Sarah Holman, Faith Blum, Sarah Jamrizok, Emily and Cheryl Mann, Jordan Miller, and Joel A. Parisi. Without them, this book would be a mess with glaring mistakes and lots of boring and illogical spots.

But even with all that help, the book still would have been a disaster without the hard work of my amazing editor, Michelle McDevitt. Her patience with me and her dedication to making my stories the best they can be are true blessings. And the book wouldn’t be what it is without the beautiful cover done by Michael McDevitt, who brought Napoleon to life in a way that exceeded my expectations. But while he made the outside look beautiful, credit for the inside goes to Aubrey Hansen’s legendary formatting skills. And extra special thanks to my brother Jacob for adding text to the cover and working with me for hours to get the color of the title just right.

And even though they didn’t read the book or actively contribute to it, I owe thanks to Annie Hawthorne, Heidi and Heather Salzman, and Jotham Chua. Their enthusiasm for this series and my writing is a much-needed source of encouragement! Also thanks to Martin Selbrede for his interest in my writing and his recommendation of an extremely helpful book, Nancy Sample for her contribution to one particular scene, and Daniel Schwabauer for his advice on a difficult decision.

Most of all, I thank my beloved savior Jesus Christ, without whom I would not have the strength, dedication, or hope that I need to tell stories.