***BOOK GIVEAWAY AT THE END***
Hi, Mary! I’m so excited to get to interview you on our blog today. Before we get to the real interview questions, we like to have all our author friends sign our Slam Book. Ready?
Nickname: Mar (only used by one sister and two very different friends)
Genre: Tween contemporary
Personal Philosophy: Laugh whenever you can. It’s good for the body, soul and spirit.
Fave Scripture: Psalm 139 because it speaks of God’s incredibly intimate love for me.
Fave Quote: Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
In high school I was a…quiet rebel. I didn’t follow the “in” crowd or make a big stink about things I disagreed with. Just quietly went my own way.
Cool, Mar! (I can call you that now, right?) Judging by your picture, it must have been taken when it was cold outside, maybe even in December. Now that the formalities are out of the way, it’s time for the real questions. We want to hear all about you and your new book, Hear No Evil.
The first question is something I ask everyone. Do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?
I’m both, because I am a believer who writes, and I’m an author who writes Christ-honoring fiction.
Hear No Evil is middle-grade fiction dealing with some adult themed issues. What led you to put Brady in the situation where his mom is basically abandoning him at summer camp for reasons we find out later in the novel?
When my own kids were in junior high and high school, two of them had friends from different families whose mothers told them, “I don’t want you to live with me anymore. You have to go live with your dad.” These were not problem kids. I’d have taken them into my home without hesitation, and I couldn’t understand what would make a mom say that. I also couldn’t fathom the pain that must plant in a child’s heart.
Wow. It made my heart sad just reading that. One thing I like about Hear No Evil is that we get a look at both sides of issue- mom’s and Brady’s. Tell us about the setting of Hear No Evil—was it based on your own church camp experiences as a youth? Or maybe camps your kids attended?
I grew up at a Bible camp where my dad was the director. We lived there almost 20 years, so I had lots of first-hand experience. The setting is based on that camp, but things have changed in the decades since I lived there, so I used some of my kids’ experiences also.
What was it like to live at a camp?
In my opinion, it’s one of the best places for a kid to grow up. Summers were full of swimming and sports activities, kids and more kids to make friends with…kind of like living at Disneyworld. My school friends still remember the toboggan parties we had in the wintertime and a couple times, I talked my dad into letting me have a slumber party in one of the cabins!
What are you working on now?
My current WIP is Speak No Evil, the second book in the Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series. The kids come back to camp the following year, but the focus is on a different character.
And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?
I love hearing from readers, whether they liked the book or not. Tell me what drew you in, what you took away from it, what you’d like to see in future books. You can find me on my website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Amazon: Hear No Evil http://tinyurl.com/kl5bovo
To whet your appetite, here’s the beginning of the book with the scene between Brady and his mom.
HEAR NO EVIL
The last time Mom chewed her lip like that was after Dad left. Brady McCaul shuddered. His memory of that day when he was seven years old was so clear, it might have happened just last week rather than six years ago.
He stole a glance at his mom as she sat behind the wheel of their old Taurus. Her bottom lip was bleeding from constant gnawing, the way it did in the weeks and months after Dad walked out on them. She hadn’t said more than eight words since they left home in Chicago two hours ago. Several times she started to say something but never quite got the words out. Something was bothering her, but it never did any good to ask. She’d give him a weak smile and start talking about the weather or school. What could possibly be as bad as Dad leaving?
Maybe some music would take his mind off the twinge in the pit of his stomach. He sighed and sank further into the passenger’s seat, propping his kneesagainst the dashboard. He adjusted his earphones and bobbed his head to the beat of trumpet jazz by his one of his favorite artists. It didn’t help, though. Even the music couldn’t keep him from worrying about Mom. Why would she chew her lip like that?
After the first few dairy farms and cornfields, the scenery all looked the same and Brady became oblivious to it. They’d been following a pickup truck loaded with bales of hay, doing at least ten miles under the speed limit. Mom accelerated and zoomed around, only to stomp on the brake and make a screeching right turn. An arrow-shaped sign on the corner read “Rustic Knoll Bible Camp.”
Brady clutched the armrest with one hand and braced his other against the dashboard. The pickup’s horn blared as it continued past them on the road they’d just left. Mom ducked her head, but her lips moved as she peeked at the rear view mirror.
He pulled out one earbud. “What’d you say?”
“I said I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cut him off, but I couldn’t see the sign until I got around him.”
Brady twirled the earphone by its cord. “Was this Richard’s idea? Me going to summer camp, I mean?” It still seemed weird, even after seven months, to call his stepdad by his first name. But calling him “Dad” never felt right either.
Mom kept her focus on the road. “No, it was my decision.” She accelerated again and they flew over the crest of a hill.
Brady pinched the earphone between his thumb and forefinger and decided to risk saying what he felt. “Richard doesn’t like me any more than Dad did.”
Mom’s teeth grabbed her lower lip. “Give it time, Honey. It’s a big adjustment for all of us.” She gave him a sideways glance, her eyes moist.
What is bothering her? He played with the button that raised and lowered the window. The sweet fragrance of fresh-cut hay lying in neat rows in the fields they passed tickled his nostrils. Hopefully, this place wasn’t a boot camp or something. With a name like Rustic Knoll, he almost expected tents and outhouses.
A wooden sign with blue lettering and carved pine trees marked the camp’s entrance. Gravel crunched under the tires as they pulled into the parking lot. He sneezed at the dust cloud that caught up with them as the car came to a stop. Before he opened the door, Mom’s hand rested on his arm.
“I love you, Brady. I’m going to miss you.”
“It’s only for a week, Mom.” She opened her mouth like she was going to say something, but then clamped her lips shut and nodded instead. He unplugged his other ear and stuffed the mp3 player into the glove compartment. They weren’t allowed to have electronic equipment at camp. Brady frowned as he got out of the car. He hoped Mom didn’t embarrass him by getting all mushy when they said good-bye. He gathered his backpack, duffle bag, pillow, sleeping bag and trumpet case from the trunk.
“Got everything?” Mom closed her car door. “Here, let me carry something.”
He handed over his pillow and sleeping bag, then followed her past a welcome sign to a registration table shaded by a large oak. A few people waited in line ahead of them, so Brady dropped his duffle bag and set his trumpet case on the ground. He probably should have left the trumpet home, but if this place was as bad as he expected, he’d at least have one thing he could enjoy.
While the line inched forward, he checked out his surroundings. One low building sprawled out in front of him, its wood siding stained deep reddish-brown. Another with a steep roof and cross-shaped window stood nearby. Beyond that, Brady glimpsed a cluster of smaller buildings, but nothing that looked like an outhouse. That seemed promising.
The woman behind them chatted with Mom, introducing herself as Mrs. Miller and the boy by her side as her son, Steven. He wore dark sunglasses and stood a few inches taller than Brady. One of his hands rested in the crook of his mom’s elbow. The other he thrust out in front of him.
“Nice to meet you.” He spoke the words but looked straight ahead.
Brady wasn’t sure the kid was speaking to him, but Mom was talking to Mrs. Miller and he was the only one left in their little group. He reached out and shook Steven’s hand.
“You, too.” As soon as he spoke, Steven turned in his direction. He’s blind.
“Where are you from?” Steven asked.
“Same here! What part?”
“The northwest side.” Brady didn’t want to give some strange kid his whole life story. He looked to Mom to help him out but her gaze darted between the people in line, the ground, and the registration table. Everywhere but him. Was she angry? She didn’t exactly act like she was mad at him. Why couldn’t she’d just come out and tell him what was wrong?
Thankfully, the woman at the check-in table motioned them forward, and Brady scooted his duffle bag and trumpet case ahead until he stood in front of her.
“Welcome to Rustic Knoll. I’m Nurse Willie.” She reached across the table. “Do you have your health form?” A light blue medical scrub top accented her dark skin. Wiry white curls puffed out from beneath the rim of her bucket hat, reminding Brady of small clouds. The fishing lures adorning her hat looked crazy but cool at the same time, and they made faint tinkling sounds whenever her head moved.
Brady shrugged out of his backpack and dug around inside for his health form. “It’s in here somewhere.”
While he rifled through the compartments, Nurse Willie pointed out a spot on her hat to the younger man seated beside her.
“New lure?” he asked.
“Yep. Tried it out this weekend. Couldn’t even snag a clump of seaweed. Adds a nice touch of color though, don’t you think?”
“It’s you, Willie,” he chuckled. “Definitely you.”
Brady checked his pockets and dug through his backpack again. “I know I put it in here.”
Mom started to unzip his duffle bag. “You didn’t leave it at home, did you?”
Brady held up a wrinkled health form. “Nope. Found it.”
Nurse Willie took it from him and looked it over. The younger man beside her leaned close and squinted at the top of the paper, then checked a list in front of him. He looked older than a high schooler, but not really grown up yet. He drew a line with his yellow highlighter, then raised his head and smiled.
“Brady McCaul? All right! You’re in my cabin this week. I’m your counselor, Matt Carpenter.” He held up his hand for a high-five.
Brady met his hand and grinned back at Mom.
Matt pointed off to his left. “We’re in Oaks Cabin, on the other side of the chapel. You’re free until supper. Meet me in the cabin a little before six and we’ll all go eat together.”
Brady gathered up his belongings and headed in the direction Matt had pointed. Mom followed, lagging behind. They hadn’t gone far when she called him to stop. He turned to find her hugging his pillow and sleeping bag the way his little cousin held her teddy bear when she was crying. “What’s wrong?”
She shook the hair from her face. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’ve been putting it off, trying to think of the best way to say it, but…” She pressed her lips together and her chin quivered.
“I know something’s wrong. What is it?” Brady waited, but she remained silent, biting her lip. “Mom. Just say it.”
She inhaled deeply as if to push the words out. They rushed from her mouth. “You can’t come home at the end of the week. Your dad is picking you up. You’ll be living with him now.”
Brady’s jaw dropped. “What? Whose idea was that? Richard’s?”
Mom closed her eyes, swallowed hard and rolled her lips in. “No. It’s my decision.”
“Mom.” Brady stretched the word into two syllables. People turned to look at them, and he lowered his voice. “Why?”
“You’re growing up.” She tried to smile, but her lips trembled too much. “You’re almost fourteen… and…you need your dad.”
Brady’s legs threatened to give out on him. He shook his head. “I need a dad who cares about me more than his job. Dad doesn’t even bother to send me a birthday card unless you remind him.”
Mom straightened her back and shoulders. Her voice took on a firm tone. “Honey, I can’t explain it but you need to be with your dad right now.”
His voice rose. “I don’t want to live with Dad.” He dropped his duffle bag and it thudded on the ground. “I’d never see my friends anymore. I’d have to change schools. Why can’t I stay with you?”
“I told you why…”
“But in the car you told me to give Richard time. You said it’s an adjustment.”
Mom sighed and shook her head. “Don’t argue with me. You’re only making this harder.”
“Me?” He brought his hands to his chest then flung his arms out to the side. “I’m not making it harder. You’re the one who came up with this dumb idea. You get to go back home. To Richard.” The last two words came out as a sneer.
“Stop it!” Mom’s eyes narrowed. “You may not talk like that to me.”
Brady wasn’t finished. “You’re just like Dad. You don’t care about me either.”
“That’s enough!” She threw the sleeping bag and pillow to the ground, then crossed her arms and hugged her shoulders. She looked like she was trying to warm herself. “I don’t want you living with me anymore, Brady. This is not up for discussion. Your father will pick you up on Saturday.” She turned on her heel and marched to the parking lot where she slumped against the car. Her hand fumbled with the keys and brushed across her eyes more than once before she got the door open. She put one foot in the car, then stopped and looked his way.
Come back, Mom. Please, come back and tell me it was all a mistake.
She sat in the car. Did he hear the rumble of the engine coming to life, or was it his imagination? Either way, the scene was all too real. Gravel sprayed as Mom spun the car around and drove away without even a backhand wave. It felt eerily familiar, except the last time, he was seven years old, hiding in his room with a pillow over his head to keep out the angry voices. A door slammed, and everything went silent. He threw back the pillow and heard Mom crying, then jumped off the bed and ran to the window to watch his dad drive away. Dad never returned Brady’s wave. Never returned, period.
Breathe. His throat hurt from swallowing back tears, and he bit his tongue until he tasted blood. Dipping his head, he clamped his eyes shut against the curious stares. His cheeks and the tips of his ears burned. He saw the duffle bag at his feet when he opened his eyes; he reared back his foot, then shot it forward, slamming into the bag. The zipper split, and underwear, shorts and t-shirts belched from the overstuffed bag onto the ground. He let go a shaky breath then squatted to gather up his clothes.
Matt appeared beside him. “Here, let me help you with that.” He grabbed a handful of underwear and stuffed it back in the bag.
Brady rubbed away a tear that dripped onto his hand before Matt could see it. “I’ll do it.”
Matt moved close and whispered, “I want to help. I figure you probably feel like this bag right now. Kicked in the gut, split open, all your insides falling out?”
Brady’s lips pressed into a hard line. He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you outta here in a second.”
Excerpt used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mary, thanks so much for coming by! I absolutely loved this book, and I think it would make a great Christmas gift. I’m giving away an e-copy to one lucky winner. All you have to do is be a follower of this blog. Drawing on December 23, 2103.