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Excerpt: “In Sickness and in Health”

An excerpt from my latest novel, now available at the Kindle store….

by Libby Malin

He was making her an offer: marriage, perhaps for a short time, depending on his prognosis, during which she’d live a life of luxury and leisure except tending to him. Not as nurse or maid, mind you, but as companion and dear friend. As helpmate. As hand-holder. He’d hire nurses and maids, and all Ava would have to do was manage them. He’d expect fidelity during the marriage, and she heartily concurred. Once married, she’d live up to the vows and she’d expect the same as him.

Once married—yes, she said that. She spoke with the same level of sincerity and seriousness. She told him he wasn’t crazy, that she was the one who’d originally floated the idea, and that she wasn’t about to laugh at him for taking her up on it, especially given his current situation.

They talked, in fact, as if this were a business deal. But even so, she found herself staring at him, her heart breaking thinking of the loneliness he’d probably felt after his parents passed, and then being alone again in the doctor’s office, getting bad news.

She’d felt lonely during her DC ordeal, and she’d not faced anything as grave as this.

She, too, began to feel that her “inspiration” the night she’d arrived at the beach—to marry a rich man, and the call it had prompted her to make—was some sort of quirk of Fate, leading them to each other, if only for a short time.

This, too, nudged their interaction into overdrive. There was something about a possible death sentence that made everything more intoxicating, that made colors more saturated, emotions more pronounced. Why, she might even say she loved John. Loved him as a human being in need. And who was to say: perhaps she’d fall in love with him, too. She’d always liked him. Well, in that impersonal way of high school kids. But they’d not moved in the same social circles much, so she’d just not had the chance to interact with him. After the beer-soaked proposal at the pool party, she’d even crushed on him. Until she realized he wasn’t going to ask her out. She had to admit she’d found him attractive when he’d landed on her doorstep the other day. Very attractive. And if he’d taken measures to start dating, she would have responded positively.

She squared her shoulders when they arrived at the medical center in Wilmington. Step one: be that helpmate he required. She’d signed up for that task for this day. Maybe that was the way to approach all of it, just in twenty-four-hour segments, one day after another, not looking farther than evening.

The day was tedious and stressful, and if anything was going to test her inclination to say yes, it was the frustration and boredom of medical testing. The check-in and directions to the right office. The endless papers to fill out, the same ones for the radiologist as for the medical center in general. The signature on the privacy papers—yes, she agreed when John asked if he could put her down as someone the doctors could talk to. The showing of his insurance cards, the looking up of said insurance program, the checking of blood pressure and pulse, several times, once for each location they moved to, from office, to waiting room, to private waiting area of the scan area.

The sitting around sea-green waiting rooms flipping through last month’s People magazine waiting nearly two hours for a scan because there was a technical issue with one of the two machines in the medical center, and because it turned out John was, in fact, claustrophobic, and they’d had to pull him from the room, give him a Valium, and wait for it to affect him before putting him back in the schedule. Oh, and there were more checks on his BP and pulse then, too.

All of this was done, of course, with stiff smiles on their faces, little reassuring grins as if to say, “This is going okay, isn’t it? Just a few little bugs here and there, but it’s so ordinary, so normal to have these speed bumps, so comforting to feel irritated at this, this small thing…”

Although she’d done nothing but sit and read the entire afternoon they were there, she felt as if she’d run a marathon when they finally slipped out of the building and breathed fresh air. Her muscles ached, particularly those around her mouth and eyes.

“If I heard ‘Strangers in the Night’ one more time, I would have screamed,” she said.

“Your voice would have been covered by the racket I’d make heaving a chair at the speaker system,” he said, as they made their way to his truck in the multilevel parking lot.

“At least they turned off the TV,” she said. “Watching bodies being cut up in the morgue on CSI: Miami just doesn’t seem like suitable fare for a hospital waiting room, you know?”

At that, he chuckled. So did she. And the tension of the day led them to full-out laughter as the aches left them and they relaxed, and that led to him touching her arm when they reached his vehicle, and she leaned in, and he wrapped her in a hug. And they shared their first kiss.

Not bad. Not bad at all, she thought, as his warm lips pressed against hers and he deepened the kiss. She liked that he didn’t wear aftershave, and she breathed in the clean scent of his soap, something that had a tinge of coconut oil in it, she thought, reminding her of suntan lotion and the sea.

They stayed locked in an embrace, his forehead pressing on hers, for a few moments. “Thanks,” he breathed. “It really made a difference, having someone—you—with me.”

0-6She squeezed his arm. “I was happy to do it. Really.” The tedium of the afternoon lifted, the fatigue memory misting away as well. She felt good. About herself. About life. About everything. And especially about being with John. This was Fate bringing them together.

“I think I’m awake enough to drive,” he said, but she shook her head.

“Nope. I take my duties to my future fiancé very seriously. I will drive us home.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up a bit, and she thought she noticed a visible relaxing of his shoulders. Good. She was glad if she could give that to him.

They both got in, and he leaned his seat back, confirming her belief that he really did need to unwind.

She started the engine, and after a few jolts as she got used to the brakes and action of the accelerator pedal, they were on the road south to Bethany Beach.

(c) Libby Malin Sternberg 2019

Read the entire story of Ava and John’s journey to love through bad and good health by heading to Amazon and picking up a copy of “In Sickness and in Health”!

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“In Sickness and in Health”: New Novel!

Drumroll, please… I’m announcing the release of a new novel, a sweet romance/women’s fiction with some inspirational overtones, In Sickness and in Health. It’s available at the Kindle store and will be on sale for 99 cents for a while, so grab a copy by clicking on this link! 

0-6Here’s the story: Ava Fulton moves to Bethany Beach, Delaware to lick her wounds after a DC scandal sent her into hiding. There, she decides the best way out of her problems is to marry a millionaire, and she just so happens to remember one from high school, John Baylor, now a very successful man who’d shyly tried to court her as a teen. When she reconnects with him, though, she finds he faces grim health news and she tries to be a good helpmate through his medical crises. Only after they marry and his prognosis changes does she realize she’d wed him planning to be a widow, not a wife. They struggle to make a go of their union and a new life in general, eventually heeding an inner call to something greater than either of them together.

And here’s a Q and A about the book and its characters:

Where did the character of Ava Fulton come from?

She originally came from the character of Sheila in my romantic comedy Fire Me! In that book, the heroine spends a day trying to get laid off to snag a generous severance package. She discovers she has some competition in coworker Sheila. I’d envisioned In Sickness and in Health being a sequel to Fire Me, following Sheila’s life. Something happened as I was writing, though–I kept thinking of the heroine as Ava! That name just dogged me as I wrote, and I realized I wasn’t writing Sheila at all but some other woman and her story. So I abandoned the idea of a sequel and wrote this standalone novel instead. As soon as I did this, the novel flowed more easily, the writing became a joy instead of a chore.

The first part of the novel, which you subtitle “Dying,” is about John’s struggles with a serious diagnosis. Was that hard to write?

Sadly, I think many people have experiences similar to John’s, either dealing with a serious diagnosis or being helpmates/friends to people who face such a fate. I’ve dealt with the Big C myself and know the anxiety one experiences during testing, etc. Although I’m a ten year survivor now, I do find myself writing more stories that incorporate some of those health experiences in one way or another. Maybe I’m far enough away from it now that it’s easier for me to explore as a writer.

The second part of the novel is subtitled “Living,” however. What happens when things change for John and Ava?

I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers to mention that John’s prognosis takes an upward turn…and that’s when he and Ava have to figure out how to live together! Previously they’d been focused on the possibility of him dying, of being in declining health. Once they realize that fate might not be in store, they have to do some heavy lifting in their relationship. This creates a comic moment or two as they struggle with the “in health” part of their marriage vows.

Do they make it as a couple?

Well, readers will have to read the book to find out! 🙂 They have a bumpy road, to be sure, but they do eventually find peace and fulfillment…in a surprising way. I hope readers enjoy discovering how their stories end.

Is In Sickness and in Health an inspirational?

Yes, no, maybe. 🙂 The term “inspirational” covers Christian books–fiction or nonfiction–with faith themes. In Sickness and in Health is…something in between. Like all inspirational fiction, it’s clean and sweet. No sex scenes (the curtain closes even with a married couple like Ava and John in the bedroom), no bad language (or if there is, it’s scant), but, yes, some mentions of faith. I’ve written before on this blog about how general fiction, for the most part, has mentions of faith blanched out of books, but this isn’t the way a lot of people live. Even non-churchgoers can have rich faith lives, can believe in God, and they can even pray often. So I think a book like In Sickness and in Health probably reflects more of an average person’s connection with things spiritual than a lot of general fiction, even literary fiction, does. In my novel, Ava and John start out as good people who don’t even realize they are searching for something more in their lives until they discover ways to put their spirituality into action. It’s not a preachy book at all, and I must admit I hesitated to put a discussion of this aspect of the book on the blog for fear it would turn some away. Ava and John’s faith journey actually has some comic moments in it, and, though it shapes their eventual path, it is a gentle and tender path, not a judgmental one.

This book is set primarily at Bethany Beach, Delaware. Why Bethany?

Bethany Beach is one of my very favorite places, and we go there often. It is a small, quiet resort on the many miles of coastline that make up Delaware’s eastern border, and we vacation there every summer, and visit several times throughout the year. I have several other books in the works that are set there, so watch this space for news of those novels!

In Sickness and in Health by Libby Malin is available at the Kindle store. If you read and enjoy a book, consider leaving a review. Indie authors in particular are helped by reviews. They aid in bringing books to the attention of other readers!

 

 

 

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I sold a “book of my heart”!

Some authors write to the market, others what the spirit moves them to create. I do a little of both. I’ve written books I thought should do well in the marketplace because of their genre (and sometimes been wrong about that) and novels that we writers call “books of the heart.”

I’m proud, excited, pleased, giddy, elated…doing the Snoopy dance of happiness…to announce that a “book of my heart” will be published next fall by Bancroft Press: Fall from Grace. I’ll tell you why it’s a book of my heart in a moment. But, first, here’s a summary of the novel:

Fall from Grace: Eli Baine has sinned. Spectacularly. When he’s caught using a prostitution ring, the news blasts across print and broadcast media: the son of a reality TV evangelical clan, whose Christian lifestyle is showcased regularly in Baine Family Values television episodes, is exposed as a hypocrite. Carted off to rehab, Eli chafes at being lumped in with molesters and serial adulterers. But when he escapes to visit his wife, Ruth, he finds no solace there. She can hardly bear to look at him, let alone admit him back into her life with their infant child. This sets Eli off on a hard journey toward redemption, understanding and reconciliation. His first stop is at a mainline Protestant church that embraces him with tolerance and support, but where he must endure counseling from a “she-priest” and an ultimate betrayal by someone who’d offered a helping hand. Meanwhile, Ruth herself sets out on a healing path, being counseled by a new, young pastor at her parents’ fundamentalist church who offers her more than just spiritual guidance. Both Eli and Ruth wander in the wilderness of heartbreak, distrust and eventual tragedy until they finally transform into different individuals who can see the light of hope and love in their marriage and their lives.

bookclub_bannerThis novel is a perfect fit for a small press like Bancroft. Larger publishers, used to dealing with very specific categories of books, with offices full of editors looking for books in those specific categories, would have a hard time pegging where this book should be, what shelf it should be  placed on at a bookstore. Even though it deals with faith issues, it’s not an inspirational.

Inspirationals are novels that target a mostly conservative Christian audience, with no swearing, sex, or offensive material, no use of faith words except in a respectful, literal manner, novels that pass muster with the Christian Booksellers Association and buyers at stores such as Lifeway.

Fall from Grace strays from the guidelines these booksellers and buyers would likely follow. It does contain some cursing (though hardly any). It does contain some sexual content (though just one or two scenes, and even then action takes place “off screen”).

But because the book contains a lot about faith, editors at big publishing houses wouldn’t really know what to do with it. Novels today are highly secular, with virtually no mention of churchgoing or faith. To include these elements in your books means risking being placed in the inspirational genre…where you have to follow very strict rules, and where the religion involved is a nondenominational brand of evangelical faith. Fall from Grace doesn’t follow those rules.

In fact, Fall from Grace includes some unflattering portraits of people involved in both evangelical and mainstream Protestant churches. But it also includes — and this is so important, and a crucial part of why this is a “book of my heart” — some very loving and inspiring portraits of people in those churches, too. Yes, even evangelical church people.

You see, I’ve worked with evangelicals over the years when I was very involved in the school choice movement. And their more Bible-literal faith might not be my brand of religion, but I had great respect for them. They are beautiful people, those I worked with. They were sweet and loving and kind. And today I know people with a more fundamentalist approach to faith I call friend and family. They, too, are lovely people, living good, Christian lives.

Too often, these religious people are maligned in popular culture, lampooned, caricatured, or worse. And in political punditry, they can often be lumped in with the unsavory characters at the gay-bashing/hating Westboro Baptist Church (which shouldn’t have either Baptist or church in its name), as if that is the only alternative to mainline Protestant or even Roman Catholic faith.

Fall from Grace treats them kindly, or at least…equally. Just as there are mainline Protestant characters in the book who are flawed, yet striving to lead Christian lives, so, too, are there evangelicals on their own similar paths.

Fall from Grace is about finding that path, about answering the question: What is true Christ-like love? As Eli Baine, the protagonist, tries to find his way back to his marriage, he must also find his way back to faith, a faith he took for granted.

And that’s why it’s a “book of my heart.” I took more than a year to write it, penning a first draft, working with a critique partner (thank you, Jerri!), rewriting, polishing, tweaking some more.

I’ll be writing more about this book as publication date nears. Stay tuned!

________

The other part of my pitch to publishers included this material:

Quick bio of author Libby Sternberg: Multi-published author in YA mystery, adult mystery, historical fiction and romantic comedy; Edgar nominee for her first YA mystery; one of her romantic comedies was optioned for film — a brief squib about this project is here . Her Jane Eyre-inspired novel, Sloane Hall, was one of only 14 books the Simon & Schuster “Off the Shelf” blog featured on the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth. She has been published by Bancroft Press, Harlequin, Dorchester, Sourcebooks, Five Star/Cengage and independently. She writes under the names Libby Sternberg and Libby Malin, and is currently a copy editor for a Big Five publisher.

Praise for Libby Sternberg:

For Death Is the Cool Night and Lost to the World (Libby Sternberg):

  • “This volume collects two well-crafted novels by Sternberg… Blending operatic drama, sumptuous description, and noir, Sternberg gracefully puzzles out her tormented characters’ actions and motivations in each book.” Publishers Weekly

For Loves Me, Loves Me Not (Libby Malin):

  • “The love story is charming and will be appreciated by any woman with bad taste in men who somehow inexplicably ends up with Mr. Right.” Washington Post
  • “A whimsical look at the vagaries of dating… an intriguing side plot adds punch and pathos to the story…” Publishers Weekly

For Sloane Hall (Libby Sternberg):

  • “An original story with complex character development…(Sternberg) knows how to tell a story and she does it well….a refreshing tale.” Bronte Studies journal
  • “Libby Sternberg’s intelligent and intriguing Jane Eyre reimagining has achieved two of the most difficult goals in a novel: being a page turner and paying a worthy tribute to Charlotte Brontë’s immortal story.” – The Bronte Blog
  • “Sternberg never loses sight of the story she’s re-telling, but this novel is definitely her own. Readers have things to figure out and look forward to. Her prose flows beautifully with vivid descriptions of people and places, bringing to life a Los Angeles of times gone by. Fans of historical fiction and Jane Eyre in particular will relish this novel, and readers who enjoy a love story should definitely pick this one up.”—Fresh Fiction

 

 

 

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Review: SECOND CHANCE LOVE by Shannon Farrington

NOTE (August 3, 2015): I wrote this review months ago before the book mentioned was released. It’s now available! So, I’ve inserted a link to its Amazon page and updated the cover photo.

As I’ve noted on this blog, I have the privilege of being a copy editor for a major romance publisher, Harlequin. It allows me to read a wide sampling of books, everything from steamy suspense to sweet inspirationals through complex coming-of-age, mystery, and family tales. Anyone who thinks romance is one-size-fits-all storytelling should sit at my computer for a few weeks to have the lie put to that generalization. Romance, or more widely, women’s fiction, is enormously varied. I’ve edited some absolutely wonderful novels by talented authors over the past few years that deserve attention. (And don’t get me started on how many of these books get ignored by mainstream, especially literary, publications whose editors might curl their lips or roll their eyes when they see the imprint of the world’s most well-known romance publisher on a book.)

Recently, I edited an inspirational historical due out later this year. I don’t usually blog about a book that’s not yet released, but I asked the editor if I could do so with this one. So, here goes:

When Shannon Farrington’s Second Chance Love hits the shelves this summer, buy a copy. Buy one if you’ve never read an inspirational in your life. Buy one if you don’t usually read historicals. The reason I make this recommendation: Ms. Farrington’s book is about more than faith, about more than a love story, even about more than the historical period in which it’s set–the Civil War. It contains, amidst the lovsecondchancelovee story and the historical detail, a lesson that we all should absorb today: Loving your neighbor means…loving your neighbor, not hating those who don’t feel the same way as you do.

First, don’t be put off by the fact that this is an inspirational novel (for those outside the publishing world, inspirational novels are stories with no sex or cursing, but do contain some faith elements; back in the day, these novels would have been mainstream–think Jane Eyre, which is drenched in faith messages). The story is a universal one about love both in the discrete sense (the love between a man and a woman) and in the general sense (those pesky neighbors).

The tale in a nutshell: In 1864 Baltimore, Elizabeth, the heroine, mourns the death of her fiance, a Union soldier felled not by battle but disease, specifically pneumonia. Adding to her grief is the knowledge that she could have married him before his death if not for his brother David’s advice to delay until the war was over. David, it turns out, had an ulterior motive for that counsel–he’s in love with Elizabeth. But now he’s overwhelmed with guilt, knowing his feelings might have denied his brother and Elizabeth at least some short happiness together. To make up for this mistake, he takes on the responsibility of aiding her family, taking a job at a local newspaper to be near them. He learns that Elizabeth is an excellent sketch artist and gets his editor to use her talents for the paper. As she accompanies him on assignments, the two form a close friendship that eventually blossoms into true love.

About those newspaper assignments: David covers the movement to ban slavery in Maryland. Many people might not realize that the Emancipation Proclamation did not outlaw slavery in Union states, of which Maryland was one. So, it was up to the local citizenry to handle that task. Maryland did so by rewriting its constitution, which required calling a constitutional convention, drafting a new document, and then sending it back to the people for a vote.

Ms. Farrington handles all this detail seamlessly. You never feel you’re being treated to an “info dump,” where the author bestows all the hard work of her research on you, necessary or not. She includes enough history to keep the plot moving, and enough to educate you about a difficult period, but never so much that you feel pulled out of the story for a history lesson.

She also respects the time and place. I’ve written before about historical novelists who make faulty assumptions. Ms. Farrington does not fall into those traps. As a Baltimore native, I knew, for example, that the main railroad station is on Charles Street. But in Civil War days, that station had not yet been built.
A lesser author might have assumed it was the main train station back in the day because it is now. Not Ms. Farrington. She knew what stations to place her characters in, even what buildings now-well-known institutions occupied in the 1860s (different from those they occupy today). She respected the time period.

But here’s where her historical accuracy contained lessons for today–it’s easy, looking in our rearview mirror, to see how abhorrent slavery was and to wonder how any civilized people, especially those in a “northern” state (yes, Maryland was a border state, but Baltimore is more northern than southern), could find anything at all to debate about outlawing this “peculiar institution,” especially after their president had emancipated slaves elsewhere. Ms. Farrington shows as well as tells the story of the challenges of the debate in Maryland. Some abolitionists, the “Unconditionals,” wanted to go beyond outlawing slavery, imposing other requirements on their adversaries, such as taking a loyalty oath before voting. These measures rankled those whose minds were troubled by slavery but weren’t yet in the abolitionist camp.

Not for one second is Ms. Farrington sympathetic to a pro-slavery view. But she does show how outlawing slavery in Maryland was a closer vote than it needed to be, some of which was due to unsavory efforts of  “Unconditionals.”

And therein, for me at least, lies the great moral of this story, one that I’ve shared with friends and policy advocates over the years: if you want to move an issue forward, you have to love it and those it benefits more than you hate its opponents.

Three cheers to Shannon Farrington for wisely presenting this view in a beautiful story. Second Chance Love.

 

 

 

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