Friday, December 15, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reads: Dori's story

Interview with Dori Harrell, author of A Christmas Hallelujah:

Alexis: Congrats on the Nov. 6 release of your debut novel, A Christmas Hallelujah! How long has this book been in the works?

Dori: Hi, Alexis! Thank you for hosting me on your blog! I’m excited to join you here.A Christmas Hallelujah had been in the works since spring 2017, when I was invited to join the e-book boxed set Wonderland Wishes, which features seven brand-new Christmas stories. Wonderland Wishes is doing so well as an e-book that I launched A Christmas Hallelujah as a paperback, as I had so many requests for a “book I can hold in my hands.”

Alexis: How does it feel to be a first-time author, especially with your background as a sought-after book editor?

Dori: I’m a well-published and award-winning article writer, but publishing my debut fiction book is thrilling. But the real thrill is writing a story worthy of readers, poring over the plot and story line and sentences and words, keeping the reader in mind at every turn.

Alexis: Why did you choose to write Contemporary Romance and not another genre?

Dori: I’ve been a longtime reader of contemporary romance, and I had a concept for a small-town series set in my area, the beautiful Yakima Valley in Washington state. Contemporary romance was the perfect genre for that series.

Alexis: Describe this book’s setting, Cranberry Creek. What makes it special?

Dori: This small town in the Yakima Valley bills itself as the holiday destination of central Washington. The town had been rundown at one time, with closed-up shops in a dwindling downtown. In the early 2000s, wineries started locating in Cranberry Creek (Washington state is the USA’s second-largest wine-producing region in the nation, second only to California, and the Yakima Valley is Washington’s largest producer of wine grapes). Town officials and community members seized the opportunity to transform the city, and they created a bustling downtown of boutique stores, wineries, and coffee shops (no chains). Cranberry Creek goes all out for the holidays and is a prominent holiday destination in central Washington—and beyond.

Featured in the story both physically and metaphorically are the Cascade Mountains, the mountain range dividing western Washington from eastern Washington. Life on the west side of the Cascades is fast-paced and technology based, while on the east side, it’s slower paced and agricultural based. Cranberry Creek is set east of the Cascades, and the west-side versus east-side division is a feature in the plot.

Alexis: Let’s talk about the heroine in your story, Piper Castleton. What’s she like? Describe her dreams, motivation, and the conflict that blocks her from achieving her goals.

Dori: Piper, a children’s book illustrator, is special and amazing, but she doesn’t know it. When her mom takes off to “find herself,” Piper is thrust into the role of parenting her teenage sister, Libby, and managing the family alpaca ranch. Piper feels like a failure, like she can’t get Libby under control, like she doesn’t know where to turn next, and like her future is uncertain—which it is. Her dream is that her mother come home to take care of Libby. But if her mother doesn’t return home, Piper will have to finish raising Libby alone, because under no circumstances will Piper abandon her sister (Piper and Libby’s father had died two years before the story begins).

Libby doesn’t want to celebrate the holidays without their mother, but Piper insists they celebrate Christmas, which of course Libby resists and resents.

The turmoil in Piper’s life means that romance isn’t even on the back burner of her mind, so when Alex comes her way unexpectedly, she can hardly fathom future possibilities given the elements working against her and Alex. But she certainly dreams about the possibilities.

Alexis: Let’s talk about the hero of your story, Alex Saunders. What is he like? Describe his heart, motivation, and the conflict that stands in the way of his dreams.

Dori: Alex is not your typical alpha-male hero. He’s a kindhearted single dad who’s stepping out of his comfort zone—the Seattle area and his Belltown condo—for the first time since his wife died a year and a half ago. He agrees to spend Christmas on the east side of the Cascades at his parents’ Cranberry Creek home, and his focus is on raising his three-and-a-half-year-old son, Jake. His dream would be to fix his past, but without that possibility, he struggles to know how to proceed in the present, because what he does affects Jake—who suffers from severe anxiety separation disorder and is glued to his dad’s side 24/7.

Even though Alex views Piper as one of the most quality women he’s ever met, how can he consider moving forward in a relationship with her when he can’t even take her on a real date, when he can’t see her without a child present, and when he lives on the other side of the mountains? Alex can design apps that solve all kinds of problems, but he can’t design any that solve the problems in his own life. He dreams of a normal life, in which Jake goes to Sunday school and preschool without his dad, in which Alex gets a chance to do things different (he really screwed up in his past) with the woman he’s falling in love with.

Alexis: What role does Alex’s son play in this story? Describe his significance.

Dori: Jake is a little charmer, but he panics big time if he can’t see his dad, so Jake even has to sleep in the same room as his father. He goes to work with his dad and considers Alex’s office Jake’s office too. His dad designs apps, and Jake considers that his job too.

This is the first time Jake’s been around his grandparents for any length of time, and while Alex had never even thought much about the east side of the state, Jake responds well to the slower-paced life—and to the addition of his grandparents and Piper and Libby (as well as their alpacas) to his life.

And even as Alex makes plans to see a psychologist to get help for him and Jake, the new relationships in Jake’s life, particularly his friendship with Libby, begin to heal Jake—and for that matter, Libby too.

Alexis: Alpacas are an important feature in this story. Why?

Dori: Alpacas are sweet creatures, and an alpaca farm presented a great opportunity to showcase the healing relationships between Piper and Libby, as well as Jake and Alex. And that healing produces an opportunity for two people to form a romantic relationship when previously, neither had believed that was a possibility.

Alexis: Describe the research that you did to write this story. How much time did it take? Where did you go?

Dori: I did extensive research into alpaca farming, and I discovered a rare element to the creatures that changed the direction of the characters, plot, and story line. I was able to weave the story around this rare element. I’m dying to give it away, but I want your readers to discover it for themselves!

In addition, I spent all day at the local alpaca farm that I based my setting on, Sage Bluff Alpacas in Prosser, Washington (also east of the Cascades). The owners graciously spent time and energy teaching me important facts about alpaca farming and the response of the animals to children. And they also clued me into “pronking”—a near daily event by crias (baby alpacas). If “pronking” intrigues you, be sure to read the story!

Besides the alpaca farm, I researched severe separation anxiety disorder and what is done to resolve it. In A Christmas Hallelujah, the resolution (though it’s not totally resolved in the story) is centered on the grace of God, how His plans for solving our problems are so much great than the avenues we try to create for ourselves.

Overall, I spent several days researching the various elements of the story (including Belltown), with the goal of giving it more depth and continuity.

Alexis: Describe Piper and Alex’s cute meet. What were their first impressions of each other? Were they lasting impressions? Explain.

Dori: Alex and Jake (there could be no meeting without Jake present, given his anxiety separation disorder) meet Piper on her alpaca farm, and shortly thereafter, Libby storms onto the property, furious with Piper.

Even though Alex is initially attracted (much to his surprise) to the redheaded Piper, he’s instantly on guard, as the last thing he needs is more drama, and it looks like Piper’s life is loaded with it.

Piper’s attracted to Alex but sees him as a Seattleite, a west-side techie guy who wouldn’t be interested in an east-side ranch girl. When Libby arrives, Piper becomes anxious because Libby makes a terrible scene, and Piper figures she won’t see Alex and Jake again—but it’s not as if she had planned to see them again anyway.

And then…Libby sees Jake, and an unexpected and heartwarming friendship begins between the four that leads to God revealing his plan of grace for Alex and Piper.

So in the case of this story, yes, the lasting impressions do remain—but the characters work to develop a romance despite the conflicts, even when the resolutions are so uncertain.

Alexis: What is it about Alex that warms Piper’s heart and what is it about Piper that makes Alex want to be with her forever?

Dori: Piper loves how dedicated Alex is to his son and how kind he is to Libby, even though Libby is so difficult sometimes. Alex never condemns Piper for how she handles her sister, but rather he goes out of his way to support her and Libby, even given the hardship of his own situation. And when Alex is near, it seems as if Piper’s future is filled with possibilities rather than impossibilities. A song begins in her heart, one she’s never heard.

As for Alex, he recognizes quality when he sees it, and he’s impressed with the sacrifice Piper willingly makes for her sister (Piper left her thriving career in Spokane to return to the family farm). He’s also touched by her sensitivity and fondness for Jake. And he loves Piper’s ponytail! Even though he lives on the other side of the Cascades, how can he—after the holidays—possibly return home and to his life on the west side? What would the loss of Piper and Libby mean to Jake?

Alex knows he’d be crazy to let Piper slip away, and he realizes she’s a package deal—she comes with her sister. But while that give him pause, it doesn’t scare him—because he’s a package deal too. But how will he conquer the mountain dividing them?

Alexis: If you could spend the Christmas holiday with Piper and Alex, what would you do?

Dori: I’d spend it with them at the alpaca farm, cozying up to the animals, drinking homemade mulled apple cider, enjoying an elk roast, swinging on the tire swing under the Chestnut tree, and sitting around the outdoor fire pit while snow drifts softly from the sky.

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about this book?

Dori: That God’s grace is more amazing than we can even fathom, that His plans for us are so much greater than those we make for ourselves—enough to make us want to shout “Hallelujah!”

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Dori! Would you like to share closing thoughts?

Dori: Thank you, Alexis, for your joyful heart and for this interview—I appreciate you and your readers! And I wish you and your readers a Merry Christmas! What in your life causes you to shout “Hallelujah” this Christmas season?

Author Bio:
Dori Harrell is a multiple-award winning writer, and she reads more books than anyone she knows. 

Dori grew up on the rainy west side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state, in the Seattle area, and graduated from the University of Washington. She crossed over to the sunny, arid east side of the Cascades when she married her husband, Doug. She’s an avid runner and knitter and loves to camp, fish, hike, and watch Seahawks games (go Hawks). 

She and Doug have four grown children, and they don’t get to see their seven grandchildren nearly enough. A Christmas Hallelujah is her debut books and is book 1 of the Cranberry Creek series.

Blurb for Dori's book, A Christmas Hallelujah:

Romance is the last thing on either of their minds—who’d take on their drama anyway?

When her mom decides it’s time to “find herself” and takes off to points unknown, illustrator Piper Castleton finds herself in charge of her hurting, troubled teenage sister and the family’s alpaca ranch. Giving up her job in the city and returning to the farm is a no-brainer, but how is she supposed to raise her sister when all she wants is their mother back? And Christmas? That’s off the table.

Alex Saunders’s young son was diagnosed with severe separation anxiety disorder after his mother’s death a year and a half ago, and he hasn’t left Alex’s side in months. Alex is stretched too thin to even think about celebrating Christmas this year, so when his mom suggests they spend the holidays in Cranberry Creek, he cautiously agrees.

But when Piper and Alex meet, life takes a few unexpected turns. As a surprising and heartwarming friendship unfolds before their eyes, will Piper and Alex orchestrate a Christmas hallelujah out of the beautiful messes that are their lives?

Buy Dori's book A Christmas Hallelujah on Amazon

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1 comment:

  1. I feel like shouting "Hallelujah" when I realize that I am feeling ok, like normal used to, be at that moment.I also feel like that when I see that something I have done brings joy to someone else!


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