It all started the evening of Thanksgiving Day, 2002. I’d been toying with the idea for months, but hadn’t done anything about it. I’d written non-fiction books and articles for years – and for all sorts of venues – but the idea of sitting down and writing an entire novel was still just that: an idea. I knew I was ready to get started, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted the story to go. Thoughts popped in and out of my head, sometimes melding, but sometimes bouncing off each other, and I didn’t really have an entire plot settled in my mind yet. I did know the setting. I had just returned two months prior from my favorite place on the planet – The Great Smoky Mountains – and I knew for sure that I was going back there in the first novel I wrote.
I had spent most of Thanksgiving Day with my family – feasting, fellowshipping, celebrating. But I excused myself earlier than usual because I was anxious to get home and open up my Canon electric typewriter. I’d made up my mind that procrastination had come to an end, and the time had come to dive into my first novel.
And, yes, it’s true. I was still using a typewriter. I hadn’t moved into the computer age at all, and, quite frankly, had no intention of doing so at that time. I was perfectly happy pounding my little typewriter keyboard and hearing its quiet hum and the gentle, but efficient sound of its carriage return. The only desk in the house was so loaded with various kinds of office equipment that I didn’t even consider trying to clean it off enough to use it for the writing project. Besides, I didn’t have a chair that was comfortable to sit in for long periods of time if I used the desk. So after a little deliberation, I placed a rather large round footstool in the middle of my living room floor, sat my Canon on top of it, pulled up a chair that was just the right height, and sat down to write chapter one.
I didn’t have a title, of course, not being completely sure where I was going with this story. I had the beginning, and I wanted to get it down while it was fresh. Then after that, there would be time to do some more thinking and try to set down some sort of outline for the rest of the project. As a creative writing teacher, I always tell my students to follow their creativity, and when an idea is hot, get it into print right then. You don’t have to wait until you have the entire story in your head and have a clear outline printed out before you start. But once you have the material that was throbbing through your brain safely under wraps, then it’s a good idea to lay out some form of outline (although it can be very informal) to help keep yourself on track as you move through all the succeeding chapters.
I knew my main character, Maddison Holt. He was a private detective from the moment he came to life in my thoughts. I’d had plenty of experience with P. I’s. My husband, after years in regular law enforcement positions, had opened his own detective agency and managed it for many years. He hired others to work with him, and, believe me, after several years of hanging around with those detectives – and serving as secretary for some of those years and writing up their reports for my husband’s agency – I knew what a detective’s life was like. So I had that part pretty well covered. And, of course, I had planned a romance as part of the story all along. And, thankfully, I knew about romance as well – the good side and the bad side.
But as I wrote chapter one, I didn’t know Maddison nearly as well as I was going to before the novel was finished. He grew from chapter one and became a much more interesting and lovable person as he walked through his life-changing experiences.
Now, just in case a few of my readers are concerned that the name Maddison seems strange for a man, perhaps I’d better set the record straight. I’ve had one or two people mention that concern to me when they read the book. But, you see, the name Madison (or Maddison) was, for multiple decades, primarily a name given to boys – not girls.
That habit of naming children incurred a significant change in 1984, when the movie Splash came to the big screen. In that movie, the main female character – a mermaid who turns into a woman — discovers that, in order to function successfully with other people, she needs a name. As she’s walking down the street with the male lead, trying to decide on a name, she looks up and discovers a street sign for “Madison Avenue.” She decides that she likes the name Madison and adopts it for her own.
From that point on, and for at least the next decade, hundreds of baby girls found themselves christened “Madison,” and the tide was turned. Now the name is used for many more girls than boys, but, the truth is still the same. Madison is a good strong name for a man. I’m not sure why I gave my Maddison two d’s in his name. I did so without conscious thought, and once when I considered changing it, I just couldn’t seem to make myself do so. I knew him by that name, and he just wasn’t the same person if I changed his spelling. Call me peculiar if you’d like, but I’m the author, and I got to make that call.
Maddison was hurting when he first stepped onto the pages of Set Free To Love, and he had good reason. He was tormented by problems caused partly by the results of evil at work in this world, and partly by his own faulty thinking. But as he struggled to hold onto his faith in God – and as he learned to let God take control and work through His holy Word to change Maddison – the tide of battle turned, and Maddison came into the victory he so grievously needed. Other characters faced their own crises as well – which also affected Maddison – and they, too, learned to find their solutions in the Word of God. Readers of the book were drawn into the characters’ lives and their victories through God’s Word in ways that, hopefully, encouraged and inspired them as they proceeded through the book.
Well, Set Free To Love came out in the market place about twelve years ago, and since then, many readers have come to know and love Maddison Holt. And they’ve been inspired to trust God every day for His love and mercy in their own lives in the same way they experienced the characters in the book trusting God and receiving deliverance and victory in their lives.
The book has been my best-selling novel by far, and although I truly love all of the other eleven novels I’ve written – and I have to say I have no actual favorites – I can say without hesitation that SET FREE TO LOVE will always have the same special place in my heart that a firstborn child has in the heart of most mothers. And as for Maddison himself – well, let’s just say I’m as much in love with him as I was on Thanksgiving Day, 2002 – maybe more so. And why not? He’s been one of the best things to happen to me in my entire life.
This month is a special celebration month for me. Although I’ve had my books on the market for over twelve years, this month marks my third year of publishing with Amazon. So I’m celebration by posting excerpts of the first three chapters. Just below this paragraph, you’ll find Chapter One, and in the next two posts coming up, you’ll find Chapter Two and Chapter Three respectively. Now, enjoy the first excerpt below. And if you feel that you – just maybe – could fall in love with Maddison too, hop on over to Amazon and order a copy of SET FREE TO LOVE for yourself.
SET FREE TO LOVE – EXCERPT
As his vision suddenly blurred, Maddison realized he’d let it happen again. He swiped at his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, trying at the same time to pinch back more tears. He’d have to pull off the highway, if he didn’t get better control of himself. The next moment, he could feel the anger boiling up from deep inside, needing an outlet. He’d swung back and forth like this relentlessly, between the tears and the anger for … how many weeks had it been now … way too many … but then not really enough … not enough to dull the pain or answer any of the questions.
He had cleared his vision in time to see the turn into the rest area he’d been anticipating for several miles. He parked in a space right in front of the two well lit buildings and managed to drag his body from the car, feeling as if every part of him were too heavy to move of its own volition.
“Mmm-Mmm!” It felt so good to stretch arms and legs … and back and neck … and … everything, for that matter. His last stop had been almost six hours ago, and after driving that long without a break, just standing up and breathing the crisp night air felt like a blessing.
Maddison Holt was used to driving, though. It was part and parcel of his work. Ten years as a police officer had naturally included extended hours behind the wheel of a squad car, but since he had established his own detective agency eight years ago, he had really laid on the miles. Even the brand new Avalon he’d bought only a couple of months ago already registered past three thousand on the odometer.
He leaned against the side of that car now, breathing in the fall night, thinking that during those eight years, he must have made close to a hundred stops like this at public rest areas along the interstates he’d traveled. It was late enough that there was no one else around except a couple of truckers over on their side of the park, obviously getting in their required quota of sleep. That was good. He needed the stillness … the aloneness.
He was a tall man … six foot, two, and strongly built … all muscle. There hadn’t been time for any of it to turn to fat, and at forty, he knew it had been a blessing that he’d had to push himself hard enough to stay in shape. But his strength wasn’t all physical. Anyone who met him instantly recognized a power and authority that emanated from him without any conscious effort on his part.
His dark brown hair was streaked with gray, but that didn’t detract from his looks. He wasn’t exactly handsome; most of his features were unremarkable. But thick, curling, black lashes always drew attention immediately to his eyes … gray eyes that seemed to change their shade with every emotion. They lit up, flashing shades of silver and blue when he laughed, which rarely happened these days. But when his feelings became intense, they turned to charcoal. Tonight, though, they were just tired, red-streaked, and burning, from the strain of driving so long … and … he had to admit to himself … probably from all the hours of crying that had gone on intermittently over the past several weeks.
He wasn’t ashamed to cry, but … He shook his head now at his own thoughts. “Man!” His voice was gruff in the still night air. “I can’t even keep from crying any more! How does a tough cop get to be so weak that he just gives in to whatever feelings overpower him at the moment?”
But he finally pushed all these thoughts from his mind as he pushed himself away from the car and headed for the lighted building that housed the vending machines. Coffee, hot and strong, that’s what he needed right now. At least two cups, he thought, as he dug his wallet from his back pocket. “I hope these machines have plenty of change,” he muttered out loud. “I need a load of sugar too.”
He had thrown a couple of sandwiches and some soft drinks into a cooler on the floor of the car, but he had finished those off at the last rest stop, not stopping again until now even to go to the bathroom … a fact that he suddenly now realized needed to be remedied before he slipped this dollar bill into the machine.
Having taken care of that most pressing need, he sat down at one of the isolated tables and polished off a chocolate-coated ice cream bar and a twin-pack of chocolate cupcakes covered with icing, along with the already pre-determined two cups of coffee. Disposing of his trash and heading for the car, he spoke out loud in a surprised tone: “I do feel better!” He couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “I guess maybe it isn’t just the female gender who benefit from all that chocolate.”
Back on the interstate, he was glad traffic was light because his mind kept wandering. In about another three hours, he’d be turning gratefully into the long driveway at the farm. Uncle Matt’s farm … nestled in close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park … just close enough to Gatlinburg to benefit from any entertainment it offered, but just far enough out to miss the relentless press of the tourists.
How many times the two Holt brothers had made this journey together, pushing eagerly to get to the one place on earth they could always totally relax. … The Holt brothers … five years apart in age, but so close in spirit and soul. Maddison had been named for Grandfather Holt, and five years later, baby brother had come along and been christened after their only uncle, Matthew Vickers.
There it was again: the moisture in his eyes … the constriction in his throat… . Maybe he’d made a mistake deciding to come to the farm after all. There’d be so many memories. But he had to go somewhere where he couldn’t keep trying to work himself to death. His mother had certainly insisted that this was the right move. He smiled now at the thought.
What a mother he had! Refused to be dependent on any of her family, but wanted them all close enough to love on. He chuckled softly now as he remembered his last visit with her before leaving for Tennessee. She had speared him with those sharp, still bright, green eyes of hers, pointed her finger in his nose, and said, “Son, you get yourself down to your Uncle Matt’s, and don’t you come back until you and the Lord have got this all worked out, and you have peace and joy in your heart again.”
As he let out a deep sigh, he spoke out loud now, “Lord, when You chose a mother for Matt and me, You sure did a number one job. I know she was devastated by all that happened, and she didn’t need me leaving town so soon. But she could see that her big, strong, hunk-of-lawman son couldn’t handle the pain as well as she could and showed me the door. … Love doesn’t get any more unselfish than that.” He let his thoughts dwell on that truth for a moment or two. “Just take good care of her, Lord, and make her know that I love and appreciate her more than I can ever put into words …”
The big, slow yawn that sneaked up on him made him realize that he had actually started to relax while he’d been praying. “Thanks, Lord,” he spoke again softly. “Even when I don’t know if I can really believe or trust anymore, You’re still there.”
Maddison realized he was only about five miles from his uncle’s place when he passed a familiar convenience store. Seeing the gas pumps triggered an automatic glance at his gas gauge, and he almost choked. It was sitting on empty. As quickly as possible, he made a turn and headed back to the convenience store, chiding himself the whole time. “For crying out loud, Holt, you’ve been in police work for eighteen years! You know you keep your car filled up all the time!”
Just as Maddison slid his car even with the gas pump, the door of the convenience store burst open and a male figure wearing a blue ski mask ran through it and headed across the parking lot. He had ducked his head low. One arm was hidden beneath his jacket, and with the other, he jerked the mask off of his head as he ran, revealing enough of his face to make it obvious that he was only a youth. Just a few feet behind him came an elderly man shouting, “Stop! You can’t get away with robbery!”
Instinct and adrenaline kicked in at the same time, and before he could have a conscious thought, Maddison was out of the car and tackling the boy, bringing him to the ground. A gun flew from one of the kid’s hands and a brown paper bag fell from his jacket as he sprawled across the concrete drive.
From long habit, Maddison pinned the boy’s arms behind his back and hoisted him to his feet, just barely stopping himself before he recited the Miranda rights to him. By this time, the elderly store manager was beside them, and Maddison, straining to keep the resisting boy under control, spoke roughly: “I’ll stick around and help hold on to him until the police get here.”
“Oh, no … no, that won’t be necessary,” the manager said to Maddison, and then immediately addressed the boy. “Lex! It is you! I thought I recognized your voice. … Why Lex? … Why me? … Why at all?” … When he got no response, he turned back to Maddison. “There’s no need for the police,” he said. “We’ll have the money back, and nobody else needs to be involved … except his sister, of course. I’ll have to call Beth.
“Wait a minute,” Maddison almost shouted, “what do you mean no need for the police? This is armed robbery! And I gather you know this stupid punk,” he added, as he jerked the boy into a position where he could force him to precede him back into the store. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and thrust it at the manager with the order, “Pick up that gun with this, and be sure you take hold of it by the barrel! Get the bag too. I assume that’s where the money is,” he added, continuing to push the boy to the store. Maddison could see that the kid’s face was scraped and bleeding on the side where he had come into contact with the concrete, but the boy wasn’t saying a word, nor was he resisting quite as strongly as at first.
The store manager did as he had been ordered, retrieving the gun and the bag, and hurriedly followed them into the store, thankful there were no other customers. “Let’s go to the room at the back where we can talk,” he said.
“All right by me,” Maddison replied, “but you get on that phone to the police, or I will. I can’t hang around here all night to see he doesn’t do you any worse harm!”
“NO! PLEASE!” the manager urged, seemingly more agitated at the thought of the police than he had been by the robbery itself. “Please, let me explain,” he said as he ushered them into a small room accommodating two scarred wooden chairs and an old desk half buried beneath cardboard boxes and stacks of papers.
Maddison shoved the boy into the nearest chair with the threat, “Don’t even look like you want to move!” The boy’s only response was to pull his jacket back up onto his shoulders and hang his head.
“My name is Abel Walker,” the elderly man said as he extended his right hand to Maddison, “and I want to thank you … and … to explain. You see, I know this boy … Alex Hanover. He used to work for me, and he was a good worker. … He was a good kid … until he started running with a couple of local gang members. They need to be in jail, but not Lex. Jail would only do him more harm. He just needs enough time away from them to get his thinking straight again. I’m going to call his sister. It’ll break her heart, but she has to know. Will you just keep an eye on him until I can talk to her?”
“Why not,” Maddison sighed. “I’m into it this far. I guess you might have a point … if you’re really sure this is his first offense.” He pulled the second chair in front of the door and sat down on it wearily. This was about the last thing he needed tonight. Some vacation. … Well, all the years on the force had drilled into him the fact that a law enforcement officer is never really off duty, but … man! … could he use some sleep! He could hear Abel Walker on the phone now in the other room, so he tried to follow the conversation.
“Beth, dear, this is Abel Walker. I’m down at the store. … Yes, it is late for me, but my night clerk couldn’t get his car started. But listen, Beth, Lex is down here … and … he’s in a little trouble. … He tried to rob the store … with a gun, I’m afraid. … Oh NO! NO! He didn’t shoot anybody! Nobody’s been hurt … except for a few scratches on Lex himself. But I thought you’d want to come down, and we’ll decide what to do. … No, I haven’t called the police. I don’t think that’s the solution, do you?”