Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Little Something for the Weekend - Redemption Stories

Guest author Brenda Novak is here at the Pink Heart Society, talking about redemption stories and her ex-con heroine Phoenix Fuller...

I love nothing more than a hard-won happily-ever-after. Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward redemption stories. 

At some point, we’ve all done something we regret, created some challenge or obstacle we struggle to overcome. 

I think anyone who's ever rooted for the underdog can understand the appeal of a redemption story. Who doesn't love a "come from behind" win? A David that champions over a Goliath? 

There's just something inspiring about seeing a character overcome tremendous challenges, especially when those challenges were caused by his or her own mistakes. It takes courage to face up to our own shortcomings--to acknowledge them and overcome them, and it's encouraging to see it done in fiction. 

That's why I often use such flawed characters in my work. Not only are they more realistic to the human experience, they're more interesting than some perfect human prototype.

In This Heart of Mine, the latest addition to my Whiskey Creek series, Phoenix Fuller has been through quite a bit. She’s even served time. Now she’s out of prison and finally has a chance to make good, and she’s determined to do it. She’s different and admirable, but no one can see the admirable part at first, which is what makes the discovery of her true character so fun—and what made her such an interesting personality to create.

I’m often asked which of all my books is my favorite (I’ve now written over 50 stories!). That’s sort of like trying to choose a favorite child. (I have five kids, so I really relate to this analogy.) 

But there are stories that resonate a bit more strongly with me as I write them—and This Heart of Mine was one of those. It was a rare “gift” book, meaning it came easily. Of course, I’d been imagining the story for some time, was really looking forward to getting to this particular installment in the Whiskey Creek saga, so that could be one of the reasons. Perhaps my subconscious had already done most of the work.

Allow me to introduce you to Phoenix through a short excerpt:

It was the first time she’d seen her son since the day she gave birth to him. Phoenix Fuller had spent an eternity waiting for this moment. She’d counted every single breath, it seemed, for sixteen years, waiting to lay eyes on Jacob again.
But as anxious as she was, she’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry, or try to hug him, or do anything else that might make a teenage boy feel uncomfortable. She was a stranger to him. Although she hoped to change that now that she was back in town, she couldn’t come on too strong or he’d likely shut her out—even if his father didn’t make sure he kept her at arm’s length. She had to be an embarrassment to both of them. They were all from the same small town; it wasn’t as if they could hide the fact that she’d spent Jacob’s entire life in prison.
Her heart leaped into her throat as she watched Jacob and his father, Riley Stinson, get out of a large Ford pickup and stride toward the entrance of the restaurant.
God, her son was tall, she thought, hungrily devouring the sight of him. How he’d gotten so big, she had no idea. She barely topped five feet. Even at thirty-five, she could be mistaken for a much younger person when she wasn’t wearing makeup and had her hair pulled back.
But Jacob took after his father in size and shape, had the same broad shoulders, narrow hips and long legs.
“Excuse me. Your table’s ready whenever you are.”
Phoenix wouldn’t have heard the hostess if the woman hadn’t touched her arm when she spoke.
It required real effort, but she dragged her gaze away from the window in order to respond. “Thank you. The rest of my party will be here in a second.”
“That’s fine. Just let me know when you’re ready.” With a polite smile, the young woman seated a couple standing nearby.
Once again, Phoenix’s eyes were riveted on her son. Only this time, she felt such a surge of emotion she almost darted into the bathroom. She could not break down.
Please, God, don’t let me cry. He won’t come within ten feet of me if I do.
But the harder she tried to hold back her tears, the more overwhelmed she became. In a panic, she slipped around the corner, into the small alcove by the bathrooms, and leaned her head against the wall.
Breathe. Don’t blow this.
The bell over the door jingled, telling her that Riley and Jacob had stepped inside. She imagined them looking around, maybe getting annoyed when they didn’t find her. But she was frozen in place. She absolutely could. Not. Move.
“Hey,” she heard the hostess say with a familiarity that hadn’t been present in her greeting to Phoenix. “We’re busy this morning, like we are every Saturday. But if you can wait for a few minutes, I’ll get you a table.”
“We’re actually meeting someone who should be here.”
That had to be Riley, but Phoenix couldn’t say she recognized his voice. Her memories of him were vivid. But they’d both been so young, and he’d changed a great deal. No longer the skinny teenager she’d known in high school, he was a man with plenty of hard muscle on his solid frame, a man in his prime, and that had been more than apparent as she’d watched him walk, shoulder to shoulder, with their son a few seconds earlier.
“Who are you here to meet?” the hostess asked.
“Name’s Phoenix Fuller,” came his response.
“What does she look like?”

“I’m not sure these days,” he said, and Phoenix winced. Her shoulder-length dark hair wasn’t bad. It was thick, probably her best asset. Her hazel eyes weren’t unattractive, either. She didn’t feel she was ugly. But the scars on her face would be new to him. She hadn’t had those when she went to prison.
“She wasn’t very tall,” he added, as if that might be the only detail still applicable.
“There was a woman who said she was expecting two more to join her,” the hostess said. “But I don’t know where she went...”
Determined not to miss this opportunity after waiting so long for it, Phoenix curved her fingernails into her palms, took a deep breath and stepped around the corner. “Sorry I...I had to wash my hands.”

For those of you familiar with my latest series, you know it’s centered on a close-knit group of friends—both male and female—who’ve grown up together in the small Gold Country town of Whiskey Creek. 

Although it’s technically a fictional town, it’s based on the real towns that were founded when gold was discovered in California, and it still retains its character, despite the passage of the years. Consider yourself formally invited to visit! 

The complete list of Brenda Novak's Whiskey Creek series is available on her website, with the first two—When Lightning Strikes and When Snow Falls—on sale now.  This Heart of Mine is her latest: 

As the daughter of a hoarder, Phoenix Fuller had a tough childhood. So when the handsome, popular Riley Stinson became her boyfriend in high school, she finally felt as though she had something to be proud of. Phoenix was desperate not to lose him—especially once she found out she was pregnant. Yes, she might have acted a bit obsessive when he broke up with her. But she did not run down the girl he started dating next.

Unfortunately, there was no way to prove her innocence. Now, after serving her time in prison, Phoenix has been released. All she wants to do is return to Whiskey Creek and get to know her son. But Jacob’s father isn’t exactly welcoming.

Riley doesn’t trust Phoenix, doesn’t want her in Jacob’s life. He is, however, ready to find someone to love. And he wants a good mother for his son. He has no idea that he’s about to find both!
Brenda would love to get acquainted with you, too. You can find out more about her me on her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Brenda, I loved the excerpt! This book will definitely go on my to buy list. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much, Carol. I'm thrilled that you're going to give it a try. Here's hoping you love it!