Today I’m welcoming author Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock to the blog to showcase her book A Most Precious Gift. Jacqueline will be giving away a print copy of A Most Precious Gift to a lucky commenter The giveaway will run through noon, September 16, 2014 EST.
I’ll be posting a review of Jacqueline’s book in Catherine’s Comments later this week.
Welcome, Jacqueline. Could you please tell the readers about the book featured today?
A Most Precious Gift actually started out as a novella to be part of a Christmas collection. But when the proposal for the collection didn’t make the cut, my friends in my writers’ group encouraged me to flesh it out more and try to market it as a stand-alone. All I needed was a nudge. By then, of course, the characters and setting had become “real” to me, and I hated to toss them on the shelf with other manuscripts that had gone the way of the “someday” list.
Since I had been interested for a while in what life might have been like for a slave working in the beautiful New Orleans Garden District and have always been fascinated with the excess of the cotton planters in Natchez, a story combining the two venues was a bit too much for me to abandon. So the heroine Dinah Devereaux—a gifted designer-seamstress who, through tragic circumstances, brings the two worlds together—and the hero Jonathan Mayfield—an emotionally scarred expert cabinetmaker who happens to be free—lived to see another day of my attempts to introduce them to the reading market. Eventually and thankfully, Mantle Rock Publishing picked them up. My fondest hope is that others enjoy their story as much as I enjoyed telling it.
Sounds interesting. How did you come up with the concept for this book?
The concept for A Most Precious Gift evolved from my interest in presenting African American slaves in a different light. Though few and far between, there were literate slaves in America. For quite some time, I’ve wanted to write about the exceptional slave rather than the rule and show how the institution of slavery might have affected them.
What are you working on now? Do you have a release date for this book?
Right now, I’m working on a book called Forever Comes Someday or Flapper for a Day. (Incidentally, I would love to have input on which title is better.) Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1924, the novel explores a little-known upscale enclave of wealthy African Americans called Farish Street—more specifically, the life of a wealthy but abused young woman whose decision to be a “flapper for a day” nearly brings her to ruin. Of interest, I think, is the fact that the street still exists today along with a proud heritage. I plan to pitch the book at the ACFW Conference in September.
Oh, Flapper for a Day intrigues me most. It makes me want to know about a heroine and why she was a flapper for only one day. Also, you have some built-in marketing with the street and its heritage still existing today.
Can you tell the readers how you got started writing?
For as far back as memory serves me, I have loved words, especially the ways in which they move from the page into human imagination, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I understood that there were ordinary people like me who actually wrote as a career. By that time I was married with responsibilities, so it wasn’t until the late 1980s that I found the time to actually put pen to paper. I tried to write children’s literature only to discover that more mature life messages kept peeking through. So in the early nineties I started writing what would probably today be called women’s fiction. During a particularly difficult time in my life, I discovered I wanted to set my characters beneath a Christian umbrella—or at least have them move in that direction. Since then I’ve written mainly Christian fiction about African Americans and have immensely enjoyed the journey.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Linear or non-linear writer?
Actually, a little of both. I’d have to say, at heart, I’m probably a pantser who could easily take digression to another level. But over time I’ve learned the value of discipline in direction, so I’m able to glue myself to a chair until I know where I’m going with a story—a simple beginning, middle, and end—and the events in between that hold these three together. Then as I write I’m able to savor my words and allow them to more effectively take me where I want to go.
You mentioned how your writing has evolved over the years. What about your reading tastes. Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
My exposure to reading was limited as a child, but I have vivid and fond memories of the county bookmobile. Since discovering fiction in my teen years, I’ve always tended toward historical books with strong themes and memorable characters. I credit fiction with supplying me with much of the history I’ve learned, and I still vicariously visit places daily that I would probably otherwise never get to know.
What’s the book you are reading now?
I’m currently reading The Loom by Shella Gillus, a book about the perils of passing in a white-dominated society during the pre-Civil War era. I highly recommend it for people who love the literary/historical as I do.
Sounds interesting. What’s the first book, in the genre you write in, that you remember reading?
B. J. Hoff’s Song of the Silent Harp (Emerald Ballad Series) gave me hope during the time of a debilitating illness. It combined all I love about fiction: A strong theme, memorable characters, well-constructed plot, and, most of all, a reverence for and trust in God.
Let’s move on to some more personal questions.
Do you know the meaning of your name? If so does it fit you?
My given name, Jacqueline, has its origin in French and is a derivative of the Hebrew name, Jacob, which means “supplanter.” Since the last thing I would want to do is surreptitiously take someone’s position, I don’t think that aspect of my name’s meaning describes me. However, the second definition of my name is “May God protect you.” That one I love and live by.
I didn’t know that about the name Jacqueline. I think I’d choose that meaning, too.
What is the farthest place from your home that you have visited?
I had the opportunity to go to London and on to Edinburgh, Scotland for my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Nothing compares to standing in places you’ve read about and taught about. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I’ve wanted to go abroad again ever since.
You just mentioned two of the places I’d love to visit. Add Ireland to the list, and I’d be in heaven.
It’s been a pleasure having you here today. As you say goodbye, can you leave the readers with an encapsulation of your life’s philosophy?
I firmly believe that if you happen to be one of God’s children who doesn’t know right away what you want to do in life, you should work hard to find out what you love to do and then work harder to make it your life’s profession. Few things affect one’s life more negatively than spending a third of it (8 hours a day) doing something he or she doesn’t enjoy.
Great advice, Jacqueline. Thanks for being here today.
Now let’s find out a bit more about Jacqueline’s book:
A Most Precious Gift
Dinah Devereaux, New Orleans-born slave and ex-seamstress, suddenly finds herself relegated to a sweltering kitchen on a Natchez, Mississippi town estate. Having never cooked a day in her life, she is terrified of being found out and banished to the cotton fields. Her only hope is to employ her sewing skills. But when she accidentally burns the freedom papers of Jonathan Mayfield, a handsome free man of color to whom she’s attracted, sewing and her fear of the fields become secondary.
A gifted cabinetmaker, Jonathan Mayfield’s heart is set on becoming a respected businessman in his hometown of Natchez. Until a beautiful new slave destroys his proof of freedom and his confidence along with it. When he learns that the slave’s new mistress has ordered her to work alongside him to redecorate a room, Jonathan is furious, sparking a war between him and the new kitchen girl and setting them on the wrong course. Is their mutual love for God strong enough to put them on a path toward self-acceptance and love for each other?
Dinah couldn’t draw her eyes away from the fire, couldn’t take control of her feet as the same rabid blaze that nearly took her life less than a month ago leapt out at her again, choking off her ability to act . . .
So then this was it. This was how it felt when one was about to stand before her Creator. God wouldn’t show her a way out this time as He had back in New Orleans when she was caught between a wall of flames and a perilous three-story drop. And all these weeks after, the only way she’d thanked Him was by allowing the other slaves to think her something she was not and never could be, a lady.
Oh, God. I didn’t plan this pitiful deception. It just happened.
And now His wrath was upon her.
She closed her eyes and entreated the Lord to assure her of the one blessing she’d been asking for all her life: to be finally caught up into the embrace of the mother she’d never laid eyes upon. A mother she was both ashamed of and longed for. A mother completely cleansed of Dinah’s detested father and all the Johns before him.
Lord, I know I’ve grieved you these past few weeks by not telling Mama Tavie about my mama. And for the shame I’ve brought upon myself and You, I do so humbly ask forgiveness. But I also know you as a God of grace and mercy, a God who has washed my mother clean up there in heaven. So I beg of you, when I get there, please let me feel my mama’s hug for a moment. A moment or two is all I ask. This is my prayer . . .
A muscled forearm closed around her waist, sweeping her away from the hearth and the table covered in dancing flames as though she were a piece of airy lace. Had she died that quickly and gone to heaven? She looked around and up into the magnificent gray eyes of a man she’d never seen before. An angel, perhaps? Dinah redoubled her assessment.
No-o-o, ma’am. No baby wings here. Just smooth skin the shade of golden apples, with a neatly-trimmed moustache set between downward-curved full lips and flaring nostrils beneath a bridge beaded with tiny drops of perspiration. Augmenting the deep scowl of his brow was a scar on one side of his forehead, hinting of intrigue and adventure. Michael the archangel, maybe. Or possibly Gabriel. Most assuredly not an angel of the cherubim or seraphim order.
His build was powerful, his movements sure. With a steady hand, he set her against the opposite wall next to a clearly besotted Violette. He smelled of scented soap.
Definitely not an angel.
Holding Emerald close to her chest, Violette gazed up at the handsome stranger. “W-what can we do to help, Mr. Mayfield?”
“Keep out of the way.” He secured Dinah with a stare. “All of you.”
He grabbed an iron skillet hanging from a nail and covered the pot of raging grease then carefully moved it from the flames to the hearth. Slipping from a fine frockcoat that resembled nothing Dinah had ever seen on the backs of slaves, he set about using it to swat away the small combustions on the worktable, the sideboard, even the brick floor.
Definitely a man, a commanding man, at that. But a slave? Not likely. Not speaking like that or dressed in those clothes.
Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock is a multi-published author whose works range from her “Christmas Lights” in Christmas Stories from Mississippi to her memoirs in Children of the Changing South: Accounts of Growing Up During and After Integration. Her first novel, A Most Precious Gift, is scheduled for release in September, 2014, and her story, “A Bracelet for Christmas,” is included in Guideposts’ A Cup of Christmas Cheer, October, 2014. A member of ACFW, Jacqueline is an avid reader of Christian fiction. She is a retired high school and college English teacher, and she and her husband Donald reside in central Mississippi. They are the parents of two adult children and one beloved granddaughter.
Facebook: facebook.com/jacquelinefreemanwheelockauthor Twitter: @JFWheelock
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, and Nook
Mantle Rock Publishing (Mantle Rock copies are discounted)