One Among Men is about Samantha Hart, whose job requires she live in an all-male dorm with 500 hard-partying college guys. She can handle the 499, but it only takes one to lead her into danger.
Sounds intriguing. How did you come up with the concept for this book?
Well, some years ago, when I was a grad student studying counseling, I applied to be a resident director for an all-female dorm. When I interviewed for the job, I was informed that the position for the all-male building had recently opened and they didn’t have time to advertise it. Would I be interested in that position as well? I didn’t want to appear inflexible, and couldn’t imagine how they’d EVER put me in the all-male building considering much of my counseling focus and resume featured my work with eating disorders, so I said yes. I’m thinking I must have been the only one of the all-female applicants to be open to the idea because I was offered the job. I received a phone call that woke me from a sound sleep and I had barely processed the entirety of what I was getting into before my word became my bond. I didn’t dare back out of it. So, I ended up living in an all-male dorm the next semester. Little did I know then all of what God was going to do with that experience and how He would show Himself to me when I wasn’t even looking. It was an interesting time and of course the premise of this novel.
What are you working on now? Do you have a release date for this work?
I have two more novels I’m preparing to release over the next eleven months. The first is part of the same series involving one of Samantha Hart’s colleagues, and a member of the Campus Police force. The other begins a spin-off series about a pastor with a past who uses his underworld connections to try and save the child of the woman he wronged many years ago. I don’t have set dates yet, but hope to have An Insignificant Life out by May 2015, and Flee from Evil (working title) by August 2015.
Sounds like you have a lot going. Can you tell the readers how you got started writing?
I’ve always loved story, whether it be movies, my grandfather’s tales, or books. I’ve dabbled in writing here and there, and often found myself wondering how an author might describe important scenes in the movies I’d watch. What words would they use and how would they use them to get the most impact? However, it wasn’t until helping my daughter brainstorm a writing project for school that I truly got the bug. She’d been writing “chapter books” up to the age of nine and was now tasked to hand in a Cinderella story set in Greece. We had so much fun coming up with crazy ideas I decided I wasn’t going to let her have ALL the fun. I wanted a little of my own, so I set out to write a story myself. Though One Among Men was the first novel I completed, I released At the Edge of a Dark Forest as part of a group project with my critique partners last year.
I’m always interested in other writers’ processes. Let’s start by asking about your writing environment. Some writers like quiet when they write, others want music. Which one are you?
Though there are some scenes that require a more soundless environment, I am mostly inspired by the music I listen to. In fact, I have a music muse for all of my novels and always mention them in the acknowledgments. The muse for One Among Men was Third Day Revelations, more specifically the song, “This Is Who I am.” When I popped that baby into my CD player one morning I received a visual of Chris, the hero, that completely changed the direction of the story. Originally, he was going to be a graduate Lit. major. But while listening to that song, I saw Casey James (American Idol, 2010) holding a guitar, and Chris became a reluctant music major who came back to school to finally pursue his gift … sort of. I’ve needed music ever since.
Are you pen and paper writer, strictly computer, or some combo of the two?
I’d have to say a combination. However, the pen (or actually mechanical pencil) and paper are integral to my getting to know the character. There is something about the feel of lead moving across the page that makes it more personal, like I am journaling the novel from my own experience. In fact, whenever I get stuck I do just that—journal as the character who needs the work and—voila!—I know what happens next.
As everyone knows writers are readers, too. How have your reading (and writing) tastes evolved over the years? Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
When I was really young, I didn’t read a lot of fiction. I’ve always loved story, but no one had ever pointed me to a good, worthwhile book, so I watched too much television. I know—gasp! I wanted to read, but somehow continually came across the wrong sort of books that had immoral plotlines that made me want to grieve for humanity. I was not part of a solid Christian community and there were no Christian books available that I knew of. So I didn’t seek fiction … until someone turned me onto Steven King. I know, gasp again, but there was something about his “everyman” voice and colorful characters that intrigued me. Eventually, I began to read 19th Century literature and novels which had been made into movies. I became a huge fan of Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, George MacDonald and Georgette Heyer. Eventually, I found Christian fiction and it was like sinking into a Calgon bath—ahhhh! Finally, I could read stories that dealt with issues important to me and some even set in my time period that weren’t morally corrupt.
Do you have a favorite book (or books)?
If I had to choose one book I’d have to say it was Sir Gibbie, by George MacDonald. You see, it’s a story about a mute boy who did great things. When I first found it on the shelves of a local Christian book store (many, many years ago), I thought it couldn’t be very good since the main character wouldn’t have any dialogue, but something told me to buy it and it quickly became my favorite. I’d read it at least three times before reading it to my then young son. That’s when I realized the character in the story was much like the boy I was reading it to. My son is autistic and cannot communicate with language, and yet he has the warmest heart and a zeal to serve like no one I’ve ever known. I now look at this book as a letter from God to prepare me to appreciate the young man who I would later come to know.
Let’s talk about your other life, if you have one besides writer. Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?
I am trained as a mental health counselor and did that for a while. I currently work as a receptionist at the same Christian counseling office. Still, chatting with our clients I am well aware of the intense challenges so many face in today’s world—especially with regard to living as a Christian in highly secular environments.
Do you know the meaning of your name? If so, does it fit you?
When I saw this question, I HAD to answer it! I love asking people if they know the meaning of their names—especially those of African origin. Rarely do I find someone from Africa (particularly Nigeria) who does not know the meaning of his or her name, and so often it has to do with God, faith or fellowship.
My given name is Constance, which means constant, steadfast, or as my husband might tell you, stubborn. Admittedly, I was not as steadfast in my beliefs as I could have been in my youth, but I hope I’ve grown up enough to say I have been these last twenty years!
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? (a quote, a Bible verse, a precept you live by or have tried to instill in your children).
Matthew 6:33 (NIV), “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the rest will follow.” I like to call this “Step One.” I’d spent so much time in my youth seeking what I thought was right for me or best for the world in which I lived, and found the answers wanting. Now, when I seek God’s Will, I understand His incredible design and the goodness of the designer, more and more every day. I may not always understand when I begin to follow His plan, but you can bet at some point there will be an “aha!” moment where I look back and say, “Oh! That’s what He was doing there.” I like those moments and hope to have more.
One Among Men
Samantha Hart is looking for godly purpose, like her missionary best friend, but is forced to take a job as the resident director of the all-male party dorm at the major state university where her prodigal past haunts her. She must avert the pitfalls of a woman in her position as well as the dangerous forces that threaten her life. Chris Johnson, a rock guitarist, has come back to school as a music major, and finds himself in a business relationship with the ruthless supplier of an on-campus drug ring. He’s intrigued by the lady RD, while learning more about his musical gift and the God who gave it to him. Can he manage his two worlds without risking Samantha’s life?
A hard, metal clank sounded from the high-rise stairwell. Samantha stilled her paintbrush at the mural on the cinderblock wall, heart thrumming in her chest. Being winter break, the Calvert Hall dormitory was supposed to be empty. She glanced toward the flyer on the end table reminding residents about the serial rapist who plagued the campus since last fall. A chill raced down her spine.
She listened for another sound.
Nothing. Almost too much nothing.
Taking in a breath, she stepped back and scanned her new home—a testament to the fact that four dorm rooms could be combined and made into an apartment. Two on one side of the hall became bedrooms. The other two joined to make a kitchen, dining and living room in one space. Large, industrial blinds shaded the cinderblock-encased windows, and Facilities-issued furniture sat on the gray tile floor. Hard and sterile, making every click in the cavernous building echo like ghosts of Christmas past—bad Christmases.
An edge cut through her nerves. She’d already questioned coming back to Maryland State University for grad school, after having been extracted from the prodigal life that had flourished there. Could this living arrangement really have been God’s answer to covering her mounting tuition expenses?
The haunting keyboard strokes of Jason Mraz’s song, “Plane,” coming from the old CD player Sam’s mother had given her the year before she died filled her with even more angst. Deep breaths. A maelstrom—that’s what she headed for. The only woman living in a building with five hundred, hard-partying, college guys. And an all-male resident-assistant staff, who had more experience than she did, questioning her every move.
She glanced to the ceiling. “What are you doing with me, Lord?”
Janet had told Sam she lived from a spirit of fear. She needed to give her burdens to Christ. Janet never elaborated on how to actually do that, so after taking one last listen for the noise and hearing nothing remotely human, Sam ramped up the volume on her boom box to drown out her overactive imagination. The clank was probably just the blustering, January wind at the metal side door, anyway. Besides, her apartment was locked tight. Both locks. She was safe.
She pulled off her button-front shirt, leaving only her navy tank. Lucinda, her new boss, told her the building’s heat had one setting—unbearably hot. No kidding. Sweat already gathered at her neck.
Sam wiped her paint-strewn fingers on her favorite, well-worn jeans, noting how the tempura from her sunrise-over-mesas mural mingled with the oil-paint stains from a previous masterpiece. The corners of her mouth tugged into a smile. This was the only time her attention-deficit disorder made sense. She’d get lost in her painting. No need to think about strokes, colors or techniques, only the way the images enveloped her. She could feel the bitter cold of the desert night melting from the blazing sun that peeked above the horizon.
But fear skittered through her like a scorpion on the desert floor. Fear of disdain for the faith that ran counter to the university’s protocol. Fear of temptation into a past she’d rather forget. And now, fear of a supposedly empty building echoing nothingness.
Give it to God.
She squirted white tempura into a puddle of blue, hoping to meld into the colors and soar through the azure sky she painted. Her muscles released. She loved to create. Pride swelled in her chest as she backed toward the living-room entrance to get a larger view of the cinderblock canvas.
Mraz’s melancholic tune absorbed her in its full-fledged decibels, singing of lost loves, loneliness, and plummeting planes. Sam could relate. Backing some more, she crashed into a large, masculine form.
Strong hands gripped her. She cried out as she struggled to get free—no luck. Her screams were overtaken by the loud music in the empty dorm. She was on her own. Sam speared her elbow into the intruder. The blow was blocked. She pivoted and thrust her palm toward his nose. He caught it. Brown eyes intense. Gaze piercing. She’d crush his toe with her heel. But his foot slid back, and pinned hers with a heavy boot.
Could he read her mind?
His lips moved, but Sam couldn’t understand his taunts over the blaring melody.
Her attacker stretched his arm around her. She tried to wrestle free. But his arm did not encircle her or thrust her close. Still holding her hand in his strong, calloused grip, he reached for the CD player.
The music stopped. Silence claimed the room.
He blew out an exasperated sigh. “Please. I’m not gonna hurt you.” His eyes pleaded, like the sound of his voice.
Yeah right. “Then let go of me.” Sam managed strength from her vocal chords as her panicked breaths came heavy and hard.
His attention moved from her tethered limb to her face. “Only if you promise not to shove the cartilage from my nose into my brain.” Was that a smirk playing on his lips?
Sam’s brow tensed. Of course she would. “Promise.”
Didn’t mean she’d keep it.
Her gaze slid down from the young man’s face as he lowered her hand and released it. A toolbox sat at his feet. “I’m here from Facilities to fix the outlets in the bedrooms.”
She looked him over, still trembling. Blond hair strayed from his ponytail. “How’d you get in?”
“Facilities masters.” The ring of keys jangled as he held them up. “I knocked, but no one answered. Don usually doesn’t mind when I let myself in.” He swiveled his head around. “Where is Don, anyway?”
Sam ignored his reference to the resident director who’d quit mid-year at the last minute. She needed hard-core proof this guy was legit. “Where’s your ID?”
He dropped his attention to the graphic t-shirt, under his open khaki coat and shook his head. “I don’t have it. Don knows who I am.”
Should she believe him? Her muscles remained at the ready. “Don doesn’t work here anymore.”
He stepped forward. “He quit?”
Sam thrust a fierce finger in his direction as she inched toward the phone on the kitchen counter. “I’m calling Facilities. Don’t. You. Move.” She tapped a staccato beat with the digit at each word, picked up the receiver and pressed the on button. Then … “What’s the number?”
What else could go wrong?
“Ma’am, I’d rather you act in a completely safe manner.” His voice traveled from conciliatory to condescending. “I’ll step out the door, and you can call the number in your Resident Life Directory over there.”
She flipped her head around to see where he was pointing. “Where?”
“Right on that shelf.” He waved his finger, like an impatient schoolmarm.
She rummaged through the stack of standard-issue phone books, manuals and directories, shaking her head. If only the ADD didn’t make it so hard for her to think under stress. Her mind whirred and everything took on a blur.
The stranger inched closer, gesturing to see if it was okay. Sam kept her distance, though the threat seemed to dissipate. He grasped the large red and white book with the Maryland State University logo emblazoned across it, flipped through the pages and pointed to a number as he pushed the directory toward her. “This one here.”
“Thank you.” She managed an apologetic smile. After all, the minute before, she’d tried to throttle him.
He mirrored her expression. “I’ll be right out here.”
Sam punched in the number to Facilities, asked if any work was ordered, and what the man looked like who was sent to do the job. The voice on the phone described him. “Young guy, about six foot, wavy blonde hair pulled into a stubby ponytail, and jeans with a few extra holes in them.” His gruff voice chuckled at the last description.
She sighed. Not a rapist. But something about him didn’t compute. How did he know exactly how to subdue her self-defense? Shaking off the thought, she strode to the door to let the guy in.
Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She was a 2012 semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest for Women’s Fiction and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. She is the author of One Among Men, about a woman whose job requires she live with 500, hard-partying college guys, and At the Edge of a Dark Forest, a modern-day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD.
You can also meet her on the following social media outlets: