Happy Valentine’s Day! And what better way to celebrate this romantic holiday than with a romance story. True love and happily-ever-after. What more could St. Valentine ask for?
Today, it’s my pleasure to introduce Janell Butler Wojtowicz to the Wednesday Writers blog.
She’ll be sharing how she came to be a fiction writer and we’ll get a glimpse of her contemporary Christian romantic fiction novel Embracing Hope. Welcome, Janell.
I never set out to write a novel, let alone a romance novel. Why should I write fluff? I was a professional writer who for 35 years had written editorials, obituaries, city council news, sports stories, fundraising letters, annual reports. I had written a memoir 20 years ago for family but had no desire to pursue publication. I figured no one would care until I was dead and the era of the 1960s and 70s was ancient history.
But my goals changed while working for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Apparently, writing about emerald ash borer and milfoil (Google if you must know.) had suppressed my creative side and in 2007 it exploded. I had a vivid dream one night after watching a BBC version of “Jane Eyre” that eventually became “Embracing Hope.”
I have always liked pathetic male and strong female leads in drama. Enter Drew McKinley, a brooding lost soul like Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester, who on the outside is successful, intelligent, handsome and wealthy. Drew is a recent widower struggling in a new city and wrestling with a new job that is not what he thought it would be. Enter Allison Bennett, who mirrors her mother’s resilience and the formidable sauciness of “Pride and Prejudice” heroine Elizabeth Bennet. (Did you notice?) Even the bad boy in the novel, Chris, is at his core pathetic.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but there is a happy ending as hope transforms the pathetic into the strong—thanks to a woman, of course. The male and female leads in the sequels (unpublished) mirror Drew and Allison. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to that character combination, perhaps it’s the Scarlett O’Hara Factor. Maybe a psychologist could open my eyes—as long as it’s a woman.
by Janell Wojtowicz
Christian college dean Drew McKinley mourns his dead wife and still wears his wedding ring. He stumbles on a desperate journey to understand God’s motives for her tragic death. Crossing his perilous path is Allison, a graduate student who recognizes Drew’s unresolved grief from her own loss. Putting up a roadblock is Chris Whitney, the egotistical student senate president who carries the secret burden of a dysfunctional family. The road Drew must navigate is fraught with career upheaval, a reawakening heart, substance abuse, and the struggle for forgiveness. Will Drew finish his journey to embrace the hope God offers, the love Allison shares, and the guidance Chris needs, or will he turn his back on all three with catastrophic consequences?
Drew returned from lunch in the student dining hall to an empty office suite. A stack of mail sat on his desk, and he shuffled through it with disinterest. Seminars, invoices, the Chronicle of Higher Education. More junk. He dropped into the black high-back leather chair and reached for the phone to call the next person on his lengthy list, the athletic director.
“Excuse me, Mr. McKinley,” a smooth alto voice said from the doorway. “I’m Allison Bennett, the new communications specialist. I’m here to see Ms. Abbott, but she’s not in her office.”
Drew stood, motioned her in, and grasped her hand in welcome before he realized this was the girl—no, the woman—who caught his attention at chapel. He quickly let go of her hand and spoke with more enthusiasm than necessary, “Please, call me Drew!”
Lush chestnut hair cascaded in gentle waves to just below her shoulders. Wispy bangs brushed dark eyebrows that framed green eyes. A faint yet warm smile graced her lips. He had seen her before: in church, the dining hall, and with Sharon briefly last week. But she was among the dozens of students he had never formally met. Too many students. Never enough time.
“It looks like Sharon is literally out to lunch.” He gestured for her to take a seat.
She placed her worn blue backpack on the floor and eased into the guest chair in front of Drew’s desk, posture straight, chin high, confidence in her eyes.
“We’re happy to have you with us, uh, ….” What’s her name? Angela? Andrea?
“Yes, Allison. Sharon has been inundated since her last assistant left to get married. She’s relieved to have found you.”
“And I’m relieved she hired me,” Allison replied. “I almost gave up on grad school, but thanks to this job and the Hope Scholarship I got at the last minute, I’m here.”
A flutter in his heart at the mention of the scholarship distracted Drew for a moment, but he refocused on Allison. “The new one-year full-ride scholarship? Congratulations.”
“It’s a God Thing, that’s for sure. My goal is to get my master’s degree in three semesters, since this is my sixth year at Riley.”
“Six years? Then you must have attended part-time?” Drew asked.
Allison tucked a lock of hair behind her left ear displaying a small silver hoop earring. “Yes, I did. It’s hard for students like me to graduate in four years because we have to get jobs—sometimes more than one at a time—to avoid overwhelming student loans. Fortunately, I got a lot of scholarships, supplemented them with jobs, and had a full-time temp job at the Omaha World Herald this summer.”
Drew settled back in his chair and looked Allison square in the eyes. They were more than just green. They were a striking emerald reminding him of the necklace he had given Kendra for her twenty-fifth birthday. He gulped the memory away. Would the flashbacks ever end?
Want to read more? You can find Embracing Hope at Amazon.
About the Author
Janell Butler Wojtowicz, born and raised in Iowa, has spent her entire 35-year career in writing, including journalism, Christian higher education, nonprofit public relations, and local government. Much of her writing has been the “people stories” of trial, tragedy and triumph, which are reflected in her debut novel, “Embracing Hope.” Janell and her husband, Frank, live in New Brighton, Minnesota.