Today my guest is Melony Teague, author of the contemporary Christian romance, A Promise to Keep. Melony, I’ll start by saying that I’ve read your book, and it took me on an adventure with its characters and settings. Thank you for joining me today.
Thank you Carol for inviting me to be a guest. I’m a mom of two humans, and two cats. I’m married to the kindest, funniest man on earth. I’ve been a freelance writer since 2010 when I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, I’m a writer and an author. My latest foray into fiction has been an adventure.
What is A Promise to Keep about?
Research librarian Savannah Sanderson wants nothing more than to escape into her happily-ever-after novels with their larger-than-life fictional heroes. But a promise to her late husband has her attending her dreaded twenty-year high school reunion.
Once a reckless troublemaker, Michael McCann fled town after graduation. Now a professional technical rescuer, he’s back for the reunion, but on his trip down memory lane, he soon comes face to face with unresolved issues, namely Savannah.
Before the night is over, a pact between these two old friends will lead them on an adventure into uncharted emotional territory.
What is the inspiration behind your story?
I wondered what would happen if two friends reunited at a 20-year high school reunion, and what if that reunion happened because of a promise. I wanted to explore promises and the keeping of them and what obstacles might come up in trying to keep said promises. I wanted to write a story that would inspire and challenge, make people laugh and tear up, and ultimately examine how they are living their lives, today, in the moment.
A Promise to Keep is about hope, grief, healing, friendship, love and laughter, and living without regrets.
Do you have a day job? If so, how do you find time in your day to write?
Aside from being a mom, I work from my home office doing communications for a few non-profit organizations and sometimes edit and copy edit for clients. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic turned all our lives upside down, I’m finding much time is taken up by baking bread from scratch, cooking from scratch and planning meals to minimize those essential trips to the grocery store. I’m thankful that all my years as a foodie and compulsive baker (baking is my therapy) has paid off. I’ve had to adapt my writing and my client work around that. The class I teach on Writing Your Personal Story was cancelled due to the closure of all community centers and recreation programs, so I look forward to getting back to that when all of this is over. I hope that I’ll still be able to teach my seniors. I love my students and their stories so much.
Are you a night owl or morning person?
I used to say that I’m a night owl and that I couldn’t write in the morning, but now I’ve tricked my brain into doing writing and marketing tasks before it’s fully awake, so that my brain can’t talk me out of it. Does that make sense? As long as I have a cup of coffee at my elbow, I can work in the morning. I tend to be too tired at night, so I read or watch videos for research.
Were there any surprises that came up as you wrote your story?
Yes, first the professor, Donavan Radcliffe was never in the original synopsis, but he showed up and demanded a spot. So did Teddy actually, and it’s funny how these two characters are at odds with each other in a friendly sort of rivalry.
Who was your favorite character to create?
I had so much fun with all my characters, Savannah and Michael were such a joy to create, then they almost became real enough that I caught myself almost having a little prayer meeting for Savannah. But other than the main characters, I adored Mrs Delaney. I wish I had a real life person like her in my life.
How did you come up with the names of your hero and/or heroine?
Since Savannah was born in South Africa, I liked the idea of giving her a name that rings of the African continent where we find the beautiful savannah landscape. The African Savanna reminds me of home. (I was born in South Africa too). As for Michael, I can’t remember how I came up with his name. I did end up with too many characters whose names started with “J” so I did a competition to rename a character originally named Jennifer, and the winner of the competition was Andrea, so Jennifer had her name changed to Andrea.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I started off as a complete pantser by participating in NANOWRIMO in 2010. The more I write, and with every new manuscript, I plot more. So I’ve become a hybrid of sorts. I like to write the first three chapters first to get to know my characters, then I outline the synopsis based on what I THINK will happen, then I write the story. The synopsis sometimes still changes, but the framework and the direction of the story is still there to keep me on track. The main thing is that I start with my characters.
Are you part of a writing group?
I have been part of a local writers group since 2012 and we wrote a devotional for writers together called, As the Ink Flows, Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers and Speakers. We have grown really close and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I’ve recently joined a writer’s group on Zoom led by the amazing and super talented Brandy Vallance, and I’m being challenged and fed there too. In these times when we can’t meet in person, we’ve had to learn to adapt.
Share your favorite excerpt from your book:
Here’s the first half of chapter one where we meet Savannah in the hallway of her old school trying to come to terms with how life has turned out for her. She doesn’t recognize the hunky stranger who obviously knows her. And then, the fun begins. I love this part. Such promise. (Excuse the pun)
Only a promise to a dying man would make her attend her twenty-year high school reunion.
Savannah Sanderson glanced at the large clock in the empty corridor of Point High. She had twenty-seven hours, forty-six minutes, and some seconds before the party—just enough time to work herself into a panic before the reunion dinner and dance. She’d arrived a day early to ease herself into the whole experience, but being alone with her thoughts wasn’t helping.
Savannah ran her fingers over the combination lock that secured what used to be her locker, feeling a peculiar connection to it since she’d stowed so much deep within her heart. The cold gray metal cabinet once held tokens of her dreams. School was out for the day and would soon be out for the summer, but she imagined the locker was filled with somebody else’s things, someone with wild and idealistic dreams of his or her own. She prayed the occupant’s future wouldn’t shatter like hers had.
The kitten sticker on the top corner had survived two decades of students. The matching backpack she’d toted from class to class, faded and worn, was still stashed in her closet at home. She couldn’t bear to part with that symbol of her survival of the awkwardness of high school. The magnet of her favorite rock band, which had held her schedule, had probably been replaced by a pouting pink-haired diva magnet. Times had changed, and she had, too.
At thirty-seven, she didn’t consider herself old—but maybe a little old fashioned. If she updated her locker now, she’d add magnets with the faces of love-song-singing crooners with velvet voices and perhaps that new actor in the latest happily-ever-after romance movie whose name she couldn’t recall. As a librarian, she saw people come in daily wishing to escape into a fictitious world with handsome heroes and feisty heroines and their happily-ever-afters. She was almost ready to think about where her story was going beyond the covers of her favorite novels. It was one thing to daydream, in love with the idea of happiness. It was quite another to find it.
She leaned her forehead against the cool enameled door, steeling herself for the days ahead. Tomorrow night, the building would flood with noise and laughter of her former classmates. For now, she must face the abandoned hallways with a heart just as empty. Only wispy recollections of her teenage years remained. It was strange how the happier memories brought her the most pain. Still, she was ready to let those memories back in. To heal.
In five months, it would be a year since Nick had left her to face her future alone. She’d done her best to prepare herself for the inevitable, but nothing had primed her for
the phone call from the hospital that October night. She’d rushed to Nick’s side, counting each minute with him a gift.
Between labored breaths, he begged her, “Promise me you’ll go to the reunion.”
“I can’t go without you. I can’t face…”
“You won’t be alone, Savannah. I want to go, but as things are right now…” Even with tubes and monitors keeping him alive, Nick didn’t come right out and say what they were both thinking.
“I need you to go. For me.”
“But why? Why would you say that?”
“Can you trust me this one last time?”
Despite trying to be brave for him, a tear trickled down her cheek. He reached up to wipe it away. Nick wasn’t playing fair, and he had to know it. How could she say no? Savannah gripped his emaciated hand as if she could pull him back from heaven’s threshold.
In that sterile room in the palliative-care ward, she made the promise one hour and twenty-three minutes before the monitors announced his arrival at the gates of heaven.
At the funeral, they said Nick’s unwavering faith was an inspiration to all. If Savannah heard “Everything happens for a reason, dear” one more time, she’d lose it. All well-meant but not helpful. Savannah let the platitudes and the sentiments wash over her, but she remained tight lipped, her anger simmering below the surface.
Things were not supposed to end with her sitting dry eyed in the front row of their church, having cried all her tears in the months before Nick left this earth. She wasn’t supposed to be saying goodbye to the man who’d swept her off her feet in high school. They were supposed to grow old together. They’d promised to share a lifetime. God hadn’t been listening to that promise, had He? It was as if God weren’t listening to her at all.
Her prayers since then had been scattered, unfocused and reluctant at best, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She’d successfully hidden from her church family and society at large, burying herself in her work and her books. She’d found valid excuses why she couldn’t make it out to church—except on bake sale Sundays, of course.
Even so, she’d kept her promise. Now, standing in front of her locker, she lifted her chin and gazed toward heaven. “Okay, I’m here, Nick,” she whispered. “Now what?”
She screeched, the sound rattling the windows of the aging school building. With one hand over her beating heart, she swiveled to find the source of the deep voice over her right shoulder. Standing in front of her was a six-foot, broad-shouldered, chestnut-haired stranger. She wondered whether she’d lost her mind and conjured a hallucination of one of her bookish heroes. He shoved a hand through his cow-licked mane and stepped closer. When he didn’t vaporize, she blinked and waited. Maybe her new contact lenses were malfunctioning.
He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“The janitor said no one was here. Classes are over for the day, so I thought I was alone.”
“You’re not alone.” He winked. The man actually winked at her.
Savannah stepped backward and collided with the lockers, the clattering of the impact reverberating in the silent hallway. Nothing much had changed there. After all, there was a reason they printed Accident Waiting for a Place to Happen below her photo in the yearbook.
Was he a current faculty member? No. If so, he wouldn’t know her name. “Are you here for the reunion? It starts tomorrow. I’m a day early.” One look at the man, and he’d set her off babbling like a jittery teenager. With her back against the lockers, she inched sideways toward the exit.
“Yes, I am. Me, too.”
She stopped her sidestepping to make sense of his words. “You, too?”
He backed up, his hands raised like she was a crazy lady about to lunge at him. “Yes, I’m also a day early.”
If he was here for the reunion, that meant he had been in her class. There was a familiar sparkle in his blue eyes. Could it be—
“You don’t recognize me?”
Embarrassed, she tried to picture what he would have looked like twenty years ago. By the tone of his voice, she should know who he was. Maybe her trusty locker would open and swallow her, saving her from her impending humiliation.
Nick would have known. He knew everybody.
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