Tell us about your book.
To Dance Once More is a special project originating from my love of pure romance, and inspired by the love stories of my ancestors. It sets out hoping to prove that true love still exists. I candidly speak of the purity of not only the heroine, but also the hero, and wholeheartedly desire to point others to Jesus through my words. It is set in Victorian Florida, which is a combination of two of my favorite things—the beach and Victorian times. Of course, there has to be more to a novel than just the romance and so there is betrayal, sacrifice and a bitter enemy that Lydia must overcome.
When Victorian debutante, Lydia Barrington, accidentally discovers that her father has promised her to the son of an unscrupulous businessman in payment for his own debts, she must make the biggest decision of her life…to concede or to fight. To Dance Once More explores the possibilities for a young woman, who longs to find God’s will for her life, yet is faced with a decision that will change her life forever. If she follows her heart, she disobeys her father; if she abides by her father’s wishes, she betrays herself.
Can you give us a sneak peek?
April 6, 1886
The warm sun beamed through the lace curtains covering the whitewashed windows of Lydia Jane Barrington’s bedchamber. Her home at Live Oaks Plantation sat on the outskirts of Gulf Resort, Florida, a modern, bustling port. Outside, the mourning doves cooed, and the bushy-tailed squirrels scampered about the lawn. Chickens clucked while they pecked at the ground eagerly gathering corn kernels. In the distance, cows mooed, waiting for the farm hand to milk them, unaware that summer waited patiently for its chance to scorch the land.
A salty breeze blew across Lydia’s porcelain face and called her from her deep slumber. Her curtains rose with the breeze and jerked down quickly, slamming back against the windowsill. She stretched with a yawn, and as morning nudged her, languorously she opened her eyes. She slid from her bed, cast the covers onto the floor, and sauntered across the sun-drenched room. Her crystal blue eyes sparkled like the sun on the ocean in the morning. Her hair, an auburn-colored cascading waterfall, was a gift from her mother’s side of the family. She went to the window and, pushing back the curtains, looked out at the plantation. The moss-draped live oaks and the towering cypress trees painted shadow puppets on the ground. The sun shone on the land as far as Lydia could see.
Lydia put on the pastel-blue cotton dress her Aunt Rebecca had made for her, then gazed out her window and drank in the scenery. As a child, she had stared out this same window and dreamed, like most young girls, about being the lady of her own manor with many children. However, over the past year, during moments like this, she wondered what else the world had to offer beyond what her eyes could see, away from this vast estate. She did not want to be like all the women she knew who seemingly disappeared in the shadows of their husbands. She feared most of all a betrothal to someone whom her father chose for her; forced into a loveless relationship simply to increase her father’s money pouch. To her, that was nothing more than slavery, and slavery no longer existed, thanks to the Civil War.
She wanted to travel and see the entire world, not simply entertain guests who had come from exotic locations around the world. She knew in her heart that there must be a higher purpose for her life. Therefore, she vowed that she would find her way in this world, like the women about whom the new governess, Kathryn, had taught her.
Soon she descended the oak staircase, ten-feet-wide and slightly curved, and headed for the sweet-smelling breakfast room, where her family gathered for the morning meal. Isabel Ann, the cook, with a delightful smile across her dark, round face, placed the steaming food on the twelve-foot-long oak table, hewed from one of Live Oak’s old trees.
Lydia found her seat next to Kathryn. As usual, she reached for a nibble of biscuit and instantly received a scolding from Isabel Ann as her father, Archibald, began his prayer of thanks. This mirrored almost every other morning Lydia had experienced, except that this morning marked her sixteenth birthday.
“You and Nathan have a good day in the fields, Archibald. Eliza and I are going to prepare the house for tonight’s birthday festivities. Josie, Alexa, and Lydia, you young ladies get off to school now,” Rosalyn, Lydia’s mother, said as she gracefully rose from her seat at the table.
“Oh, Mother, do I have to go today? It is my birthday after all,” Lydia protested, twisting sideways in her chair to face her mother.
“Yes, of course you do. Nathan is working today, and so will you. Now run along,” Rosalyn said, dismissing her with a wave of her delicate hand. Her eyes sparkled with love for her animated daughter.
Lydia’s father looked on in reserved silence. His dark eyes, in contrast to Rosalyn’s, seemed like coal dust. “A good education is something to be appreciated, Lydia,” Archibald chastised in his firm but loving way.
“Yes, Father.” Lydia stood up from her chair and excused herself.
“It’s hard to believe you are sixteen today,” Alexa told Lydia while they walked to the one-room schoolhouse, built on their property for the Barrington children. Little yellow flowers lined the walkway, and white sand peeked through the grass.
“Why? You make it sound like you are so much older than I am. You’re just seventeen yourself.” Lydia rolled her eyes. Being the baby of the family was worse than being last in line for the water pitcher on a hot summer day. Even her twin brother was older by five minutes.
“Now don’t be defensive, Lydia. Alexa meant no spite,” Josie said, her dark eyes squinting in the morning sun. “You have to admit it does seem rather strange that we no longer have little children in our home.”
“We haven’t had little children around here for a long time,” Lydia defended. She kicked a pebble into the woods.
“Fine then, I didn’t mean to start a war.” Alexa glared at Lydia with coffee-colored eyes.
“I hate being the youngest. You’re very fortunate to be eighteen, Josie. You can marry and escape this dreadful place soon.”
“Lydia! There is absolutely nothing dreadful about Live Oaks. Father has provided a wonderful home for us all,” Josie corrected.
“Yes, Lydia, we have a great home and a marvelous family. How could you ever want more?” Alexa chimed in.
Why doesn’t she simply drive a stake under my fingernails? “You don’t understand. I want to do something with my life. I want to be more than a wife and a mother. I don’t mean I don’t ever want to be a wife, I just want to be more,” Lydia answered, but she knew her sisters would not identify with her point of view. She wondered sometimes if they really were related to her. They certainly didn’t look much like her with their olive skin and dark eyes, and they obviously held different ideas of happiness.
The girls plodded on in silence, the rustle of their shoes on the crushed-shell pathway the only sound. Little puffs of dust followed behind them.
Finally, Josie spoke. “Lydia, I’ve never understood your desire to be more than what you are. Father says that rebellious thinking will only get you into trouble. I think you need to suppress those thoughts before you get a switch across your backside.”
Lydia did not respond. Heat rose in her chest and threatened to set her pale face ablaze. She lagged behind her sisters, taking a few minutes to compose herself, but eventually made her way to the schoolhouse.
This whitewashed building resembled a church with its small front porch and high, pitched roof. Around the back was the entrance to Kathryn’s housing. She had a sitting room complete with a wood burning stove, a washbasin, and a water pump. A ladder led to a loft, with a feather bed and a desk for studying and grading schoolwork. Lydia thought privately about how exciting it would be to live away from home and be free to do whatever she wanted to do, like Kathryn.
Later, Lydia headed toward the gazebo in front of their home to read in the afternoon sun. She ambled along the pathway from the schoolhouse, passing the eight-room guesthouse, built by her grandfather in 1835, three years after he built the main house. She crossed the lawn in front of the house, unable to resist bending to pick a yellow daffodil. Her spine tingled at the sweet smell.
“Hello, Mrs. Baker. How are you today?” Lydia called to her mother’s friend as she and Rosalyn sat on the porch swing.
“I’m fine, Lydia. And you?”
“Oh, I am wonderful, now that I’m free for the afternoon. Did you bring any orange marmalade with you today?” Lydia licked her lips.
“Yes, I did, dear. You will have to have some this afternoon.”
“I will. Thank you,” Lydia said, going on about her way.
Lydia sat in the gazebo, her soul a peaceful bubbling brook. She smiled and sighed a cleansing breath. This small structure and its surroundings provided her with an escape from the boredom of everyday life, since a comfortable lifestyle offered very little entertainment to fill the endless hours of a day on a plantation. Lydia did not even have chores like so many of her friends at church. Her mother encouraged her to master homemaking skills and to learn to play the piano, but Lydia cared nothing about those things. She would sit for hours at a time in the gazebo, encircled by various flowering trees and shrubs, and wonder about exotic places and hope to visit them one day.
After reading for a while, Lydia left the gazebo and disappeared down the path to the pond. The water lapped at the edge, beckoning her. She took off her dusty boots and lifted her skirts to her knees. Dipping her feet in the tepid water, she squealed with delight, for the water, though still a little too cool for swimming, felt great for toe dipping. This was exactly what she needed to make her day complete.
But it only took a few minutes for the chill to reach Lydia’s bones. She dried her feet on her skirts, put her boots back on, and made her way to the stables, stopping at the garden first. The sun threatened to scorch her delicate skin if she didn’t get inside the barn quickly. Her nostrils filled with the sweet smell of hay and oats, and she smiled.
“Afternoon, Miss Lydia,” said Levi, one of the barn workers, as he tossed hay with a pitchfork into a stall.
“Afternoon, Levi. I stopped in to see my baby for a bit. I won’t be in your way for long,” Lydia answered politely.
“Take your time. I know he’s been waiting for you all morning.”
She picked up a brush, entered the stall, and gently caressed her horse, Gabriel. “Good morning, baby. I brought you a treat. Here’s a carrot.”
Gabriel’s beige coat twitched as she rubbed it. His black mane and tail gleamed with each stroke of the brush. She dodged horseflies with her free hand. The chickens clucked and the bunnies squeaked, while the hogs whined and snorted, wanting food. Lydia paid them no mind, however, as she engrossed herself only with her pet.
Dinnertime slipped up on Lydia like a summer hailstorm. She scurried to the main house where delicious food and her family awaited her, entering in through the kitchen in the back of the house. Characteristically tardy, she felt the hot glare of her father’s eyes burn into her from the other room. She had to get past Isabel Ann, though, before she would face her father.
“Child, you wash up before you come to the table. And since you were late again, you will do the dishes today,” Isabel Ann said.
“Yes ma’am.” Lydia shrugged in defeat and stopped in the kitchen to wash off, accustomed to this scolding from Isabel Ann. In fact, Isabel Ann scolded her far more than her own mother ever did. She washed her face and hands in the washbasin by the wood-burning stove. The windmill her father had built last year pumped in the water from outside and sent it up to the attic. It flowed through pipes by gravity to the kitchen. She knew this was a luxury not many of her friends had in their homes.
After Lydia washed up, she joined the rest of the family in the dining room. Her birthday meal included pecan pie and spicy carrot cake for dessert, her favorites. There was even a bowl of Mrs. Baker’s orange marmalade and hot biscuits.
After the prayer, Lydia asked, “Father, do tell us again the story of our wonderful plantation. Please?” Lydia tried to detour her father’s thoughts from her tardiness.
rchibald’s brow furrowed. “You’ve heard it dozens of times.” He cut his biscuit in half and spread the marmalade liberally on it.
“Oh, but Father, please tell us again. For Miss Kathryn’s sake,” Josie chimed in, clapping her hands.
All four Barrington girls cheered and prompted Archibald to satisfy their wishes. Nathan was too busy eating his roast beef and gravy to convince Archibald to share the past.
Archibald took a drink of sweet tea, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and began, “Grandfather Alexander Barrington built this house over fifty years ago. The style is a Greek revival because of the columns on all sides. It looks like a Greek temple. He wanted the front porch to provide ample room for guests to gather during parties, so he made it twenty feet wide. The portico on the second story provided a place for him to step out from the bedchamber to monitor the plantation.
“You see, Kathryn, when my father first bought this land, he owned slaves and ran a cotton plantation back before the war. After Father died from malaria, I took over, as my sisters had all moved out west with their husbands to settle there. They did not want to be part of the fighting over slaves. I freed the slaves at that time. Some of them agreed to stay on and help me turn this into much more than a cotton plantation. I’ve always felt like you shouldn’t invest everything you have in one market only.” Archibald used the nail of his little finger to dislodge a piece of roast from his front teeth.
“You are a very smart man, Mr. Barrington,” Kathryn said, as she placed her napkin in her lap. “How did the plantation thrive during the war?”
“We made do. I don’t really like to talk about those days much. The children were still young and those were tough times. But that is the past now. The plantation does well and helps us to stay relatively self-sufficient. Out back, we have a smokehouse, a well, and a teahouse. We drink store-bought tea now, but our workers still prefer homegrown sassafras and spice-wood teas. We have a pigeon house, a dairy barn, stables, and a blacksmith shop, too. We ship much of our goods from our dock on the river at the edge of the plantation. Did you see our gardens?” Archibald’s eyes sparkled.
“No, sir, not yet. I’ve been so busy getting settled in my room and teaching the girls, of course.”
Rosalyn completed Archibald’s thoughts as she gestured with her soft, dainty hands. “Oh, you’ll have to take a walk with the girls around back and see them. We grow every kind of spice, vegetable, and flower you can imagine. We have many fruit trees, as well. Theo is our gardener. He will give you anything you ask for. On your walk, you’ll see the former slave quarters, too. Now they are private homes for our people. They’re not much, but they meet the needs. And, let me say one thing about how we thrived during the war. It was God and God alone who got us through that tough time.”
“Yes, indeed. You are right, my dear.” Archibald patted Rosalyn’s hand.
“Tell her what you do in the city, Father,” Eliza suggested.
“I fear my daughters romanticize my work a bit too much, Kathryn. I run a modest lumber and turpentine business. I am hoping one day Nathan will work with me, and possibly even a son-in-law or two.” He shrugged his graying eyebrows at his daughters. All the girls except Lydia giggled.
Lydia noticed how he cheered at the thought of sons-in-law. “That is if I get married. The only boy I like is Nathan, and he is my brother! I think marriage is very old-fashioned and limits what women can do with their lives,” Lydia explained, glancing towards Kathryn.
No one reacted immediately to her well-known response about boys. Kathryn, new still to the plantation and not quite accustomed to Lydia’s free spirit, hid her smile with her napkin.
“Now, Lydia. A girl has to marry eventually. How else would she ever support herself?” Rosalyn finally asked. She chided Lydia with her eyes, as only a mother could do.
“Mother, I am very resourceful, you know. I will find a way.”
“That kind of talk can get a girl in trouble. You cannot venture out without a gentleman by your side. A woman cannot make it in the world alone,” Archibald interjected. He made it clear by his fierce look toward Lydia that he was through with this kind of independent thinking.
What about Miss Kathryn, Father?” Lydia knew severe chastisement would occur for contradicting her father, but she had to ask. After all, her parents had insulted Kathryn to her face when they said those things about women.
“Allow me, please, Mr. Barrington,” Kathryn cut in. “Lydia, I am not on my own. As you see, your father employs me and provides a place for me to live while I am in his service. This did not happen by itself. I had to receive my teaching certificate, after much studying, mind you, and I had to have references from people who knew me well before I could even imagine having work like this. Although I am not married, I do not consider myself an independent woman. I am very dependent upon the good graces of your family. And I have very little to call my own.”
ydia blushed at her own naïveté. “I never really thought of it like that, Miss Kathryn. I see your point.” She paused thoughtfully, then added, “However, I still am not going to marry someone wealthy just so I can travel the world. I’ll find another way.”
“Lydia, let’s not ruin your and Nathan’s birthday by talking about the future. You have a wonderful evening ahead of you,” Rosalyn concluded.
hat evening, Lydia looked at her reflection in the mirror as she readied herself, and noticed how her face glimmered like moonlight and her eyes twinkled like stars. When she saw all of the guests in the forty-foot banquet hall, she felt like skipping but remembered Eliza’s words from earlier that day about acting like a young lady. As a result, she remembered to greet everyone in sight and then made her way, as gracefully as a swan, to the end of the hall to get a cup of cider.
She wore an unadorned, silk dress, topaz in color, made especially for the evening by her mother. Her hands adjusted the lace sash that encircled her waist and reached to the hem of her dress. She wore her hair pulled away from her face, fastened at the nape of her neck with a bow made from the same silk. This style accented her slender face and almond-shaped eyes to their fullest beauty. Nathan’s suit, black in color, complemented Lydia’s attire.
Hours of dancing followed dinner that evening. After the guests said their good-byes, the family gathered on the porch for the Scripture reading, and then everyone retired for the night.
Sleep was a stranger to Lydia that night for her mind swirled with excitement. She had danced until her legs would no longer support her and talked to innumerable people. She could not possibly remember all of the conversations she had had. One thing about the evening she would never forget, however: the way she felt when she danced with a gentleman. It made her want to squeal. She knew now why her sisters enjoyed parties so much. All throughout the night dancing filled her dreams. Even though she still did not think she ever wanted a husband, she hoped she would be able to dance again at another party someday soon.
What inspired this book?
This book is about selflessness, surrender, and seeking God’s will for your life. The theme of this and my other novels revolves around purity. I’ve worked with teens for years and have witnessed the baggage they carry with them when they don’t remain pure. I long to encourage my readers (both young and old/married or single) to live a life of purity and to feel the hope of forgiveness when they do not.
What has been your most challenging experience writing a book?
My biggest challenge has been finding the time to write when the creativity hits me. Often while homeschooling or working my part-time job, my mind would fill with ideas and scenes for the WIP. If I did not stop right then and jot things down, the ideas were gone. And there were so many times I set aside time to write and then my mind went blank.
What is your favorite thing to write about, (i.e., forgiveness, rebellion, etc)?
I love to write about romance. That’s no surprise. In real life, I’m always trying to match-make. But you can’t build a story around just the romance. I love to write about change—some sort of forward movement for my characters. Life never stays the same and neither do people. Most of my characters need some sort of tweaking (like all of us) and so whether it is forgiveness, mercy, grace, acceptance, turning from a sinful path, I love to write about change.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
The key scripture for To Dance Once More and the sequel is Psalm 30:11-12, which says: “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever.” I hope to inspire my readers to trust in God and to know for certain that no matter what we go through in life, He is always with us. Even when He seems silent, He is there and wants us to depend upon Him.
What is your favorite color? I love earth tones—greens and browns and oranges. But my favorite of all is burnt sienna. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Do you have a favorite recipe? Yes! This recipe was my husband’s favorite childhood snack and my children love it too!
Peanut Butter Frosts
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C quick-cooking oats
½ C sugar
½ C. firmly-packed brown sugar
½ tsp baking soda
1/3 C peanut butter
1 egg, beaten
Chopped peanuts (optional)
¼ C margarine softened
1 ½ C powdered sugar
¼ C peanut butter
1 TBS & 2 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
Combine flour, oats, sugars and soda in large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine butter, peanut butter and egg. Mix together until well blended (will be crumbly). Press into the bottom of a greased 9x12 dish. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until edges pull away from the sides. (Center will be soft). Cool completely.
Make the frosting by combining the butter/margarine with 1 cup of powdered sugar and beating until creamy. Add the other ½ C powdered sugar, peanut butter, milk and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Top frosts with frosting. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts if desired. Drizzle with melted chocolate cake frosting for an added treat. (That’s what I do.) Cut and serve.
If you could travel back in time when and where would you go? I would love to go back to the late 1800s to South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia to when my ancestors were coming here from Sweden, England, and France.
What project are you currently working on? My second novel, Song of the Meadowlark, will release in May so I just finished up the book trailer for it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k9q7Awzu0k&list=FLIBkdhN5am58KKxMeYyPd8w&feature=mh_lolz) and am now about halfway through with the sequel to To Dance Once More, which is titled To Laugh Once More.
Sherri has offered to giveaway one free book to a lucky winner. At least 10 people need to leave comments WITH email addresses for there to be a contest OR you can email me at email@example.com and put "contest - dance" in the subject line. Winner announced March 28th.