Back in 2005, I attended my first national writers conference, American Christian Fiction Writers. I was so overwhelmed and unprepared to meet with agents and editors, I ended up in my room crying and vowing to never go again. The next year, I decided to give it another shot and heard about a mentoring program. Which is where I met today’s guest. Marian Merritt e-mailed me for a couple of months before the conference, sharing all kinds of tips and advice on how to prepare. In 2006, I attended with confidence, no tears and met Marian in person. She’ll always hold a special place in my heart and I’m thrilled to host her today. Comment on any post dated Dec 10 – 14 for a chance to win Marian’s e-book, Southern Fried Christmas. Deadline: Dec 22nd, 11:59 pm, central time. Here’s Marian:
Excerpt from Southern Fried Christmas when Denny takes Kelly out to the swamp. This scene is just after he introduces her to the alligator, Gaston:
He led her to the expanded part of the dock then reached into the basket and produced a purple and gold blanket. With a flip of his wrist the blanket covered the dock and a large tiger imprinted in the center stared at them.
She sat and began taking the sandwiches from the basket. “Let me guess, you’re an LSU fan.”
He laughed then sat next to her. “Yes and no.”
“OK, Labouve. Do tell.”
He removed a small insulated bag from the basket. “I will. After grace. Would you like to do the honors?”
Kelly paused at the request. Praying was such a personal thing for her. She wasn’t sure if she could say what was in her heart in front of Denny. The stirring within prompted her. She cleared her throat and began, “Father, thank You for this wonderful blessed day, for this new adventure, and for this Southern hospitality. Thank You for this food. Bless the hands that prepared it and continue to show us more of Yourself. Amen.” When she lifted her head, she met warm brown eyes drooping with kindness and attentiveness. No basset hound had drawn such a burning desire to embrace him. Was she falling for Denny?
“OK, now tell.” She needed to get him talking to break the electricity between them. While sitting crossed-legged on the blanket, she took a bite of her sandwich.
“Not before I do this.” He leaned toward her, mirth dancing in his eyes.
Her breath caught.
He swirled a jumbo shrimp through a cup of thick red sauce then lifted it to her mouth. “Tell me what you think.”
She hesitated. What was he doing?
His twinkling eyes enticed her. “It’s OK.”
She bit into the shrimp and once again met his electrifying gaze. Her eyes closed as she savored the tangy succulent treat. “Mmm, that is good.”
When she opened her eyes, Denny’s unique smile beamed. “I’m glad you like it. My own special recipe.”
Denny’s chiseled bicep, just centimeters from her arm, sent her pulse racing. She marveled at the rareness of the man sitting next to her. He followed Christ, ran a successful company where men respected him, he cooked and even made his own recipes, he was a generous, caring father and son, and was handsome on top of all that. Now she knew why women were interested in Denny Labouve—he was too good to be true.
“Great recipe. Now back to LSU. What’s this yes and no. I thought all Louisianans were die-hard LSU fans.”
He swallowed his bite then stretched out on the blanket. He lay on his side and propped his head with his hand. Clouds rolled overhead blocking the rays of sunshine that peeked through earlier. She met his gaze and could tell by his endearing smile that the memories she suspected he relived were good ones for him.
He cleared his throat and toyed with the fringe of the blanket. “I played high school football for the South Bazet Gators. Star quarterback and all. I’d always dreamed of leaving Louisiana and playing for Notre Dame. When I was ten, I watched the movie about Knute Rockne and decided that’s where I’d play football one day. Turned out, I was accepted, but didn’t get a football scholarship. Got offered full rides to LSU, a couple of schools in California, one in Florida, Alabama, and Michigan. All great schools, but not my dream school. Didn’t help that Notre Dame had just ended the season ranked high. By that time they had several national championships on their record. Made me want to play there even more.” He took a sip from the water bottle he held. “So I packed my bags, took out a massive loan, and headed for Notre Dame. Talk about country goes to city.” He laughed.
“You attended Notre Dame?”
“You sound surprised. Graduated with a degree in mathematics.”
Another thing about this man she never would have expected. She lowered her gaze. “I am surprised. I would have figured you stayed close to home. You know, the hometown hero.”
“That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen.”
“So, did you play football for Notre Dame?”
“I did. And when senior year came, NFL scouts clamored, courting me with hints of big contracts. I planned to come home, marry Andrea, and take her to whatever city hosted the team that drafted me.”
His smiled faded, and a pained look flashed in his eyes. “Then my dad died. Carroll had his hands full with the newspaper he’d just bought, which left me as the only one to step in and run the business. Mama tried to get me to sell the business and live my dream, but I couldn’t. My father started that business from nothing, and I didn’t want his dreams to die with him. Andrea and I prayed a lot, then I moved back home and took over the business. We were married in the typical grand Cajun style. Two years later Chelsea came along. Life was good.” He popped a shrimp into his mouth.
Kelly sat, taking in what he’d told her, knowing that the rest of the story held a sad truth—life had not always been good to Denny. “Guess you really are like George Bailey.”
Denny smiled. A faraway look filled his eyes. “Yes, maybe. I’ve never regretted the decision to come back here. Through all that’s happened, I’ve learned how precious family really is.”
Kelly finished the last of her sandwich and nodded. Although her family had not been as big as Denny’s, she knew how important they’d been. A pang of longing gripped her. She wished her parents could have seen what she’d seen today. She knew her dad would have loved the swamp. Especially, Gaston. Now she had no one left to call family. Unless of course, she counted Mameré Milla’s invitation to be her grandmother.
About Marian: Marian grew up in south Louisiana in a small community south of New Orleans, Louisiana. Her love for the written word began while sitting on her grandparent’s front porch swing reading books.
The stories allowed her to meet interesting people, took her to far away places and made her think beyond her own world. Her desire to write about the south keeps her grounded in her roots and the hope that one day she can do for someone what many of the authors of her childhood did for her.
She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and hones her writing skills by attending writer’s conferences and reading many books on the craft of writing.
Marian writes from her home in Colorado which she shares with her husband and a labradoodle, named Chili. While she loves the mountains and most of the time, the snow, she misses her family, fresh seafood, Cajun cooking, and King cakes. Proof that you can take the girl out of the south, but not the south out of the girl! Learn more: www.marianmerritt.com
About the book – Southern Fried Christmas: Love: purer than Colorado snow, deeper than a Louisiana bayou. The Colorado Rockies have always been home to journalist Kelly Shepherd, but after the death of her father, and facing her first Christmas alone, she accepts an assignment that leads her deep into Louisiana’s Cajun country.Since his wife’s death, Denny Labouve has focused his attention on his ten-year-old daughter and the family business, but Kelly sparks the dying embers of his heart even as a Christmas cold front moves through his beloved Cajun country.Will Denny and Kelly be able to trust God to bridge the span between the Colorado Rockies and the Louisiana bayou?
Purchase: Southern Fried Christmas
Come back Dec 17th for Donna Winters!