Friday, September 15, 2017

Interview & Excerpt ~ MY UNEXPECTED HOPE by Tammy L. Gray


My Unexpected Hope

by: Tammy L. Gray
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Inspirational
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Waterfall Press


After a year of grieving her divorce and living a life permanently stuck on pause, Laila Richardson is finally ready to have her own happy ending. Then a listing for a quaint cottage in another town answers her prayers for a fresh beginning—one that will bring her closer to her new boyfriend, Ben. Unfortunately, in her small town of Fairfield, Georgia, letting go of the past is virtually impossible. No one wants to see her move on, including the man who destroyed her heart to begin with.

Chad Richardson has spent years in misery but finally has his life on somewhat stable ground. When he learns his ex-wife is dating, he knows it’s time to go back and fight for the life he abandoned. Bolstered by his newfound sobriety, Chad has every intention of winning back the woman he loves, even if that means facing old demons that are waiting for him to fail.

Passions run deep as two souls searching for a second chance find the courage to let go of old patterns. Can they recognize that their dreams are still possible, even when forged from a broken past?


Hi Tammy.  Welcome to Read Your Writes Book Reviews.  How are you? How’s the Texas Summer treating you?
I’m doing great! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. It’s such a privilege to get to talk about my books to your readers. My summer was super busy. Between all of us in my family of five, our summer consisted of one mission trip, two summer camps, a week in Orlando for RWA and finally a beach vacation. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the time school started again.  

Congratulations on being named winner of the 2017 RITA Award for Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements for your book My Hope Next Door.
Thank you so much. That win was truly a surprise, but such an incredible honor.

Can you please tell me about the book?
My Hope Next Door is a story of second chances. It’s about letting go of past regrets, mistakes and the image we all carry. It’s about looking beyond stereotypes to the person God has created us to be. And it’s a beautiful love story between two very different people who share a similar pain. As an author, I always want my books to leave the readers changed in some way, or at least see the world through a different lens.

Your latest book is My Unexpected Hope.  Can you tell me about it and is it connected to My Hope Next Door?
Yes. My Unexpected Hope follows Katie’s childhood friends, Chad and Laila. They were each other’s first love, got married their senior year of high school and divorced seven years later. Katie, Chad and Laila’s friendship is immersed in heartbreak and addiction, and while Katie found healing, the other two were still so lost at the end of My Hope Next Door. Eight months
later, a glimmer of hope starts to shine in both Chad and Laila’s lives, though by different means. My Unexpected Hope is their story of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Both My Hope Next Door and My Unexpected Hope are about redemption and second chances.  My Unexpected Hope piques my interest because Laila and Chad were married and he pushed to her breaking point.  I’m a strong believer that you have to love yourself, before you can love someone else.  I’m also a person who thinks that once someone has hurt you so badly, that you need to move on, without that person in your life.  With everything that happened, how did Laila move past all the hurt and betrayal of Chad?
Honestly, I struggled with the same question. So much so, that my first draft of this story did not end with Chad and Laila together. But as I wrote, I just kept feeling God’s hand pressing down on me, telling me, “I’m big enough. Even for this.” So despite the pain and the addiction they went through, I erased the 10,000 words I’d written and started over.

But with that said, I also was not about to create a story where all was well and forgiveness came with just a few words. The entire story is a journey for both of them filled with self-reflection, honesty and change.

I want to go back in time to your Winsor series.  In Shattered Rose, Avery Nichols was devastated by the loss of Jake Matthews.  But, things are not always as they seem.  Jake got his own story in Splintered Oak.  When he first appeared on the pages of Shattered Rose, did you know the extent of his pain and confusion?
No. When I started the book, Jake was supposed to just be the antagonist. He was a representation of sin and how enticing it can be only to leave you broken in the end. But as I wrote—and this seems to happen a lot—compassion took root and I started to wonder, why is he this way? I also believe that ANYONE can change. That hope and healing has no
boundaries. So, I met with a counselor for several hours and discussed him as if he were a living person. After that, I knew he’d get his own story.

Your stories have been called real, as far as emotions and situations are concerned.  When you’re writing your stories do you cry along with your characters and how do you handle the tough times?
I’ve only cried once, and that was when writing a scene in my YA book, Sell Out. What happens more often is that I walk around with a pit in my stomach. I seem to live the stories. When the couples are falling in love, I feel giddy, often can’t eat or sleep. When the angst comes, I feel sick to my stomach, sad and long to write my way out it. I fell in love with reading because I got to become the characters in those stories. I do the same now, only I get to decide how they end.

What’s your favorite part about writing and why?
Oh, this is a hard one because I love everything about it. But I guess if I had to pick one thing, it would be the stories I get to tell. Creating characters and situations that come to life in my head. And within those stories, I get to share a message of truth and hope and redemption. I get to make to a difference, experience life through a different worldview, and it’s changed me in so many wonderful ways. People open their hearts to my words and that is not something I take lightly. It’s an awe-inspiring responsibility that I cherish.

What’s next for you?
I’m super excited about 2018 when I will launch a brand new series set just outside of Austin, Texas. This series will be a little different from my others because the characters are professionals in their late twenties trying find direction and purpose in their life.

What made these books so fun to write is how interconnected the relationships are. We are shaped by the people in our lives, usually from our childhood friends and experiences, so what happens when everything you thought you were turns out to be wrong? What happens when the person you trusted most becomes your greatest enemy?

I explore all these scenarios and cannot wait to let my readers experience them too!

Tammy, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me.
It was my pleasure! Thank you so much for having me on your blog.


My Unexpected Hope:
Chad shot up in bed, the nightmare so vivid he wanted to squeeze his head until the memory was erased. He scanned the small bedroom, shuddering. Real—this was real. A truth scarier than the nightmare itself.

A night breeze flowed through the open window, drying the sweat on his back. The tiny opening to the outside world was the only gift in his eight-by-eight living space. Twin bed, white walls, stained beige carpet. It all reflected the stale place he’d tumbled into. But living in a halfway house with three other men was a lot better than a jail cell, and truthfully, it was a miracle he hadn’t ended up in one.

Chad picked up the purple sobriety chip on his nightstand and rubbed his finger over the eight, then the words, unity, service, and recovery. For some, eight months might seem small, unimportant, but for him, it was the longest he’d ever gone without a drink.

Laila would be proud of him, if he had the courage to tell her.

That was the problem with sobriety sometimes. There was no more lying to yourself. No more excuses.

He’d ruined the only truly beautiful thing in his life.

Easing off the bed, Chad stretched his aching back and checked the time. 5:12 a.m. Trying to go back to sleep would be pointless; his shift at the hardware store started at seven.

The job he’d held for a full five months wasn’t glamorous, but he took pride in every haul. Cutting and stacking lumber had put weight back on his frame and color back in his face. Gone were the hollow cheeks, the sickly thinness, and the deep black circles under his eyes. In the mirror, Chad almost looked like the man he used to be.

The man he swore he’d be again when he entered rehab eight months ago after learning Katie had returned to Fairfield. It was his fourth attempt and the only time he really believed it would work. If Katie could get clean, then somehow he’d find the strength to do it as well.

Setting the chip back on the counter, Chad shook away the lingering nightmare. He had to focus on the future. On Laila and staying clean. She was still waiting for him. Joe had practically promised as much when they’d talked on New Year’s. And when Chad finally went home, he’d make sure her wait was not in vain.

A blue haze of the coming sunrise filtered through the living room blinds as he quietly stepped over shoes and discarded laundry to get to the kitchen. Mark had called a house meeting for tonight, and Chad had a pretty good idea that household maintenance was on the list of topics. None of them were especially tidy, himself included.

Two Post-it notes appeared when he flicked on the kitchen light, one on the fridge scolding them for drinking the rest of the milk, and the other on the stack of unwashed dishes that said, “Wash me or I will kill you.” Chad shook his head, but welcomed the unexpected smile. Mark was a softy—soft enough to take in three recovering alcoholics and mentor all of them—so his threats fell short of their target.

Chad had met Mark in rehab during one of the group sessions. He was their success story, a man who’d walked along the cliff with one foot dangling over the abyss, yet found a way not to tumble to his death.

Mark was a nineteen-year alcoholic, four of those sober. He understood loss, understood temptation, and understood Chad’s journey through years of alcoholism and drug use. He understood that though the drugs had been Chad’s final undoing in Fairfield, it was the alcohol that obliterated him time and time again.

Chad had spent most of his adult life blaming his father for the affliction. But Mark had shown him that he was the only one responsible for his actions. He’d chosen to hide inside a bottle, and years later, he was living out the consequences of that choice.

Pushing away the lump in his throat, Chad rolled up the note, tossed it into the nearly full trashcan, and spent the next fifteen minutes quietly unloading and reloading the dishwasher. It was a job he knew well, one of the few Laila had trained him to do after they’d moved in together.

His hand froze on its way to grab another dish, the memory as vivid as the nightmare had been.  

“You’re doing it all wrong,” Laila says, hopping off the counter.

I pretend to be offended but I’m not. There’s not much she could ever do to offend me. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that if you discourage a man from doing dishes, he’ll never help again?”

“What good is your help if none of the dishes come clean?” She’s in tiny shorts and a tank top that shows the edge of her bra. I thank the universe again that she’s mine, that she somehow said “I do” just a few weeks ago. “Here, give me the bowl.”  

I do because it means she’s going to lean over and, let’s face it, my wife has the best behind in Georgia. I watch both her and the dish placement because it makes her happy. Then I grab her around the waist and lift her back on the counter.

“Let’s finish them later,” I say finding that spot below her earlobe.

She giggles and runs her fingers through my hair. “Mr. Richardson, you are not behaving.”

“Mrs. Richardson, you knew that before you married me.”

Pain seized his heart. Eyes pressed closed, he gripped the sink and fought against the all-too-familiar ache. He was fighting for her. For them. Laila had always chosen him. And now he needed to prove himself worthy of that choice.

“I knew it was nasty in that sink, but not enough to make you hurl.” Mark came around to his right and pulled the coffee pot from the corner. He was twenty-two years older than Chad, a good forty pounds heavier, and had only about half the amount of hair. But in a lot of ways, they were the same. Mark’s family gave up on him ten years ago and still hadn’t fully allowed him back into their lives, even after four hard-fought years of sobriety. His ex-wife was remarried, his two sons still bitter, and his daughter’s only contact was a Christmas card once a year.

Chad straightened and pulled back the sting in his eyes. “Yeah. Fez needs to learn to rinse out his cereal bowl.” He sprayed the almost-empty stainless steel sink, pushing the last of the soiled food down the disposal. “You’re up early.”

“I never went to sleep.” Mark didn’t elaborate on why, but a quick fear tore through Chad’s limbs.

“Everything okay? I mean, are you . . .”

“Drinking?”

So matter of fact. So absent of the monumental impact if the answer was yes. Chad held his breath as he waited for him to continue.

“No, I’m not drinking. Michael let me go to his daughter’s preschool performance last night.” Michael was Mark’s oldest son, and the only one who’d begun to forgive him. “They let me treat her to an ice cream cone, and he even hugged me when we left the restaurant.” Tears swam in his aging brown eyes—happiness, regret, hope. “Sleep was a little impossible after that.”

“Mark, that’s, wow, man. That’s huge.” Chad backed away. He didn’t want his lingering anxiety over Laila to overshadow his sponsor’s breakthrough.

Mark scooped two heaping piles of coffee grounds into the filter. “Yeah, it really was. But seeing them is kind of like a shot of whiskey. All I want is more.” With quick fingers, he dropped the lid and pressed start on the pot. His voice fell along with his shoulders. “How was I such an idiot that I didn’t see the beauty of what I had?”

The million-dollar question that every recovering addict wonders.

“I don’t know.” Chad fell into a dining chair. “I ask myself that question at least ten times a day.”

With an expression he’d been on the receiving end of many times before, Mark pulled out the chair opposite from him and sat, leaning in close with his elbows on his knees. “Yesterday was hard for you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

Yesterday was the equivalent of an arrow through the eye, but that wasn’t Mark’s fault. “Don’t apologize. You were with your family, as you should have been. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to discuss the death of my marriage.”

Most of the year, Chad could believe the divorce wasn’t real, that his not signing the papers meant Laila was still his, but yesterday, even his disillusions couldn’t compete with the truth.

A default divorce.

If he’d known she could end things without his consent, he would have fought harder. Of course, a year ago, he was a train wreck. Penniless, hopping from one friend’s place to another. She had every right to leave him.

“How did you cope? Honestly.” Mark maintained eye contact, likely to discern if Chad was sprinkling lies among the truth. The curse of mentorship, he’d once said, was watching when a friend stumbled.

“I didn’t drink if that’s what you’re asking, but . . . I did walk into a liquor store.” Chad rubbed his hands over his face. “I admit, it’s the closest I’ve come to failing since I left rehab.” He recognized the pattern from his other face-plants off the wagon. It’d start with just driving by the store, then he’d walk through the door only to rush back out, and finally, when the temptation became too strong, he’d succumb to the darkness and buy the bottle that would inevitably ruin all his progress.

This time, though, he’d only stood there while the rows of bourbon, whiskey, and vodka called out to him in hushed whispers, using the same words his father had.

You’re worthless. You’re a failure. You’re not good enough for her.

Lost in the haze of his shortcomings, Chad had even gone so far as to touch a few of the bottles. But in the end, he’d called Joe’s Bar. Laila had picked up, her raspy voice so unique and familiar that he’d walked right out of the building, listening as she repeatedly said hello. It was the sixth time he’d called in the last two months, and every time, that small piece of contact gave him strength.

“What pulled you out?” Mark did this a lot, made Chad walk through the steps he took when fighting alcohol’s plea.

“I called her.” He kneaded his eyes. “Selfish, I know, but I just needed to hear her voice.”

Mark’s tone remained soft. “Maybe next time, you need to let her hear your voice too. Let her hear that you’re sober and have kept a job consecutively for months. Heck, you’ve almost paid off all your debt. Do you know how few addicts ever get to that point?”

Chad’s stomach sank like he was falling down a well. Not quite all the debt, which was why he had no right barging back into her life. “I’m not ready. I told myself a year. I want to be sober for a year before I go back.” Because she deserved no less.

“A year may be too late.” Mark held his hands in his lap and bent his head as if lost in prayer. Usually, he pushed the one-day-at-a-time mantra, refused to accept when Chad or the other guys retreated into self-pity. But today wasn’t a usual day. Mark had seen, in high definition, what all his addiction had cost him.

Chad stood and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Mark’s remorse was contagious, and Chad felt it roll up his arm and down to his already-hurting soul. “Last night was just the beginning. You’ll see.”

Mark simply hung his head lower. “I’m going to hit a meeting tonight. You should probably come too.”

“Okay. I’ll head there after work.” He went to remove his hand, but Mark’s own stopped his retreat. Slowly, his eyes raised until they shone into Chad’s with laser-like intensity.

“Don’t let her go without a fight,” he said with more conviction than Chad had ever witnessed from his almost-annoyingly-steady landlord.

“Oh, believe me. I don’t plan to.”

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Tammy L. Gray lives in the Dallas area with her family, and they love all things Texas, even the erratic weather patterns. She writes modern Christian romance with true-to-life characters and culturally-relevant plot lines. She believes hope and healing can be found through high quality fiction that inspires and provokes change.

Tammy is often lauded for her unique writing style within the inspirational genre, preferring to use analogies verses heavy-handed spiritual content. Her characters are real, relatable and deep, earning her a 2017 RITA award in the Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements category.

Places to find Tammy L. Gray:

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