Hi Lindsay and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Boxcar Christmas!
Thanks Sarah! Good to be back! Happy Holidays to all!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
This is going to be a true story about the background of why I wrote BOXCAR CHRISTMAS:
When I was six years old, 1950, we lived on an island in the middle of the mighty Snake River near Ontario, Oregon. At six, I was going to the first grade. But there was a huge hurdle I had to walk every day to go meet the school bus. There was a huge train 3-span bridge stretching across the Snake River. And I had to walk it.
I don’t know if you can imagine this but my Scorpio mother taught me how to walk across it BY MYSELF after she showed me how to do it. There was a big problem: I was dizzied by the brownish/green water far below me if I looked down. And I’d lose my balance. The chances of me falling off the bridge were very real. Consequently, I learned to walk those trestles above the water WITHOUT LOOKING DOWN, which increased exponentially, my miscalculating and stumbling and thereby, pitching off the bridge, falling into the water and drowning. Even at five, I understand all of that! In 1950, there were no safeguards on bridges for anyone, much less a 5-year-old little girl.
My mother worked, so she too had to walk across that bridge twice a day, too. She would park our car on the bank, near the bridge, and walk across to our home on that island. She taught me that if a train came? I was to lay down in the middle of the tracks, flatten out and keep my arms and legs within the rails while the train passed above me. That way, I’d survive. Otherwise, I wouldn’t.
Now, it’s 2017. Can you imagine ANY mother doing that nowadays with a 5-year-old, much less a child of any age under 18? I’m sure you wouldn’t. She did NOT accompany me across the bridge after that–I was on my own. She was already at work and couldn’t do it even though she wanted too. My step father was too injured from the war to do much walking, so that was out, too. BUT….we had Blackie, an older Border Collie, who we found on the island when we moved into the house. He adopted us.
And he would accompany me to the bridge, stand watch, but not go across it because he was frightened of it, too. So was I. My greatest fear was not hearing a train coming behind me and then having to do my safety thing to survive it. That scared me more than walking across the three-span bridge. Blackie would then meet me in the afternoon when the school bus dropped me off and I had to walk the bridge to get back home.
I loved that dog with my life. He sensed how frightened I was of that bridge, sensing that if I looked down, I’d get dizzy, lose my balance and fall in and drown in the Snake River. He was my guardian.
I wanted to write a book about a Border Collie based upon my childhood experiences with Blackie. I wanted to honor him and his breed. So, there’s lots of wonderful emotions I was able to write into BOXCAR CHRISTMAS and I know my readers will feel it as they read Freya’s story of survival. And how she helped her 2 humans immensely and in important ways after they rescued her.
I went through a LOT of stock photos to find Blackie. I wasn’t sure I would, but as luck would have it, I did. And now the Border Collie on the book’s cover looks EXACTLY like my beloved Blackie. Every time I see that cover, I smile and my heart expands with love for my guardian angel dog who met me every day for a year when I had to walk that train bridge over the Snake River ;-).
BOXCAR CHRISTMAS is about two lost people bound by a black-and-white Border collie who is pregnant and lost, too. And how they found one another and the miracles that happened because of it.
What’s your favorite line(s) from the book?:
The metal tag on her leather collar said “Freya” with an AKC number below it. The black and white Border Collie lay deep in the woods of Montana, five new pups hungrily suckling her. She was exhausted but remained alert, knowing she was in bobcat, fox, grizzly and cougar country. The smell of blood and birthing matter would draw the attention of any predator if they were in the area.
When you sat down to start this book, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What were you most excited about?
I really didn’t have any challenges with BOXCAR CHRISTMAS because I’d lived in a caboose when living in Blackfoot, Idaho. And before that, we’d had Blackie, our Border Collie, when we lived on an island in the middle of the Snake River near Ontario, Oregon. I was passionate about sharing those times, experiences and adventures that I had as a child and young girl, with my readers. I always like to create a story from the fabric of my own life experiences because they have a depth you don’t have to try or imagine. It makes the book more real, far more personal between writer and reader.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
Jesse Myers, the heroine, is a lost soul looking to reclaim her life after leaving the Army. Travis Ramsey, three years a civilian after leaving the military, finds new demands and responsibilities with his ailing father. A red caboose brings them together and they slowly discover that despite their own failings or troubles, that they can support one another.
What have you learned about your own writing process/you as an author while writing this book?
The key was to translate my early childhood and weave it seamlessly into BOXCAR CHRISTMAS. It was a warming journey and wonderful to re-remember Blackie, our Border Collie. This is a book honoring this wonderful dog who was truly a family member.
The First kiss…
She felt his fingers tighten marginally as she pressed herself fully against him, more than a little aware of his growing erection against her belly. Fire simmered in her lower body and she ached to do more than this. Leaning up, her lips within an inch of his, she whispered, “I want to kiss you…” She closed her eyes, straining upward, meeting his mouth for the first time.
Did any scene have you crying or laughing (or blushing) while writing it?
“Okay,” Travis warned his father as he stood at the door to the basement, “get prepared for an onslaught.”
Sam sat in the overstuffed chair opposite the couch where Jesse sat. “Bring them on,” he said.
Jesse smiled, seeing the excitement in Sam’s eyes. He’d eaten like a proverbial horse, giving her and Travis compliments on the food, and how good it tasted. She had seen, from time to time, confusion in Travis’s eyes. Was it because his father wasn’t being angry or grouchy? Not using him as a whipping post? She’d ask him later after Sam left.
“Here they come,” Travis warned with a grin, opening the door.
Freya and Cyrus were standing at the top of the stairs, the five pups squirming, wriggling and racing between their legs, all of them spilling into the living room.
Sam laughed, watching all five of the pups spotting him and changing their cannon-like trajectory, galloping toward him. He was new to their world and they wanted to check him out. He leaned down as the pups leaped up on his lower pant legs and boots, yipping, sniffing and frolicking playfully around his feet.
Travis smiled as he came and sat down next to Jesse on the couch, opposite Sam. She returned his smile and sat back, watching the antics of the pups with him. Clearly, dogs loved this man. Cyrus came over to his master, laying down beside the chair, thumping his tail as the pups mauled him. Four of the pups delighted in leaping all over him, which he took in patient, elder stride. Freya sat close to Jesse, watching her happy brood tumble and play around Sam’s feet and rocket around Cyrus, leaping up on his back, sliding off, yipping with glee and doing it all over again.
For the next few minutes, Jesse watched Sam come alive. He would laugh, gently pick up a pup, pet it and then set it back on the rug. She noticed the only male, who had black freckles all over the top of his muzzle and was the only one with beautiful blue eyes, hang around Sam after the others left to go romp with Cyrus.
“This is a right nice pup,” Sam congratulated them, lifting him into his hands, criticaly studying him. He held him against his chest as it snuggled into the folds between his vest and shirt.
Travis said, “He’s the only one with blue eyes, like his mother, Freya.”
Sam continued to hold the pup and support him. “His eyes are beautiful. Never seen a dog with blue eyes before.” He grinned. “I see Cyrus really likes all those kids jumping and leaping all over him.”
“It’s nice to see them playing together,” Jesse said. “Maybe you were right, he was lonely?”
“That could well be. Heck, I get lonely out there by myself, too. Why wouldn’t Cy?”
“We’re giving away the pups on December 14th,” Travis said. “All but the blue-eyed male pup is spoken for.”
Peering down at the pup, Sam said, “He’s the prettiest marked of all of ‘em.”
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters?
Putting the cell phone on the counter, Jesse saw the cougar walking toward the rear of the caboose. The cat had probably been following the mother. Turning, she saw the dog standing in the center of the boxcar, a low growl in her throat, her hackles, or what was left of them, were standing straight up on her shoulders and all the way down her spine. The pups were okay, nestled in the warmth of the blanket, sleeping.
Jerking open one drawer, Jesse gripped a huge butcher knife. It was all she had. Would the cat attack? Try to break a window and get in? Her mind skipped through many scenarios. She didn’t know the habits of a cougar except that this one had followed the dog here, to her home.
The dog’s growl increased, her body stiffening.
Jesse lost sight of the cougar. Where was it?
Panic struck her. She felt as if she were back in combat. Her hand tightened around the wooden handle of the ten-inch butcher knife. She walked up to where the dog was at, her gaze riveting to the rear window.
Suddenly, the cat’s face appeared in the window, it’s huge paws on either side of it, amber eyes looking in – at them.
Gulping, Jesse felt the power of the cat’s intense focus.
The dog leaped into action, throwing herself at the back door, trying to attack the cougar on the other side of it. Her barks were sharp, ear splitting and her growl deep and filled with hatred.
The cougar dropped back down on all fours, disappearing from the window.
Jesse blinked. What could she do?
Nothing. Oh, God…
The dog barked furiously, throwing herself again and again at the back door, the hair all along her neck and back standing straight up. The barks and growls were savage.
Jesse forced herself to walk to the rear door. Was the cougar still on the platform? Waiting? Figuring out how to get into the caboose? She swiftly turned, gaze snapping from one window to another. The easiest way to get in was through this back door. The window was too small for the cat to actually get in through it, but he could cause a lot of problems for her, the dog and the pups.
Readers should read this book….
If readers have a dog? They will want to read this story. And even if you aren’t owned by a dog, anyone who loves animals will be pulled into this heartwarming tale that is more truth than fiction.
What are you currently working on? What are your up-coming releases?
SANCTUARY, Book 9 of the Delos Series, is released on 2.1.2018. This is a high adventure, intense and emotional book that takes place in Khartoum, Sudan. Strap in! Then, I have LONE RIDER, Book 5 from my Wind River Valley series with Kensington, released on 4.1.2018. It too is a nail biter about an ex-military cowboy who gets entangled with a woman who is being stalked once more. On 5.14.18, DANGEROUS, Book 10 of the Delos Series, is released. This is a story of two military people who fell in love, but war drove them apart. Now, they get a second chance, but there’s no guarantees because of the nature of their mission.
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Giveaway: Paperback of BOXCAR CHRISTMAS, autographed by author. USA only
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Excerpt from Boxcar Christmas:
Exclusive Excerpt from Boxcar Christmas by Lindsay McKenna #1
It wasn’t much to look at. The wooden slats that made up the ancient red caboose were weathered, the boxcar sitting on the edge of a flat yellow grass meadow, backed by thousands of evergreens in western Montana. Early November wind whistled and cut at Jesse Myer’s exposed face. She felt the icy morning coldness seep through her rain dampened olive green Army jacket as she emerged cautiously out of the woods. She had discovered the boxcar while hunting rosehips scattered along the banks of the Bitterroot River. It was a source of protein for her tightened, gnawing stomach in want of food.
The large, oval-shaped meadow bordered the water and the rose hips were a substantial source of food when in the back country. She chewed slowly on another one, knowing it was packed with nutrition. Shivering, she felt hope spike through her as she walked out of the woods that lay west of Hamilton, a small hunting and fishing tourist town. She had followed the river in search of a place to pitch her tent outside the city limits. Standing on the edge of the meadow, she fully surveyed it. It rained at dusk last night and then snowflakes had fallen thick and fast throughout the nighttime hours, and toward dawn the ground was covered with about six inches of the white stuff. As a gray dawn sluggishly crawled upon the eastern horizon, the flakes had turned into a soft, constant rain once more. Most of the snow had melted as the temperature rose, but patches of white still existed here and there–it was an Indian summer event. Jesse sincerely hoped that it meant warmer weather would come into the area and warm it up for a couple of weeks while she hunted for a place to live.
She’d discovered the ancient Union Pacific caboose at the edge of the meadow by accident. There was no telling how old it was, the slats of tongue-and-grove wood that composed its sides were worn , the paint chipped off but still solidly in place despite the harsh winter weather that it had obviously endured over the years. There were no railroad tracks around from what she could see. The under carriage of the caboose had been removed and it had been set upon a rectangular concrete slab, reminding her of the tiny house craze sweeping through her Millennial generation. Her gaze absorbed the forty-foot long boxcar and she could see that at one time, it had been well cared for. But now, it looked utterly abandoned, the paint dull and peeling off the sturdy oak staves beneath it. Someone had brought this caboose out here. Was it someone who lived in Hamilton? Maybe the owner of this plot of land used it as a cabin to hunt and fish on weekends? Jesse had no idea, but there it was. Maybe it could be a possible home for her instead of the tent she had strapped to the huge knapsack she carried on her back. She wanted to make sure no one was living in it presently and thought about trespassing to find out–even though it went against her grain. Jesse couldn’t explain the allure to do just that.
She called out several times, her voice echoing around the meadow. There was no response or movement from inside the boxcar. The four windows along the meadow side were dirty, and she longed to clean them. Deciding either no one was home or living in it, she curved her hand around the rusted metal railing at the rear platform of the boxcar and took the first tentative step upward. The ends of each wooden step curved upward from age and now rested precariously on the metal frame beneath each one, the nails pulled out by rain and snow over the years. The step groaned. Not that she weighed that much. In the Army, she had been a hundred and sixty pounds; but three months ago, when she received an honorable medical discharge at the end of eight years of service, she had slowly lost at least twenty-five pounds due lack of appetite and no money to buy food. Her Army jacket, the only reminder of her life since age eighteen, hung loosely on her frame.
Her gloves were threadbare, her fingertips numb. She hauled herself up the rest of the creaking wooden steps and leaned forward, cupping her hands around her eyes and peering through the dirty glass of the door to see what was inside the caboose. It was a possible place to live but she had no money for a room rental. She’d just gotten a job at Katie’s Koffee Bean in Hamilton as a dish washer. But it was part time and Jesse had no money yet to rent a room in town, much less an apartment. She had lived in her tent since leaving the Army and was prepared to do it now, but maybe her luck was about to change.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
One train car. Two lost souls. Five adorable puppies.
Travis Ramsey is back in Hamilton, Montana, after 10 years serving as a Delta Force operator in Afghanistan. Now responsible for his dad’s fishing guide business, Travis has to deal with his increasingly distant and difficult father, and guilt over his brother’s death. His life takes a turn for the better when he meets Army vet Jesse Myers. Jesse is taken with his grandparent’s quirky boxcar cabin and wants to rent it. Taken by her beauty—and the familiar haunted look in her eyes—he makes her a deal. He will rent the boxcar to her for free in return for her help in making renovations.
Working on the train car, Travis and Jesse grow closer. But when Jesse rescues a desperate Border Collie and her five adorable puppies, something unexpected happens. A Christmas miracle neither saw coming.
Meet the Author:
A U.S. Navy veteran, Lindsay McKenna was a meteorologist while serving her country. A pioneer of the military romance genre in 1993 with Captive of Fate. Her heart and focus is on honoring our military men and women. Creator of the Wind River Valley Series for Kensington Books, she writes emotionally and romantically intense suspense stories. She is also the creator of the DELOS Series, a family saga/series that is romantic suspense. Visit her online at her website for monthly newsletter, contest, and so much more www.lindsaymckenna.com.
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