Beauty for Ashes
by Kathleen Neely
I have Kathleen Neely here today talking about her new release, Beauty for Ashes. She’s been so gracious to talk with us about her characters, leave us with an excerpt, and allow you a chance to win a FREE digital copy of her new book!
Welcome, Kathleen. Let’s get started.
How would you describe your main characters?
I’m pleased to introduce you to Nathan Drummond and Angelina Hernandez.
If you’re a reader of mysteries, you may recognize Nathan from his book covers. He has seven novels to his credit and has been on the NY Times Best Seller List. Readers see his picture and his bio, but they never see the mystery that his life holds. Nathan’s kept that secret close for many years. That is, until he met Angie. She changed everything.
Joyful is probably the best adjective to describe Angie Hernandez. Her father says she was appropriately named Angelina, an angel of grace. She helps to run The Herald Center, an urban after-school ministry for teens. Her heart of compassion earns her the respect of even the toughest of those kids. The immediate attraction between Angie and Nathan gives her hope for the future. But it comes to a screeching halt. And all she knows is that Nathan keeps a secret from his past. A secret that he claims will not allow them a future together.
What problems do your characters face?
Nathan thought he had overcome the problems that plagued him, causing panic attacks through his college years. Counseling helped, but his counselor never knew the real root of the problem. Everyone thought it was the stress of college. Those problems have a resurgence when he returns to his hometown, coming face to face with reminders.
Nathan thinks that writing may help. He begins a new novel that parallels the events from years ago. As it nears completion, a new concern surfaces. Is it too close to the truth? Will it expose his secret?
Angie is a gifted violinist who put aside her dreams of playing professionally when her family needed her to help at The Herald Center. Nathan encourages her to pursue those dreams. She follows her heart by seeking a musical career and a future with Nathan. But that suddenly ends. What brought about the change in him?
What would you like your readers to know about your characters?
Nathan is determined to never forget the past. He journals about it daily, but must destroy each entry so no one ever sees. The jar filled with ashes is a ready reminder of the consequences of his sin.
Angie’s nature is to always see the good in people. Her Uncle Ramón taught her to look deeper. He said that people have a lot of hurt inside.
Read an excerpt of Beauty for Ashes
Angie couldn’t get past the feeling that she knew this man. She planned to ask, but first the situation with Carlos had to be addressed. “Why don’t we walk through the area where tutoring occurs. You can see the set up, and we’ll find a spot to talk with Carlos.”
Nathan hurriedly tossed the pinnies and balls into their proper space. Angie led him into a long hall with doors on each side. “These are our tutoring rooms. We’re blessed to be able to separate the groups. It helps with the noise, and all doors have windows for safety purposes. Either Jonas or I will be in the hallway walking back and forth, checking in.”
Nathan stretched his neck to peer into the occupied rooms. “You have some larger groups and a few with only three?”
“Yes, eight students are maximum for any tutor, but we try to group them according to their academic needs. Some are significantly delayed while others just need motivation.”
Nathan nodded his understanding. “Where would you place Del?”
“Significant.” Angie answered without hesitation. “I’m sure there are learning disabilities that were never addressed, but that’s not our call. We don’t diagnose.”
“They have snacks while they work. Do you supply them or do they bring their own?”
“Oh, we supply an afterschool snack. If they brought their own, most wouldn’t have anything. It’s a big line item for our budget, but we get some help from a few venders.” Angie slowed her steps. “Carlos is in here.” She stepped into the doorway. “I apologize for the interruption, but may I see Carlos for a moment?”
The teen walked into the hallway without a glance in Nathan’s direction. Angie motioned them away from the classroom door. “Carlos, I told Mr. Nathan that you wish to talk with him.”
He looked instead at Angie. “Me disculparé, pero le has dicho que no me tocara?”
She nodded her head and responded. “We will discuss that, but you must remember that Nathan is a volunteer. His time is a gift to you.”
Carlos turned toward Nathan. “Me disculparé …”
Angie shook her head. “English, please.”
He began again. “I’m sorry I pushed you. I don’t like to be touched.”
He looked like a small child in an oversized body. She glanced at Nathan and saw the same understanding, a gentleness in his expression.
“I’ll try to remember that, Carlos. And I’ll learn everyone’s names. If I had remembered your name, I wouldn’t have touched your shoulder. I’ll try to do better.”
Angie waited, but no further conversation occurred.
“You better return to tutoring now.” Carlos made his way back to the room. “Thank you, Nathan. We both know his action was unacceptable, but you allowed him to save face by accepting some responsibility regarding his name. That was very kind.”
Nathan smiled, the first real smile that Angie had seen.
“So, what was his question before that? I don’t speak Spanish.”
“He asked me to tell you that he doesn’t like to be touched.” Angie always had a protectiveness regarding Carlos. “He’s not a bad kid.”
“Has he been abused?”
He looked into her upturned face, and she quickly became aware of the nearness. She stepped back, creating space between them. “Why do you ask that?”
“Training sessions on how to recognize signs of abuse. Fear of touch is characteristic.”
“Probably. If I saw physical signs, I’d have to report it, but I just see fragile emotions. His father has two domestic violence charges for injuring his mother, and now she has a restraining order against him. I have no way to know if he physically harmed Carlos as well. I feel certain that social services would have questioned him.” Angie touched Nathan’s arm to indicate that they’d walk back to the multi-purpose room, away from the tutoring area. “You look so familiar to me. You said this is your first time volunteering?”
“Yes. I’ve never been here before this week.” He answered while they walked but glanced her way while he spoke.
Angie caught an amused light in his eyes. She stopped walking and looked up at him. “So where do I know you from?”
“I don’t know.” His amusement grew.
Her head tilted to one side, squinting an eye. “I think you’re teasing me.”
Nathan laughed out loud. “Sorry. Do you enjoy mystery novels?”
She gave him a confused look. “Yes, what does that…” Then it came to her. “Nathan Drummond? I should have known.”
A grin spread across his face. “I never know who’s a reader. Some people wouldn’t know my name or picture. Others recognize me immediately.”
“I should have been one of the latter. I’ve read most of your writings. I’m very pleased that you’ve come to our center. Perhaps we could have you speak about writing to those who are interested.”
“I’d be happy to. Anytime.” They continued walking and entered the foyer. Nathan’s eyes turned toward the portrait of Ramón Garcia, his expression growing somber. He quickly looked away.
“What days will you be here?”
“I’ve signed up for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Does that work?”
“We’re blessed to have any time you can spare. Some volunteers can only give us one day a week, so three is very generous. I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday.” Angie stood by the scuffed glass of the front door and watched him walk to his car.
The tip of the pen rested on the journal as Nathan sat thinking. A cold sweat gathered on his forehead as he relived the scene. Somehow it had more clarity ten years later than it had that night. Setting the pen aside, he paced circles around the room. A burn rose in the back of his throat. Sometimes there weren’t sufficient words to capture all that needed to be communicated.
Returning to his desk, he picked up the pen and stared at the thin blue lines where sentences should be. Then he began moving the pen, writing just a single word—If. Nathan stared at the emptiness. Finally, he began filling the space between parallel lines. Reaching the bottom of the paper, he read what he had written. But if was an act of futility. He ripped it from the threaded seam, and crinkled it into a ball, flinging it across the room. Then he ran to retrieve it so no one would ever read his words. He took a lighter to the paper and watched as it was reduced to ashes.
While he had fought for adequate journal entry words, the discipline prepared him for the story in progress. When he opened the file, his fingers flew over the keys. Thoughts came faster than he could capture them. It would require some serious editing, but words flowed.
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Kathleen Neely is the author of The Street Singer, Beauty for Ashes (4-26-19), and The Least of These (5-30-19). She is a former elementary teacher. Following her years in the classroom, she moved into administration, serving as an elementary principal. Kathleen is an alumnus of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Regent University in Virginia.
Among her writing accomplishments, Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions. She continues to speak to students about writing. Kathleen is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers.
She resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading.