The Least of These
It’s Release Day for The Least of These! I have Kathleen Neely back to promote another new release. Welcome Kathleen!
How would you describe your main characters?
I’m pleased to introduce you to Scott Harrington and Claire Bassett.
Scott broke the family tradition of a long line of attorneys when he opted for a career in journalism. This met with his father’s disappointment, just another in a string of them. His brother had been the favored child, in line to be valedictorian and headed to Yale, another family tradition. Those plans shattered when he died of an overdose.
Scott struggles with identify. He has no desire for the affluent lifestyle of his youth, and has distanced himself from his father. Yet he craves an accomplishment that will earn his father’s respect. His documentary on the homeless may win him an award that would accomplish that.
Claire Bassett has always wanted one thing—to be a wife and a mother. She married Andrew, her college sweetheart, and became just that. Until tragedy struck and her husband went missing. Claire is a loyal wife, searching and waiting. How long can she continue to hope?
What problems do your characters face?
Scott goes undercover, living among the homeless, seeking three men whose stories he can tell. The problem is, as he learns their history, he finds himself wanting to help them. That might be a good humanitarian act, but it does nothing for the documentary. Delving into their lives causes Scott to deal with his own guilty secret from the past, one with devastating consequences. He had failed his brother. Would he fail these men for the chance at a Pulitzer?
Claire cannot hold on financially. She’s raising two children on her own with no income. The savings that she and Andrew had is gone. She can’t sell her home without his signature and that’s impossible. She moves in with her parents and rents her home to strangers. Claire struggles daily not knowing if her husband is dead or alive. Jonathan, a friend she meets at her new job, tempts her to move forward. It’s been a year and she may never see Andrew again. Should she move on, start a new life?
Scott and Claire are strangers—until their stories intersect.
What would you like your readers to know about your characters?
Scott has never come to terms with his brother’s death, and carries mis-placed guilt. Stella, his neighbor and friend, tries to help him accept this truth. He can’t deny the compassion that causes him to open his heart and his home. Stella wishes he would open his eyes to her. She tells him that sometimes what you’re searching for is right before your eyes.
Claire compares herself to Hans Brinker, the boy who put his finger in the dike to keep everything from crashing in. She also lived through the trauma that sent Andrew running away, but she couldn’t run. She had to hold things together for her children.
Read an excerpt from The Least of These:
Recognition lit the kid’s eyes as I approached his table. I set my plate down across from him. “Hi. I’m Scott. I think we stayed at the same hotel a few nights ago.”
He chuckled. “Yeah. The Bridge Resort. A real one-star facility. I’m Tyler.”
I tested my coffee. Strong, black, and slightly warm. “I can’t say I slept much under the overpass. This is the first night I’ve made it through these doors. Tonight, I made sure I arrived early enough. How about you? Have you been back under the bridge?”
“No. I stayed here last night. Can’t say it’s much better.”
I raised my eyebrows. “How could it not be better than hard concrete and traffic whizzing overhead?”
“Wait ’til tonight. You’ll see. It’s filled with hacking coughs and body odor. I’ve got to get a job and get out of here.” He took a bite of his mac and cheese. “Artificial cheese. Probably powdered. And the ham’s almost too salty to eat. I guess I shouldn’t complain. It’s free.” He picked up his water and drank.
I looked at my coffee and wished I’d opted for the water. “It’s a hard life. Some of these fellas look like they’ve been at it a while.”
He nodded. “Well, I don’t plan to be one of them. I’m trying to get a job.”
“Good for you. It’s tough without an address.”
“I give my e-mail and check it every day at the library. It’s a good place to hang out. I can sit there and read if I have time to kill.”
We were interrupted when a man spoke to the whole group. We ate while he provided a reminder about restrooms, showers, cots, and the time for breakfast. Anyone who remained sleeping past eight thirty would be woken. Breakfast would be served until nine, and everyone had to be out by nine-thirty.
When he’d finished speaking, I picked up the conversation. “How old are you? How’d you end up here?”
“I’m eighteen. How’d I end up here? I keep asking myself that question. I guess it’s part of a long story.”
I pushed my empty plate away and leaned back. “I like stories.”
Tyler crushed his napkin and placed it on his empty plate. “You want the long or the short?”
I glanced at the clock that read six thirty. “Looks like we have nothing but time.” This would definitely be one of the three biographies. I couldn’t take notes, so I’d have to listen carefully, remembering details until I could commit them to paper.
The kids went with my parents, and my brothers had taken my things away, leaving me alone and vulnerable. I picked up a plate that had somehow escaped packing. How is it that this set of stoneware, glazed in a dusty rose pattern, had once been so important?
The day Andrew and I completed our bridal registry, I saw the set of earthenware dishes. Nothing else would do. Andrew picked up a masculine design of brown stoneware with a tan border. I’d scrunched my face in distaste and he’d laughed. We added the rose pattern to our registry. I found the perfect placemats to match, complete with linen napkins and rose napkin holders. I’d set a flawless table.
I enfolded the loose plate in a remnant of bubble wrap and placed it in a box with mismatched, haphazard pieces, hoping someday to reunite it with the rest of the set. I went upstairs, pulled back the bedspread on one side of my king-sized bed, and sat down. In a few weeks, it would be Isabella’s sixth birthday. How would it be possible for me to celebrate? Bella’s birthday marked a year since my nightmare began. But for her sake, I’d put on my smile, hand her colorful packages with pink ribbons, and pretend I wasn’t falling apart.
With experienced movements, I reached into the nightstand drawer and pulled out the wedding picture I couldn’t bear to be without. As I did every night, I touched a gentle finger to the cold glass that covered my husband’s face and wished him a good night. I said a prayer for his safety and placed it on the spot where he had once lain beside me. Reaching for the pillow where his scent had long since been laundered away, I held him close to my heart. I couldn’t hate him. Even after all this time. I thought of all of the things he missed—Drew’s first steps, Isabella’s first day of school, Maxwell’s death when he’d curled up in his dog bed and died of a broken heart. If not for the children, I might have done the same.
I slid from the bed to kneel beside it, holding fast to his pillow, feeling tiny and insignificant.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Tears threatened, but I held them at bay. “Forgive me, Lord. I know You’re my strength in weakness, but right now, I can’t feel Your strength. Help me to understand how You’re working in my life. I can’t see it, Lord.”
I gave in to the tears that would saturate this pillow case for the last time before it joined my other belongings in a storage shed.
Get your copy:
Kathleen Neely is the author of The Street Singer, Beauty for Ashes, and The Least of These. 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.