OCTOBER 2023 SPOTLIGHT: ELLEN E. WITHERS
Ellen started her official journey into creative writing when she attended her first writer’s conference, over twenty-five years ago. That conference was the White County Creative Writers Conference. When her name was drawn for a door prize, she picked a book called Writing for Dummies, and took the title to heart. “It’s a sign,” she said. “I believe I’m supposed to write.”
Since that time, Ellen has written for newspapers, magazines, and contests. She writes a quarterly book review for Life in Chenal Magazine and has a monthly column with tips for winning contests in Writers Monthly Magazine PDF.
Last year she received a three-book contract for a mystery series with Scrivenings Press. Her first book in the series, Show Me Betrayal, was published in May and has done well. In September 2023, Scrivenings Press published a Christmas novella collection titled A Gift for all Time. Ellen’s novella, Carving Out Love, is one of three interrelated novellas that follows the meandering journey made by a historical nativity scene.
Set in the 1840s, the first novella follows an immigrant family that experiences a catastrophe in a violent storm. They escape the riverboat with their lives, but all of their possessions, including their treasured nativity, are dumped into the Arkansas River. In the town of Van Buren, Arkansas, a young woman enlists a local blacksmith to help return a recovered heirloom, the treasured symbol of hope to its owners, before they continue their journey to St. Louis, Missouri. Sparks fly between the young woman and the blacksmith as they work toward this goal.
The second novella addresses the time when our country was divided during our Civil War. The nativity scene is now in Mexico, Missouri in 1861, a little worse for wear. A soldier recovering from injuries sustained in the War takes on the project of refreshing and restoring the set as a gift to his lady love. Discover whether his love and upstanding character convince his sweetheart to love him in return.
The third novella takes place in a new millennium. The nativity set is uncovered in an old church in the Arkansas River Valley. A college student and her new friend work to restore the spirit of a forgotten little town and the symbol of the first and most holy family becomes the focus once again.
Ellen set her novella in her hometown of Mexico, Missouri. She incorporated some history related to the town being occupied by the Union Army from 1861 to the end of the conflict. General Ulysses Grant was a colonel during the time he was stationed there. In addition, the novella includes a historically accurate sheriff who was a Southern sympathizer yet was a fair man to all.
Below is an excerpt from Carving Out Love, the novella featured in A Gift for All Time.
CARVING OUT LOVE (EXCERPT)
warm, humid breeze buffeted George Hunter as he bounced on the family buckboard into town. Beads of sweat covered his neck as the temperature rose. Since dawn, he’d spent hours doing chores for Papa on the farm, then loaded lumber into the wagon. This drive into down should have been easier. Instead, guiding the draft horse around the more prominent furrows was challenging as the wagon pounded through a sea of ruts along the dusty road.
The town’s recent occupation by the Union Army left the main thoroughfare damaged from their constant vigil against secessionist raids. New posts dotted the road—likely poles for telegraph lines—an additional gift from the Union troops upon the landscape.
Once in town, George guided his horse into the alley behind Dawson’s Mercantile, where the owners accepted deliveries to their storage barn. He slid off the wagon seat and limped to the back to unload the lumber.
Moments later, Johnny Dawson flung open the back door of the mercantile. “Morning, George.”
George nodded at the young man as he approached. “Thank you kindly for your help.”
Johnny was a gangly lad with a perpetual smile on his freckled face. “Are these dried or fresh cut?” He leaped on the wagon as easily as a cat climbs a windowsill, then grabbed the opposite end of the board George struggled to unload.
Observing Johnny’s dexterity, George experienced a pang of jealousy. Even though he was a few years older, he should have the same nimbleness. “They’ve had some time to dry. More air could get to them if they’re stacked for a while.”
“With the call for building materials now, we’ll be lucky if this lasts more than a few days.”
They stacked the lumber in the barn, allowing space for air to reach most of the boards. When they’d finished, George followed Johnny into the mercantile.
The aroma of spices, coffee, and stale air greeted them. Although it was technically still morning, the air hung thick in the room as if it were late afternoon. George limped his way to the cash register manned by the elder Dawson.
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