Oh boy, do I have a treat for you today!
I read a lot. Like, a lot. And people know that I read a lot, so they ask me for recommendations. I almost always give them one name: Karen Witemeyer.
Her books are full of heart and soul and a love for God. They feature heroines who earn your respect and heroes that will make your heart flutter. They’re interesting and unique. All of them. I love her books. (I’m not just saying this because she will probably read this post. I’m saying it because it’s true!)
Should I admit I own everything she’s published? Yeah, ok. I own everything she’s published. And I don’t lend them out. I make people buy their own copy because they thank me later.
Once upon a time (as in not too long ago), she released a new book: No Other Will Do.
I read the synopsis and was hooked.
Men are optional. That was the credo Emma Chandler’s suffragette aunts taught her and why she established Harper’s Station, a women’s colony that offers a fresh start to females in need. But when a dangerous and shadowy assailant tries repeatedly to drive the women out, Emma is forced to admit they might need a man after all. One who can fight. And there is only one man she trusts enough to ask.
Malachi Shaw has finally earned the respect he’s always craved by becoming an explosives expert for the railroad. Yet when Emma’s telegram arrives, he rushes back to Texas to repay the girl who once saved his life. Only she’s not a girl any longer. She’s a woman with a mind of her own and a smile that makes a man imagine a future he doesn’t deserve.
As the danger intensifies, Emma, Mal, and the ladies of Harper’s Station must choose safety or whether to risk everything to fight for their future.
I loved Emma. She hasn’t shunned love, or even men, but she’s found a higher calling in working with her ladies to create a community where they can belong and feel safe. She’s smart and strong and determined. She’s loyal and loving, and a little exuberant. She’s a banker – something I can relate to! I was a banker for a while, and it was really hard to get people to take me seriously.
And Malachi? Well, don’t even get me started with how lovable he is with all his insecurities. He was dealt a really rough hand in life. Some of those hard things had an effect on him all the way into adulthood.
The book takes place in a ladies’ colony at Harper Station. I’d never heard of a ladies’ colony before, and found the idea fascinating.
I asked Karen a few questions about the book and being an author in general.
1. The premise of a women’s colony is very unique. Where did you come up with the idea?
The idea for the women’s colony described in No Other Will Do came from an old 1951 movie called Westward the Women. I first saw this movie on television on an old movie channel when I was in high school. It made such an impact on me, that it still lingered in my mind twenty-plus years later. In the film, a wagon train full of women crossed the country to the Oregon territory to claim husbands. They had a male trail boss, but the rest of the travelers were women. They relied on each other and overcame incredible hardship and trials to make it through. There is one scene where one of the ladies goes into labor in a wagon that has a broken wheel. All the other women surround the wagon and lift it off the ground to make it level in order to ease the birthing. The message was powerful to me – women might not be as physically strong as men, but get enough of them together, and there is nothing they can’t accomplish. That is the idea Emma puts into action when she and her aunts start the women’s colony of Harper’s Station.
In the late 19th century, women had very few rights. They could not vote. Very rarely were they allowed to work outside the home. They were dependent on fathers, brothers, husbands. And if those men were cruel or dead, the women were left with very little recourse. In No Other Will Do, Emma Chandler is a strong-minded female with a compassionate heart who has grown tired of seeing women overlooked and abused by a system that caters to men. So she creates a place where women can come for a fresh start. Women escaping cruelty. Women alone, who have no honest way to support themselves or their children. Women looking for a place to practice a trade normally only acceptable for men. All are welcome as long as they agree to pull their weight in the community with honest labor and to help any sister in need. Following in her late father’s footsteps, Emma runs the bank and the town, offering loans and compassion to women in need. But when an outlaw bent on running them out of town threatens the safety of her ladies, she is forced to admit that she might need a man’s help after all. And there is only one man she trusts – Malachi Shaw.
2. Malachi has a very exciting job. How did he decide to go into the explosives business?
As I was developing Malachi, there were key pieces of his personality that led me to giving him such a dangerous job. First, he battled insecurities about his personal worth. A man who sees himself as expendable is willing to risk more. Separated from Emma and the aunts for 10 years, he’s not really sure if anyone would miss him should the worst happen. Second, coming from such humble beginnings, Mal is driven to earn the respect of others. Success in the explosives business, in a job that most people would avoid at all costs, gives him the respect he craves. Of course, on a more practical note – I wanted him to work with the railroads, and a demolition expert sounded much more exciting than making him merely one of hundreds who laid track. 🙂
3. Do you have a favorite scene in this book?
Malachi is not a hugger. And there are several instances when Emma, in her exuberance, thrusts a hug on him. One of my favorites occurs when Malachi goes out to find a pair of large draft horses after the freighter is attacked and his wagon sent off the road. Emma comes upon him while he is leading the giant horses back to the road. His arms are outstretched between the two animals, and he’s helpless to stop her:
“I’m so glad you’re here, Malachi.” Her arm tightened slightly around his waist. Her lashes dipped. Her cheek turned.
Mal bit the edge of his tongue and drove his gaze heavenward. Lord have mercy . . . he could feel her fingers through the cotton of his shirt right beneath his ribcage. Then she leaned closer. The scent of her hair directly beneath his nose, tantalizing him. Then her face touched his chest, and her second arm wrapped about him. She nestled in with little movements like a pup finding just the right place to nap. And oh, how he wanted to hold her to him, to claim her as his, to let her nestle up against him just like that every night for the rest of their days.
His arms trembled from the effort it took not to release the horses and cling to her instead. Could she hear his heart? He didn’t see how she couldn’t. The thing was driving against his ribs like a locomotive at full speed.
“Em,” he croaked, not knowing what he meant to say. Em, you can do world’s better than me. Or . . . Em, You don’t know what you’re doing.
But he feared that what he really meant deep down in his greedy, good-for-nothin’ bones was . . . Em, I love you more than I love my own life. Hold tight, girl, and never, ever, let me go.
(Deborah here: that was one of my favorite scenes too!)
4. What’s your favorite part of being a writer?
Hearing from readers. Hands down. Nothing encourages my heart more than receiving an email or Facebook message from someone who read my book and found God within the pages. Whether the story brought a smile to their day, encouragement to deepen their faith walk, or a more personal message directed specifically to their heart, it all leaves me humbled and amazed at what God can do with my puny loaves and fishes.
Seriously, people. Don’t you just love her?! I wish I had a Karen Witemeyer living next door that I could just call up to help make my day brighter.
Well, she lives in Texas, which is kinda far from Idaho. So I do the next best thing and read her books. That always does the trick.
And because she’s so awesome, she gave us not one but TWO excerpts from her book. This is the scene where Malachi and Emma meet for the first time after 10 years.
The first buildings of Harper’s Station finally came into view as Malachi crested a slight hill. Dark silhouettes of pointed roofs rose above the vegetation spread out on the flatland below him. His gut clenched. Emma lived under one of those roofs. The one closest to the edge of town, the old stagecoach stop that had given the town its name.
An odd lightness danced upon his chest as he spotted the building he sought. He rubbed at the spot then scowled when the itch failed to dissipate.
Mal slowed his mount and took stock of the rest of Harper’s Station. A tight cluster of businesses lined one side of the road. A handful of other buildings scattered beyond. Not much there to covet that he could see.
A creak of a door focused his attention back on the station house. A young woman emerged from inside and stepped onto the covered porch. A sophisticated woman with dark hair pulled back from her face and wound into an intricate bun at her nape. A grown up woman of means and mission.
Mal’s heart thudded in his chest as he halted his mount. After all the letters they’d exchanged over the years, he’d thought he’d been prepared to see her again. He’d been wrong.
She curled her fingers around the railing post and leaned forward to look at him. Her brows arched slightly. “Malachi?”
The name fell from her lips so softly, he doubted he’d actually heard it. Must’ve just read the shape of it on her mouth. A mouth within a face achingly familiar yet changed.
Mal stared. He couldn’t help it. His little Emma had grown into a handsome, well-put-together woman.
The long, tan skirt she wore swept the porch steps as she slowly descended. Her ivory blouse puffed up slightly at the shoulders, nipped in nicely at her tiny waist, and swelled over curves he hadn’t remembered being quite so . . . pronounced in the thirteen-year-old girl he remembered.
His collar seemed to tighten around his throat.
“Malachi? Is that you?” She’d reached the bottom stair, her hand falling away from the post.
“Yep.” The short, scratchy croak of an answer wasn’t much of a howdy after ten years, but it was all he could manage.
Then she smiled. No, it was more than a smile. Her entire face lit up with such joy it nearly knocked him from his horse. He’d forgotten. Forgotten what it felt like to have someone look at him like that. Like the world had suddenly gotten better because he’d arrived.
Unable to withstand her beaming a moment longer, Mal jerked his attention down to his saddle and concentrated on dismounting without doing something stupid like fall on his rear. He hoped his impassiveness would dim her enthusiasm enough for him to get a grip on his sputtering brain and allow him to think of something slightly intelligent to say.
He should have known better.
The instant his boots hit the dirt, she hit him. In a full-on, no room to breathe hug.
Go check out No Other Will Do. It’s amazing! Five stars, highly recommended, you won’t be sorry. We all feel a little like Mal at times. Like maybe we’re a little too chipped to be polished. Like maybe we don’t deserve love, but we want it any way. And there’s always an Emma around to prove that we don’t have to be perfect, and we don’t even have to be “fixed.” We are who we are, and we’re loved. By an Emma or an Aunt or by the Savior.