Shannon here: I’m excited to introduce everyone to Tonya B. Ashley today. We used to be in the same local writer’s group, so I’ve known her for several years. I’ve stayed at writer’s retreats with her, critiqued her work, and she’s been to my house. I love it when one of my writer buds gets published. Yay, Tonya!!!! She’s here to share how her real-life romance inspired her fictional one with an excerpt from her debut Christmas novella, Once Lost, Now Found which is included in the A Gift for All Time collection with two other Arkansas authors. Comment or answer the question in this post to enter the drawing for a copy. Deadline: Nov 4th, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Tonya:
Though my husband, Rodney, and I attended the same school and were aware of one another, we didn’t meet until high school when our fathers became volunteer firefighters with the local fire department. Being a tomboy and a daddy’s girl, I began hanging around the fire station with my father, and Rodney volunteered alongside his father. Rodney and a few of his friends talked me into volunteering.
Much of our time getting to know one another was at the fire department. We attended department meetings with our dads. Rodney and I trained together. We fought fires and responded to medical calls and accidents together. He went to work full-time as a paramedic, and I went to work as a 911 dispatcher, so we were often on duty at the same time. We spent our coming-of-age years developing the skills needed to handle intense emergency situations—together. As it turns out, that makes us rock stars when handling intense marital and parenting situations.
In 2021, when I was asked to write a novella for A Gift for All Time novella collection, we had been married for 25 years. It was a no-brainer for me to create Levi Snow, a hero who was a blacksmith by trade with a penchant for responding to a local crisis. After severe storms cause a steamboat accident near Van Buren, Arkansas, Levi arrives at the riverfront to help clear the way for the rescue vessel. Levi meets Allie McLaughlin when he saves her from drowning in the Arkansas River, but you’ll have to read the entire story to discover who really rescues who. Safely off the river, they make their introductions while recuperating in the doctor’s tent.
Excerpt from Once Lost, Now Found (A Gift for All Time Novella Collection):
The form on the crates hadn’t moved. Should he wake her? He hesitated, moved close to the makeshift cot, and reached out.
“I’m not asleep. Just cozy warm under these quilts.” Her soft voice broke the silence. “I’ve been awake quite a while, listening.”
Levi pulled his hand back. “Listening?”
“Trying to hear anything the doctor had to say. Men are more forthcoming with information when talking to other men.”
“You think so? I don’t guess I’ve noticed that.”
“My mother’s doctor knew she was dying. He told my father. Neither of them told me. They didn’t think I could handle it.” She cleared her throat, rolled over, and sat up. “I figure if I want to know my condition, it’s better to pretend to be asleep and listen.”
“I see. And how are you? I hope you didn’t get too banged up when they hauled you up the side of the boat.”
“I’m a little sore, but not bad. Coffee and a warm fire would be lovely. If memory serves, that’s what you promised, a warm fire.” Her blue eyes glimmered.
“Good memory.” Levi sorted through the coats, finding one for each of them. “Now, forgive me because I don’t recall your name.”
“Time didn’t allow for introductions.” Her easy smile and sparkling eyes caused his heart to skip a beat. She held out her hand. “Allie McLaughlin.”
“Levi Snow.” He shook her hand. “Join me for coffee?”
Allie nodded, donned the coat, grabbed a quilt around her shoulders, and followed him out of the tent. Noticing a box of blankets at the end of the woodpile near the fire, Levi took one and laid it over the close-by log. He motioned for her to sit and grabbed two tin cups from another box. Keeping one for himself, he handed the other to her. Next, he found the coffee pot and filled their cups. Then he leaned against the woodpile.
“I must look frightful.” Allie wiped at the grime on the trousers. “The only clothes they could find for me belonged to some of the boys on the steamboat crews.”
“It becomes you.” Then, seeing her brow furrow, he tried again. “I mean to say that you were unconscious when I first saw you. So, it’s good to see you walking and talking.”
She grinned. “I owe you a great debt of gratitude. I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t risked your life to save me.”
“I’m thankful I was there. I’m curious, however. I didn’t see what caused you to fall overboard.” He shifted under the weight of her pointed gaze.
“When the boat docked, Captain Reed told us to disembark, and everyone began moving quickly. But, of course, it was overcrowded with double the passengers. I was being shoved toward the railing. A man beside me turned abruptly, striking me with a large burlap bag, and over I went.”
“I’m glad I could spare Sam such a loss.” Levi stared into his coffee cup. “Losing a loved one so close to Christmas is especially difficult.”
“Did you lose someone?” Allie’s voice was almost a whisper. “Close to Christmas?”
Question for Readers: Do you have a nativity set or collection of nativities you’ve owned for many years? Have the pieces ever gotten lost or broken? Did you discard the set or keep it, and why? Do you still display it?
About Tonya: Tonya B. Ashley is excited to make her writing debut with Once Lost, Now Found, the first story in the A Gift for All Time novella collection. Writing with Jenny and Ellen has been a dream and an inspiration. When they get together, ideas abound!
Tonya enjoys a thread of adventure, whether in story or life. Fascinated with people, places, and nature, she loves to explore through writing, reading, hiking, and artwork. One of her favorite hiking destinations is Fuzzy Butt Falls, which exudes quite the Narnia experience despite its humorous name.
She and her firefighter/paramedic husband are parents of a middle-school son who is teaching himself electric guitar and an adult son, a newly married firefighter. They’re delighted to add a girl to the bunch in the form of a precious daughter-in-law. In 2020, her oldest gifted her a hammock for Mother’s Day. It was a gift she didn’t know she needed, and she often carries it in her backpack, looking for two trees close enough to string it up. It’s the perfect reading nook. She’s trying to master the art of writing from the hammock, too. Learn more & connect: Tonya’s Facebook
About the novella – Once Lost, Now Found:
For blacksmith Levi Snow, the anvil and hammer are his closest companions. Since being abandoned by his parents at Christmastime, he finds his trusty tools more reliable than people and prefers to keep others at a distance. However, his ability to maintain that distance is challenged one fateful December day when severe weather blows an abandoned nativity set and the ever-curious Allie McLaughlin into town.
Being new to town, Allie insists on Levi helping her search for the owner of the unusual nativity. Levi, feeling the burden of extra work related to storm damage, is reluctant to help. However, when Allie shows up at the smithy, he realizes he’ll gain more uninterrupted time to work if he sets some boundaries and agrees to join the search. To Levi’s surprise, the nativity inspires new traditions everywhere they go.
While the entire town seems to be changing in response to the nativity, Levi doesn’t know if he can change. Can he embrace the spirit of Christmas? Can he learn to open his heart again?
Once Lost, Now Found is part of the novella collection entitled A Gift for All Time, featuring stories by Tonya B. Ashley, Jenny Carlisle, and Ellen E. Withers. Once Lost, Now Found is a prequel to the Lost and Found Series, a stand-alone series published by Scrivenings Press. Book One, Of Faith and Dreams, will be released in 2024.
Can’t wait for the drawing? Worried you won’t win? Get your copy/copies now!
Come back Oct 27th for Shannon Taylor Vannatter (that’s Me)!