Today we welcome Merrillee Whren.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Merrillee Whren: I’m a wife, mother, and grandmother. I have two daughters and two granddaughters. I love to play tennis and do that at least three times a week. I play on two tennis teams, and one of my teams is going to the USTA southwest sectional tournament in December. My husband and I have been married over forty years, and we head the senior ministry at our church.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Merrillee Whren: I write Christian and sweet romance fiction and have written too many books to name them all. Front Porch Promises is my current series. Here are the titles of the books in that series: A Place to Call Home, A Love to Call Mine, A Family to Call Ours, and the latest one, A Song to Call Ours. Many of my books deal with forgiveness and trusting God. I wrote them because I had these characters and their stories in my head.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Merrillee Whren: I am currently working on the fifth book in the Front Porch Promises series, A Baby to Call Ours. It will be out sometime next year.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Merrillee Whren: I can’t name just one. I think there is one part of every book that is difficult to write. I think those are usually the most emotional scenes.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Merrillee Whren: I do whatever research is required. Sometimes I have to know about certain laws in different states or what a person does for a certain occupation. I also need to know about weather or specific things about a setting, even if I have been there.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Merrillee Whren: I don’t want to choose just one author. I like to read biographies and non-fiction books for pleasure. I’m in the middle of reading two books, The Boys in the Boat and Hamilton.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Merrillee Whren: Not really, but once I started to write, I had fellow authors who encouraged me.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Merrillee Whren: I’m told I write emotional stories, and when I read fiction, those are the types of stories I like to read.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Merrillee Whren: I try to write every day, but I do not have a strict routine. That’s one of the perks of writing and being your own boss. You can make your own hours.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Merrillee Whren: I may be retired or still writing away. I will leave that in God’s hands. As long as He gives me the story ideas, I will keep writing.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Merrillee Whren: Find your own process for writing that works for you. Don’t let someone tell you that you have to write in a certain way. And never give up.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Merrillee Whren: That they connected with the characters and that the story taught them a lesson.
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Merrillee Whren: This is the beginning scene from the first book in my Front Porch Promises series, A Place to Call Home.
Kurt Jansen sat in his rusty, red pickup and stared at the Victorian house surrounded by tall pines and bare-branched hardwoods. Faded black shutters hanging cockeyed by a single hinge and peeling white paint on the clapboards testified to many years of neglect. The place didn’t look much better than the penitentiary where he’d spent the last six years, but it was better than staring at prison bars.
The structure resembled his life. A life in disrepair.
He stared at the photo in his hand. His heart twisted at the innocent faces of his two children. He vowed to put aside all the bitterness and anger from his unjust incarceration in order to get this restoration job. This was the first step to seeing his children again—the children he hadn’t seen since they were six months old. He put the photo back into his wallet.
Approaching the house, he wondered whether the inside looked as bad as the outside. Outward appearances didn’t always tell the whole story, in houses or in lives. Piles of melting, dirty snow lay alongside the lane, sidewalk, and in the shady parts of the surrounding acreage. Despite his vow, his heart felt like the snow—cold and corrupted. Resentment and despair still hovered in the dark corners of his mind, even though he’d prayed to God to take them away.
Stepping onto the wooden porch, he let the vision of an elderly lady with white hair, glasses, and sensible shoes flit through his mind. The image suited the proprietress of the future Hawthorne Valley Inn of Hawthorne, Massachusetts. Was she the answer to his prayers? Even though he prayed, he still wasn’t sure whether God answered prayers.
The floorboards creaked as Kurt stepped toward the door. He wanted to pray that the Lord would help him get this job, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice the words. Instead, he released a harsh sigh and rapped his knuckles on the weathered wood of the warped screen door. It rattled in the frame.
Moments later the inside door opened. A tall, slender young woman, dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt spattered with several colors of paint, answered the door. She stared at him through the screen with wary, pearl-gray eyes. “May I help you?”
Her throaty voice reminded him of a female disc jockey who played love songs on the radio late at night. Curly strawberry-blond hair framed her face and fell to her shoulders. A sprinkling of freckles across her nose made an attractive face strangely youthful, but he sensed she was older than she appeared. He figured she was only a little younger than his thirty-two years. Somehow she seemed familiar, but he didn’t know why.
“I’m Kurt Jansen. I’m here to see Molly Finnerty.”
“I’m Molly Finnerty.” She squinted as she continued to view him through the screen. “Are you the one Steve Barnett sent about the restoration work?”
“Yes.” Kurt tried to reconcile his mental image of Molly Finnerty and the woman standing before him. He had gotten it so wrong. What had Steve said to leave the impression that the woman he was meeting was someone’s grandmother rather than a beautiful young woman? This wasn’t what he’d expected or wanted. But he needed a better job. “You’re the Molly Finnerty who’s planning to make this house a bed-and-breakfast?”
“That’s me. Were you expecting someone else?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Just someone much older. That’s all.” Forcing himself to smile, he pulled an envelope from his pocket and held it out. “Steve sent this with me. Did he talk to you?”
“Yes, Steve mentioned that you’d be coming by.” She opened the screen door and stepped aside. Taking the envelope, she smiled in return. “Come in and get out of the cold. I suppose Steve’s been making me sound like an aging widow again.”
“He didn’t say you were aging, but I have to admit that his saying you’re a widow made me think I’d find you in your rocker with a cane nearby.” Kurt walked through the doorway. The smell of fresh paint permeated the room.
“I’m not in the geriatric crowd yet.” Closing the door behind them, she laughed.
The pleasant sound of her laughter echoed off the bare walls and floors of the empty rooms and drew Kurt’s thoughts away from her and toward the interior of the house. Plank hardwood flooring, in desperate need of refinishing, ran throughout all the rooms within his sight. A staircase rose along the foyer wall. A small round stained-glass window overlooked the landing where the staircase turned at a ninety-degree angle and continued to the second floor. The banister needed work as well. On his right, decorative columns separated the foyer from the living room, and a fireplace stood in the far wall.
“Well, what do you think?” Molly’s sultry voice brought his attention back to her.
He looked her directly in the eye. “I’d like the job.”
She stared back at him, her gray eyes not giving a clue as to what she was thinking. “And why should I hire you?”
He wanted to blurt out, Because I need this job. But he managed to conceal his desperation. “I’ve done several restorations of Victorian houses. I have some photos of my previous work. Would you like to see them?”
“Great. They’re out in my pickup. I’ll get them.” As he moved toward the door, he let a sliver of hope settle in his heart.
“While you’re gone, I have a phone call to make.” She pointed to the deacon’s bench sitting near the front door. “You can wait here, if I’m not done when you get back.”
“Sure. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Kurt stepped outside. What had Steve told her? Even if she didn’t already know his recent history, she would certainly find out. He headed for his pickup and hoped the quality of his work would outweigh his past.
The book page on my website gives links to my books.