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Farm to Tablet: Out of Esau Sneak Peek!

Good morning, friends! This month I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to present you (drum roll) with the first chapter of Out of Esau, my debut novel! 

But before you read on, a small request: Today is my birthday (wee!), and so I am shamelessly requesting a present. Would you be willing, dear reader, to send this chapter and its accompanying pre-order link to one or two reader friends of yours? Pre-order numbers are important, especially when it comes to debut novels, as it can alert retailers and readers alike to one's book, as well as encourage retailers to increase their initial orders. So if you haven't yet pre-ordered, please consider doing so, and if you have a second, I would be much beholden if you passed this link on down the line.

And one final encouragement: the holidays are approaching! No doubt you have readers on your list who would appreciate both this book and your support of a local author--readers whose names you could check off at this very moment, with a simple-yet-generous click (wink, wink).

And so, without further ado, I present Out of Esau, Chapter One, accompanied by photographs that inspired the fictional town. I hope you enjoy. 

Esau, Michigan, 1996

The woman began attending Esau Baptist in late October. An unlikely month, Pastor Robert thought. Spring proved more the more common time for people to take up churchoing—that season of new life when the winter ice had cracked and shrunk to slush and you could smell the snow melting into mud. In January, a family or two usually arrived, freshly resolved to tend their souls, only to drift off a few weeks later. But autumn in Esau, Michigan, struck Pastor Robert as too ominous for new beginnings. That particular October had seen an incessant, stinging rain, which had pin-hammered the abundant heaps of fallen leaves into dense, matted mounds that refused to burn. Night arrived before supper and lingered until after breakfast, framing a series of dim gray days that never quite shook the darkness.

The Sunday that the woman first came, the first snow came, too. It fell not in large, soft flakes but in flurries of white grit that sketched the village in a coat of powder.

That morning, Robert had taken a walk around the town. He left the parsonage and walked down to the end of his street, past the park, such as it was, with its dented slide and three swings, one broken off at the side joint and hanging down like a sad flag.

Beyond this he passed two blocks of small, scattered houses, some boarded and forgotten, others stuffed so full that the owner's belongings muffled the front windows and spilled out into the lawn—a box spring here, a rusted rocking horse there, an old stove and several kitchen cabinets shoved beneath the bright blue awning of a carport. A few of the houses were neatly kept, with plastic birdbaths and iridescent gazing balls filling out otherwise stingy gardens.

Forgotten storefronts

The next street was Main Street, and it earned this title by boasting the only businesses Esau possessed—a gas station, Esau Market, Larry's Garage, Frank's Hardware, Karla's Kitchen, and Dwight's Bar, along with a slim, one-room library and an unnecessarily large post office. Through conversations with his parishioners, Robert understood the post office to be a relic of another time, much like the half block of empty storefront between the garage and the market, which housed, a lifetime ago, an art gallery and a grange hall, where dances had been held every month and parties thrown every weekend by local persons renting out the space.

Across from the post office stretched a large open lot dubbed "the field," bordered on one side by a chain-link fence that netted all the garbage blowing by—plastic bags and newspapers and shreds of a hundred other materials. The ground there was littered with pop bottles, empty fifths, smashed cigarette boxes, broken lighters, and occasionally a pornographic magazine, though these were stored rather than abandoned, Robert suspected, since they were always discovered beneath the bushes in the lot's corner. Robert knew this because Florence Butts, one of his congregants, made it her personal mission to plunder the ungodly stores kept there and to inform Robert in detail about what she had found, the assumption apparently being that he could do something about it.

Feed mill, now defunct

Whenever the weather changed, Robert traded his usual walk in the woods for a walk through the town, and he did so with whimsical purpose. He was trying to see the village with fresh eyes and to reap from it the curiosity it had aroused when he'd first moved to Esau a little over a decade before. Back then the town had compelled him like a secret, with its mixture of quaint and eerie, alive and dead, haunted by a livelier past. He had even felt (though he would never have spoken it aloud) a sense of ownership, or perhaps inheritance. This was the place whose souls God had entrusted to him.

That sense, too, had faded. The village of Esau had come to feel like a dead end, which, if not for the eagerness of youth, it might have felt like from the beginning. It was, after all, a town whose best days were behind it, where no major roads led, where one single, narrow country road passed through. And if Robert apprehended some residue of charm that morning in the structures and awnings of the town sketched fastidiously out, in the scents of snow and woodsmoke, then he did so with the bitter knowledge of someone who has fallen prey to false promises and realized it far too late.

Honor Books

Pastor Robert had carried these musings into the church service that morning beneath his suit coat, a slim but heavy weight. He had already begun his sermon when the woman and her two children slipped into the back pew, and several heads turned toward them with expressions of mild disapproval. When she looked up at Robert with her large dark eyes, he felt ice cleave his heart—a fright almost, a rising thrill—and he knew not whether it was God or the devil.

He remained duly circumspect. He did not greet her afterward in her pew, as he usually did with new families, but walked past her to the foyer door, where he stood shaking the men's hands as they exited and acknowledging the women with a nod. The visitor, as she passed, reached out, and he unwittingly reached out in return. He found her grasp soft and warm.

"Susan Shearer." Her voice was quiet but clear. "And Willa and Lukas," she added, patting them each once on the back. The children stood at her sides. The girl, who looked about nine or ten, gazed soberly up at him, and the boy, a few years younger, stared down and stomped his boots on the carpet.

"Pastor Robert," he replied. "Welcome."

She looked about his age—mid-to-late thirties. Her eyes were unusually large, the dark green of deep water, and her cheeks held what looked to be a permanent flush. Her gaze darted off to one side, then the other, but flashed up again to his face, and he thought of a lantern moving through darkened rooms.

Darkened rooms

Then, apparently sensing she had lingered too long, she dipped her chin to her chest and made busy ushering her children out the door. As she passed, God help him, he looked for a ring, and, God help him, he found one, a tiny white stone glinting atop a gold band.

And then she was gone, then the Fishers and the Clemenses and the Paisleys and Joe Cummings, who paused, as always, to voice his dire political predictions. Chet Weller delivered his warm handshake, along with his weekly joke. Then the giant brood of Plonskis clambered into their giant white van, and the silence in their wake was loud and barren.

Robert returned to the parsonage next door with the ham and potato casserole that Ethel Grable had left for him on the foyer table. Once again he forgot that 350 degrees in the parsonage oven was actually 450 and once again he forgot to compensate. It made for a desolate afternoon—the memory of Susan's warm hand and inscrutable gaze while the casserole burned in the oven. He ate a helping anyway, the charred chunks of ham grisly between his molars, mouth hard at the work of chewing while his mind drifted again and again to Susan Shearer and her hand and her eyes and what she had seen in him when she looked so close.

If you'd like to read the rest come October 11th, you know what to do! And if you prefer to listen, you can also pre-order on Audible. Thank you, dearest readers! I know it goes without saying, but without you, I'm toast.
And before you go, here are my upcoming book events with UPDATED times!

October 13th, 6:30 pm. Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In conversation with Polly Rosenwaike

October 25th, 6:30 pm. Forever Books in St. Joseph, Michigan. In conversation with owner Robin Allen. You can register for this event here.

October 27th, 7:00 pm. Serendipity Books in Chelsea, Michigan. In conversation with owner Michelle Tuplin. You can register for this event here.
With boundless gratitude and infinite affection, 
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Writer · 14641 Waterloo Munith Rd · Grass Lake, MI 49240-9495 · USA

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