Thursday, 1 August 2013

Annette Drake: Celebration House

Today we welcome Annette Drake, author of Celebration House, a touching story of love and acceptance.

Annette has never been one to 'settle for' or sit still when there is so much out there to discover. She left high school early to attend university where she earned her degree in journalism. She continued her education by obtaining a bachelors of science to pursue a career in nursing. The love of the written word was never put on the back burner, even as she raised her family. She always dabbled.

It was when her kids were all finally in school that she turned her love of writing in a serious direction, completing not one or two novels, but three! Celebration House is the first, we're sure, in a long back list.

Let me tell you a bit about Celebration House. This one should be read with a box of tissues to hand. That's my first warning. My second is be prepared to chuckle while you read.

Carrie Hansen is a health care professional. She's dedicated her life to caring for those in need. How was she to predict she would be come the patient? After unexpected heart surgery, Carrie wakes with a special ability . . . she can see ghosts!

OK, don't roll your eyes and give me the Sixth Sense quote. I won't repeat it. You know which one it is. This story is wholly different. Trust me.

It's soon discovered that Carrie has a terminal illness. Does she wallow in her own grief? No. Does she sit back and let the end come? No. Like Annette herself, Carrie puts her big girl panties on and gets to work on living the rest of her life to the best of her abilities. Her goal? She buys a run down Antebellum house to restore -- Stratton House.

You may be asking, 'What the heck is a woman with a terminal illness doing buying a ruined house to restore? Shouldn't she be traveling the world?' Sure, she could do that, but she'd rather put her money where it counts . . . to leave something of herself to last when she's gone. How cool is that? Celebration House is just that . . . a place where people can come to celebrate the wonderful things in their lives.

Remember when I said Stratton House is an Antebellum mansion? Picture old south Greek revival plantation houses with neoclassical designs. Picture Gone With the Wind's Tara and you get the idea. Tall columns supporting an big veranda beneath a Greek revival gable, all protecting a wide portico at the front entrance . . . lush, green leafy trees lining the drive . . . ladies in hoop skirts swanning around the garden . . . well, just about.

And remember when I said Carrie can now see ghosts? Yeah, the house is full of them. And they're bent on keeping Carrie out of the house. It doesn't help when Carrie's own family are trying to get her to see sense. Little do they realize that Stratton House is the only thing making sense in her life now.

You gotta read this one. Really!

We pulled Annette away from her office for a quick chat to talk to us about her life as a writer --

Welcome, Annette, and congrats on the release of Celebration House. I know you're working hard on your next story so we appreciate you taking time out to have a quick chat.

Getting to it, tell us about your writing space. Your story has an amazing setting. Surely you got your idea from your own surroundings, right?

Ruby monitoring the printing
I write in a 100-year-old farmhouse in rural Washington. My office window overlooks my garden, which is over-planted with tomatoes, zucchini and corn. I have a Bassett Hound who was intended to keep out the rabbits, but he’s useless. He chases them in circles, baying and baying. He never catches one. My window faces east, and I’m an early riser so I’m often treated to the first kiss of the sun on the horizon. I’m not alone. My chickens rise early too, especially the rooster who I was promised was a female. He crows to me, and I say back, “I’m already awake, Priscilla. Thank you just the same.”

I have two computers because I’m cursed with the trait of impatience. I hate waiting for things to load. My desk is surrounded by my favorite family photos and the writing books I treasure, including Stephen King’s On Writing and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. Quotes from King grace my walls, including my favorite: “Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” I shovel a lot of shit.

See? I knew you had a great setting to write from! And hey, we all shove the brown stuff from time to time. Sounds like you have a full house too. Love your rooster called Priscilla LOL I used to know a woman with a female dog called Dave. Aren't we funny people? :-)

So, with so much going on around you, what is your daily writing routine like?

I like to rise early, about 5 a.m., and write until my young son wakes up and calls to me. But, now I also write at night because I have so much to do and not enough time to do it. I always write far later than I intend, but writing brings me joy. Most of the time. My goal is 1,000 words per day. Sometimes, those words come easy. Sometimes, not so much. But, generally speaking, I have an idea and I try to put that scene onto a blank page as accurately and honestly as I know how. There are so many books I want to write. Thus my commitment to 1,000 words a day. I’m focusing on the business of promoting Celebration House, having just finished the final edits. So now, the characters of my next book, “A Year with Geno,” call to me. 'Come talk with us,' they both say. 'We miss you. Spend time with us.' And I want to. I really do, but the business of promoting “Celebration House” takes priority.

Oh, I understand when characters talk to you. Pretty hard to resist, I must admit. I admire your determination to write a thousand words a day. With so much going on, do you have time for hobbies or other interests? What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

I enjoy sleeping. Really. I love to sleep. But as children’s author Deborah Hopkinson taught me, to be a successful writer, you’ve got to want to write more than sleep.

I also own a horse, Lacy, who I rescued a few years back. I love going out to my old red barn to see her. I turn on my favorite Pandora station, usually The Judds for this part of my day, and brush her and talk with her until the sun sets. I find great comfort in this simple task.

Thanks so much for visiting with us, Annette. Your time is precious, as we can tell, so we really appreciate the time you've taken out of your day today.

So, how about an extract from Celebration House?

• • •

Carrie Hansen spent her life caring for cardiac patients. Little did she know she would become a patient herself. After recovering from her own heart surgery, she realizes she has a special gift: the ability to see and talk with the dead.

Now, with her new heart failing, she leaves the bustle of Seattle behind and returns to Lexington, Missouri, the small town where she spent her childhood. Here, she sets out to restore an abandoned antebellum mansion and open it as a venue for celebrations.

Carrie’s work is cut out for her. The 150-year-old Greek revival house is in need of serious repair. Her sister, Melanie, bullies Carrie into returning to Seattle, predicting “her little project” is doomed to fail. Finally, Carrie’s health gives out on her, requiring emergency surgery.

But she will not give up. Carrie’s unique gift allows her to build relationships with the mansion’s original occupants, especially Major Tom Stewart, the handsome Civil War soldier who died a hundred years before Carrie was born. He encourages and comforts her, though not in the physical way they both desire.

Then there’s the builder of the house, Colonel Bartholomew Stratton. If there’s one thing this 19th century horse trader cannot abide, it’s the living trespassing on his estate. He delights in scaring these intruders away, even if they are paying guests.

Will Carrie finish restoring Celebration House or will it finish her? And how can she plan a future with a man who only has a past?

• • • 

Driving up to the house, she smiled. She loved the long driveway, the poplar trees on both sides. Behind the trees, the fences had fallen into disrepair. Just one more thing she’d have to fix. She parked her car alongside the house and stacked her groceries and camping gear on the front porch. Seeing a small barn behind the main building, she decided to explore and see if there was room to park her car inside.

Carrie opened the door and stepped inside. Sunlight streamed in through the dirty windows. Even though the barn had been vacant for years, she smelled hay and horses.

Looking to her left, she saw a man shaving. He was bare from the waist up, his chest finely proportioned, lean, and muscular. His arms were powerfully built, and his right hand remained steady as he scraped the white soap from his angular jaw. His dark blue uniform pants were tucked into black leather knee-high riding boots. He stood at least six foot tall, and though Carrie hadn’t made her living in the carnival, she guessed he was probably younger than her, likely in his mid twenties. He peered intently at a small mirror tacked up on one of the barn walls. She waited to speak until after he’d finished the last swipe with the ivory-handled straight blade and had dipped it into the basin of soapy water.

“Good morning.”

He turned towards her suddenly, his expression an equal mix of surprise and annoyance. He dropped the razor and grabbed his shirt off a nearby nail. He turned his back to Carrie and pulled it on.

“You can see me, ma’am?” he asked, buttoning his shirt before stuffing it into his pants.

“Yes. Do you see me?”

“Yes, but I believe I have the advantage. I am dead. You are not.”

“I’m sorry to intrude on you. I’m Carrie Hansen,” she said, stepping toward him and extending her hand.

Without even thinking, he reached to shake her hand but his passed through hers. They both jerked back.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude,” she said.

“You surprised me. That’s all. We don’t get many visitors out here, especially living ones who can see us,” he said, putting his blue uniform coat over his shirt and buttoning the long row of brass buttons. “I’m Maj. Thomas Stewart, at your service,” he said, bowing formally at the waist.

“I am sorry I startled you. I sometimes forget that ghosts aren’t accustomed to being seen.”

“How may I be of service to you, Miss Hansen?”

“Where can I find Col. Stratton? I need to speak with him.”

His dark blue eyes showed his puzzlement. “The living do not go looking for Col. Stratton. What business do you have with him?”

“I bought this house, and I intend to live here.”

• • •

Annette Drake is a writer whose work is character-driven and celebrates the law of unintended consequences.

Annette left high school after two years to obtain her GED and attend Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. There she earned a degree in journalism before working as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Missouri and Kansas. She earned a bachelor of science in nursing in 1994 from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, and worked as a registered nurse in hospitals throughout Missouri, Alaska and Washington for 18 years before returning her focus to writing.

Annette recently completed her middle-grade novel, Bone Girl, and is hard at work revising her steamy contemporary romance, A Year with Geno.

She is the mother of four children. The oldest is a senior at the University of Washington; the youngest is a kindergartener. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. She loves libraries, basset hounds and bakeries. She does not camp.

Find Annette online --

Tirgearr Publishing
• • •

Tirgearr Publishing is giving away a copy of Celebration House today to one lucky commenter. Leave Annette a message with your email address, or ask her a question, and be automatically entered into the random drawing.

Or grab a copy of Celebration House here.


  1. Welcome to Heart of Fiction, Annette, and congratulations on the release of your debut book, Celebration House. What a read!

    Maybe you can tell us a little of what inspired this book. I see you dedicated it to cardiac patients you've cared for.

  2. Annette, what an intriguing excerpt. Sounds like it has a bit of everything I enjoy reading. It's now on my list to read.
    Good luck with sales.
    BTW I love Ruby, she looks like she's the overseer of your work.

    1. She is! What a funny cat. She also likes to commandeer my office chair. But the printer is her first love. Sometimes when I can't find her, I'll send something to the printer because I know she'll run into the office to oversee it.

    2. LOL Our dogs hear the printer turning on and they scatter for safety, as if it's coming off the desk to get them. I love it that your cat just sits there and watches the papers come through.

  3. Good morning, Kemberlee.
    I was working in a cath lab at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Between cases, I liked to talk with patients, to hear their stories. I met an older gentleman whose heart was failing him. He had no energy or stamina. His days consisted of getting up and taking a shower. That was it. But he was articulate and educated, such a joy to talk to. He made me laugh! It's been more than six years since I cared for him, and I still remember his voice.

    1. What a great memory! Some people have the most awesome stories to tell, if we'd just stop long enough to listen to them.

      Was he the inspiration for your story?

  4. He was. Also, when I was young, my family restored a house that hadn't been lived in since the 1910s. The wallpaper scene in Celebration House, where Carrie mists the wallpaper and then scrapes it off, that's a stroll through my childhood memories. I love old houses! They have so much character. Oh, and lead paint.

  5. Ha! Yes, older properties have their pleasure and pains. The hubs and I refurbished a house we bought in 2001. What a nightmare. Never again. And it wasn't even old or even ever lived in before. It was built and let sit to get old and outdated. I love the character of old houses though. I'd love to have one that was already restored. Maintenance is so much easier ;-)