Authors: Carla Stewart
“Prepare to laugh, cry, and pray as you inhale each poignant word of this stunning debut novel. Simply unforgettable!”
—Patti Lacy, author of
An Irishwoman’s Tale,
Book of the Year Finalist, and
What the Bayou Saw
“CHASING LILACS is the kind of coming-of-age story that sticks to you beyond the last page. Unforgettable characters, surprising
plot twists, and a setting so Southern you’ll fall in love with Texas. Carla Stewart is a new talent to watch!”
—Mary E. DeMuth, author of
A Slow Burn
“Carla Stewart writes a tender story with such emotional impact, you will hope, fear, cry, and rejoice with her characters.
Readers will find themselves cheering Sammie on through her ordeals as she seeks love and forgiveness.”
—Janelle Mowery, author of
Love Finds You in Silver City, Idaho
“Gripping! Nostalgic and filled with bittersweet memories, Carla Stewart’s CHASING LILACS captured my imagination, and my
heart, from the moment I started reading.”
—Elizabeth Ludwig, award-winning author and speaker
“Endearing characters, twists that propel the story ever forward, and soul-searching questions combine to create a heart-tugging
tale of self-reflection and inward growth. Carla Stewart’s CHASING LILACS carried me away to 1950s small-town Texas… and I
wanted to stay. I highly recommend this insightful, mesmerizing coming-of-age tale.”
—Kim Vogel Sawyer, bestselling author of
My Heart Remembers
“Carla Stewart’s debut novel, CHASING LILACS, is a deeply emotional masterpiece. Witty dialogue and normal teen antics nicely
balance the thought-provoking introspection and dramatic storyline. Young Sammie, the heroine, is both a normal kid and wise
beyond her years. Reminiscent of slower-paced days gone by, CHASING LILACS takes you back to days forgotten and leaves you
—Vickie McDonough, award-winning author of 18 books and novellas, including the Texas Boardinghouse Brides series
“It’s the fifties—Elvis is on the radio, summer is in the air, and a young girl tries to understand the mystery that is her
mother. Like its heroine, Sammie Tucker, this gripping and emotional debut will find its way into your heart.”
—Shelley Adina, Christy finalist and award-winning author of the All About Us series
“Guilt and redemption are at the soul of this heartwarming tale of a little girl searching for her mother’s love. Carla takes
us back to a simpler time and a simpler place with wit, wisdom, and insight. God bless her.”
—Charles W. Sasser, author of
God in the Foxhole
“Carla Stewart has crafted a wonderful story in the style of
To Kill a Mockingbird
with compelling characters you will care about.”
—Margaret Daley, award-winning, multi-published author in the Christian romance genre
“A remarkable debut novel. Carla Stewart cleverly captures the stark simplicity of a young girl’s voice with all the masterful
qualities of powerful prose. Unforgettable.”
—Susan Meissner, author of
The Shape of Mercy
“A 1950s story that captures the mood of that time as well as my heart, Carla Stewart’s debut CHASING LILACS unfolds masterfully.
An original setting, quick wit, startlingly real characters, and a foreboding presence combine into a fast-paced, meaningful
read. Traversing through many a dark and secretive corner of the human mind, yet always with humor, Ms. Stewart leads the
reader toward a blindingly pure hope.”
—Christina Berry, author of
The Familiar Stranger
“Carla Stewart’s lovely voice intrigued me from the start. This well-written story swept me right into Sammie’s world and
left my heart singing. A beautiful coming-of-age tale, CHASING LILACS is a captivating debut.”
—Tina Ann Forkner, author of
Ruby Among Us
“Breathe in the scent of CHASING LILACS—nostalgic, yet fresh and real. Carla Stewart has a delicious way with words, and her
characters and story are gripping and touching. This is a book to share with friends over coffee and dessert. But your friends
will have to buy their own copies because you won’t want to let go of yours.”
—Sarah Sundin, author of
A Distant Melody
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Carla Stewart
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scriptures are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
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To my dad, Mike Brune, and in memory of my mom, Pat Brune.
You taught me to believe: first in Jesus, then in myself.
You are loved.
HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE
of growing up in a place similar to Graham Camp. The days were carefree and the summers long. Even then, I had a deep curiosity
about things whispered when no one thought I was listening. Thankfully, the events in
never truly happened—they are only the what-ifs birthed in my imagination.
I’m grateful to my parents, Pat and Mike Brune, who gave me a childhood worth remembering. For Donna and Marsha, you are cherished.
Nothing compares to having sisters who are also my friends.
Although writing is a solitary calling, this book would not exist without the many people who’ve shaped my life and my writing.
To name each of you would be a whole ’nother book. Still, many of you stand out and have awed me by your gifts of encouragement.
The Crossroads Writers and Tulsa Night Writers—you saw my beginning pages and offered gentle, but invaluable critique. Carolyn
Steele, your wisdom and willingness to pore over the many drafts of this book make me indebted to you always.
ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). When I attended my first conference in 2006, it was like stepping into writers’
heaven. A special thanks to Mary DeMuth—your affirmation renewed my passion for this story. Chip MacGregor, your honesty and
wise counsel set me on the right path. Lissa Halls Johnson,
your insights and tough love made this a much better book. Thank you all.
Sandra Bishop. Words fail me. I am so blessed to have someone who “gets” my writing and who has worked tirelessly on my behalf.
Myra Johnson, Kim Sawyer, Cindy Hays, fellow WIN members, and those who cheered and prayed in the shadows—I’m honored by your
My editor, Anne Horch, her assistant, Katie Schaber, and the entire team at FaithWords—your belief in this story and attention
to every detail humbles me.
My “family” at Community Worship Center—you may never know this side of heaven the impact of your prayers and hugs. This journey
has been made brighter because of you.
Max, my husband, my best friend—you’ve filled my life with love and laughter. Your faith in my writing dream overwhelms and
sustains me. And for our ever-growing family—Andy, Amy, Brett, Cindy, Scott, Denice, James, Allison, and our six amazing grandchildren—this
book is for all of you.
None of this would have been possible without my Savior, Jesus Christ. For giving me unspeakable joy, I offer up my praise.
May all the glory be yours.
HAT JUNE, RIGHT AFTER
I finished sixth grade, Norm MacLemore’s nephew came to Texas for a visit. Benny Ray Johnson brought home a new Edsel. And
Mama tried to take her life for the first time.
We lived at Graham Camp then—a petroleum plant with company housing. A spot in the Panhandle of Texas where the blue of the
sky hurt your eyes and the wind bent the prairie grass into an endless silk carpet as far as you could see in every direction.
God’s country, some people called it. While it may be true that God created that corner of the world, it crossed my young
mind that he must have been looking the other way when it came to Mama. Why else would Mama’s spells, as Daddy called them,
drive her deeper into her quilts? Lights out. Shades drawn.
Her spell that June had gone on longer than most, and she seemed to be slipping farther away. I hoped my being out of school
might snap her out of it, and I had no trouble inventing excuses to linger in the house and be of some use to Mama. Mostly,
she let me fetch her things. An ice bag for her headache. Another one of those pills from the brown bottle.
I tiptoed in and out with her requests and studied her for signs of improvement. With every smile or pat on my hand, my insides
Maybe today she’ll suggest we bake a cake. Or take a walk down
to Willy Bailey’s store.
I would have settled for just having her sit with me on the couch and watch television.
Please don’t get me wrong. Mama was the primary thing on my mind, but a few days into the summer, I began to get restless.
Itchy. As I scribbled ideas for the newspaper my best friend, Tuwana Johnson, and I planned to write, my mind drifted, wondering
what the next three months would hold. When the floorboards creaked beside me, I looked up, startled to see Mama shuffling
into the front room. A little flutter came into my chest. Mama’s robe hung limp on her thin frame, the belt trailing behind.
My gaze traveled to her face, searching for signs that the fog had lifted. One look at her eyes and I knew nothing had changed.
Flat. Muddy. Looking at me, but not really seeing me.
“Hi, Mama. You want to watch
Queen for a Day
?” I kept my voice light, airy, and made room for her on the couch beside me.
She flopped down. “Not those wretched stories. It would give me a headache all over again. No television.”
“You’re feeling better, then? No headache?”
She fiddled with the button on the cushion. “Not exactly.”
Her answer could have gone either way. Not exactly better. Or not exactly a headache. A huge silence hung between us.
Before I could think of something else to say, the back door slammed and Daddy came in. Even without seeing him, I knew the
routine. Hard hat on the hook by the back door. The plunk of the metal lunch box on the kitchen counter. Then Daddy clomped
through in his steel-toed boots and appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“Hey, Rita. Good to see you up.” He leaned over and brushed his lips across Mama’s cheek.
She dipped her head away and pushed herself up from the couch, whisked around the end, and pattered to the bathroom. Not a
When Daddy winked at me, I couldn’t tell if he was trying to cheer me up or cover the disappointing welcome from Mama.
Mama came from the bathroom and stood, feet apart, robe gaping over the same nightgown she’d worn all week. Her fingers curled,
white-knuckled, around the brown pill bottle.
“I’m out of pills.” She held out the bottle.
“You know, sugar, I could take tomorrow off. Take you into Mandeville and see Doc.” He put his arm around her slumping shoulders,
but she shrugged him off.