1) First, tell us about yourself – where you live, your family, and those sorts of details.
I live just north of Nashville, Tennessee. I’m a forty-nine-year-old mother of two daughters. And no, I’m not ashamed to tell people my age. I like getting older. I feel like I’ve become a better person with every passing year. I’d tell you my weight too if I knew it. But I don’t like scales. We give them way too much power. I have BA in Political Science from San Diego State University and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Alabama. I’ve worked in teaching, childbirth education and family therapy. Now I mostly write, but hope to return to social work one day.
2) How long have you been writing?
I started writing, literally, about six years ago. Prior to sitting down and starting my first novel, I’d never written creatively, never taken a class. It was crazy. I’d always played with scenarios for stories and movies in my head, but had never considered writing any of them down. In my second year of graduate school for a Masters in Social Work, I was diagnosed with Lymphoma. After enduring chemotherapy, I escaped with my life and an unrelenting desire to tell Josie’s (my first novel) story. The only thing I can surmise is that somehow the chemo had an effect on my creativity, kind of how a superhero will receive his/her powers after falling into a vat of toxic waste :)
3) Do you have a favorite place to write?
Yes, I have a great office space at the back of my house where it’s quiet, with its own door to the back yard in case I need to sneak out to think. My husband recently bought me a new iMac, and I love it. I’m a desktop kind of girl.
4) Why did you decide to write, Replacing Gentry?
One of my favorite books is Rebecca so I decided to blend my story with DuMaurier’s, make it modern and Southern, and voila, Replacing Gentry was born.
5) Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
Marlie. She’s curious and tenacious to a fault. She’s a lot like me.
6) Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
I’m a terrible proofreader, especially when it comes to my own work. I have writer friends who read for me, and then my publisher’s editor does my editing. But still, it seems that mistakes slip through. So frustrating.
7) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When? Basically, I’m always writing, making notes, thinking about my current plot, hearing my characters talking in my head. I also love to read, garden, hang out with my girls, and see movies with my husband. Pretty bland, huh?
8) Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Yes, I read ALL the time. Kristin Hanna, Michael Crichton, Adriana Trigiani, Amy McNamara, Jodi Piccoult, Sophie Kinsella, Linda Castilla, and so many more.
9) What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
Tell us about the secret society you created.
This was the most fun for me in creating this book. I got the idea from my daughter and her Latin teacher. Then I researched symbols and history and Greek mythology. I had a blast. It was like my own little Dan Brown moment.
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Suspense
Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Date of Publication: April 2013
Number of pages: 286
Word Count: 88,000
Cover Artist: Steve Novak
When Marlie agrees to attend a cadaver ball at Vanderbilt Medical School, she did not expect to actually see any cadavers. Or, that a strange apparition would issue her a chilling message.
Despite the cadaver's warning, Marlie is married a year later to Tennessee State Senator, Daniel Cannon, and living in a plantation-style mansion with two step-sons. Add to the mix her growing suspicion that something is amiss with the death of Daniel’s first wife, Gentry, and newlywed Marlie is definitely in over her pretty Yankee head.
What begins as an innocent inquiry into her new husband’s clouded past ends with Marlie in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy.
A modern twist on the classic Gothic romance novels of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, Replacing Gentry follows Marlie’s precarious journey as she learns the truth about the man she married.
The loud clank of the door fastening shut behind me gave me a start. My steps skidded to a stop in the sudden darkness, and I pulled a breath deep into my chest. The air was heavy like icy needles probing my throat. I rubbed the chill bumps on my arms with the heat of my moist palms.
Where am I?
Squinting against the hazy glow of a single bulb, I scanned one way, then the other, unable to determine the end of the passageway in either direction. From the other side of the door, the steady drumming of the bass from the Cadaver Ball sounded miles away. The perceived distance was a welcome relief. I needed some time to think, to center, and to get a grip. What had just happened between Daniel and me? One minute he’d been leading me around the dance floor, the next I’d lost track of how many dances we’d shared and found myself kissing him. Sure, I’d considered the possibility, but fantasizing about kissing a total stranger and actually going through with it were two very different things. I’d only known one man before who’d been able to draw me in so quickly.
I’d also met Finn at a ritzy Nashville party I had attended with my best friend Anna-Beth. Only that had been years ago, back when she and I were still in college. Like Daniel, Finn had been handsome and wealthy. My time with him had ended in heartbreak and loss. Tonight, being back in Nashville, it was like I could feel him all around me—a cagey presence deft at staying just beyond my line of sight. And then I’d met Daniel.
Paul leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. “Next question.” His eyes took a discerning turn around our fellow dinner guests as if he were about to say something profound. “Do you believe in love at first sight? And if so, if you met the man of your dreams and he asked you to marry him right then and there, would you say yes?”
As had been the case the entire night, my thoughts rushed to Finn, how I’d fallen for him the first time we’d met. And how two weeks later I had boarded a plane to Vegas where I’d become his wife.
Obviously, my true answer would be yes. “I’d like to send the dilemma to the social worker,” Paul’s voice sailed
across the table, bringing everyone’s focus to me. “Marlie is a therapist for the California Department of Corrections,”
Anna-Beth corrected. Her reproach was polite, as always, with a touch of perkiness. She
slanted another salacious look to the dark-haired, fair-eyed plastic surgery intern she’d introduced earlier as Steven. A far cry from the teary-eyed socialite who had picked me up at the airport the day before after insisting twenty-four hours earlier that she couldn’t possibly go on living without the support of her “dearest friend.” Yesterday she’d been practically suicidal after the loss of her latest “future hus- band.” Tonight she’d evidently discovered that there was at least one more potential spouse left to explore.
“Psychiatric social worker,” I clarified. “And, my training and experience has taught me that a man willing to jump quickly into marriage is more than likely hiding some unfortunate character flaw, something he’s afraid he can’t keep hidden for long,” I answered, feigning a professional confidence.
I was looking into the black hole of my thirty-first birthday, doubting with every day that slithered by I’d ever again meet a man I could pledge my heart to. Besides, what woman, over thirty or otherwise, doesn’t secretly fantasize about a chance meeting with the man of her dreams?
Paul considered my answer with a shrewd stare. “I don’t believe you. I think you, like all women, would jump at the chance to be married,” he said, his drawl stained with a hint of headiness.
Despite the fact he was clearly wearing a platinum band on his left ring finger, Paul had been ogling me all evening, and I could sense a growing affinity. But I was one hundred percent sure I wanted no part of it. I inwardly groaned. This impromptu game of Scruples was get- ting on my last nerve. It ticked me off that Paul had accurately called my bluff, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of yielding to the fact.
I fixed him with a cold stare. “I’m wondering why you bothered to ask me the question when you’d already made up your mind as to my answer?”
Paul’s smirk, downright creepy now, tugged at his lips again. “Fair enough,” he conceded. “Your boss congratulates you for a brilliant suggestion and hints at a promotion. One of your subordinates gave you the idea. Do you mention this to your boss?”
Clearing my throat, I offered up an answer. “Of course I would give my subordinate his or her due credit.”
Paul leaned forward. “Even if it meant you’d get passed up for the promotion?”
I squared my shoulders. “How could I feel good about a promotion I hadn’t earned?”
Shaking his head, Paul grunted out a snort. “I’m sorry, Marlie, but no one subscribes to such outdated, bogus ideals of integrity anymore.” He sent his gaze around the table for confirmation. “I say she’s bluffing.”
I rolled my eyes in return. “So, outdated stereotypes regarding women are perfectly alive and well but showing a little integrity ... that’s old fashioned?” I retorted, though an announcement had every- one shifting toward the front.
From the stage, the emcee was lamenting about a doctor—Dr. Peter Daschle—a pioneer in the field of reconstructive plastic surgery who’d been strides ahead of his time when he’d met with tragic death and how his expertise would be sorely missed ... Then, after a minute of silence, the emcee introduced the band and invited everyone to the dance floor. The buzz of attendees taking one last drink, or bite of dessert, before pushing back their chairs was quickly overpowered by the band’s version of Hip to My Heart as everyone paired up and filed out to the dance floor.
Glancing across the table, I could see Paul fighting the flow of bodies, cutting a path straight for me. A look of cool, self-assuredness seemed to be driving him against the fray. My gaze flitted quickly around the room as I considered my options. I had two choices: run for the safety of the service exit and spend the rest of the night hiding, or turn, face him, and let him know exactly what I thought of his presumptions. Given that I had a general dislike for cowardice, option number two was my obvious choice.
I’d just started in his direction when I heard a voice asking, “Would you like to dance?”
“No, not right now,” I said through tight lips. “I’ve got something I need to take care of first.”
The voice came back along with the light touch of fingertips on my elbow. “I think what you’re fixin’ to do can, and should, wait for a more appropriate settin’.”
I hesitated. It wasn’t like I was planning to make a scene, and who was this man that thought he knew what I had in my mind to do? Whirling around, I shot a bothered stare into the face behind the voice.
Gazing down at me, the hint of a smile on his lips, was a man Anna- Beth had introduced as her cousin, Daniel something-or-other. In his early forties, he had thick dark hair tapered neatly around his neck and ears but longer on the top and combed back. His nose was slightly crooked, his chin distinctive. A trace of gray at the temples gave him the look of striking maturity, a man accustomed to the finer things in life.
His dark blue eyes conveyed a subtle insistence as he stepped to the side and motioned to the dance floor. “After you,” he said with all the graciousness of a Southern-born gentleman.
Swallowing back a portion of my resolve, I found myself at a sud- den loss for words. Unnerving since I rarely, if ever, found myself with nothing whatsoever to say. After a final glance back at Paul—I would deal with him later—I adjusted my course and headed for the dance floor. Daniel pulled me in close and proceeded to lead in a smooth cowboy cha-cha. After a few silent turns around the parquet floor, I glanced up to see that his eyes, dark blue like a moonless night, were searching mine as if looking for a truth that eluded him.
“Back at the table ... your answers, were they sincere, or were you playin’ devil’s advocate?”
My head spun under the heat of his gaze. At the moment I couldn’t recall each and every response, there had been so many, but thinking back, I was fairly certain I’d meant them all.
“As hard as it may be to believe, they were all my true opinions.” Pulling me closer still, his mouth was just a kiss away as he whispered,
“Just so you know, I don’t think integrity is outdated.”
Why am I so inanely attracted to all the things I’m not? I mused as I began to pace the tight circle of light that fanned out into the darkness. Even
more puzzling, why had Daniel been attracted to me? I wasn’t particularly tall, and while my face and figure were not unfortunate, I tended to blend easily into a crowd. But then, he had said that I reminded him of a slightly older Emma Stone, which I modestly denied, while secretly I’d kind of thought so too.
And then there was always the possibility that because I was from out of town he’d considered me an easy mark for a torrid one-night- stand. Except from what I could see, he seemed to be a perfect gentle- man—not at all the womanizing type. I stopped pacing and started chewing my thumbnail while the toe of my sandal tapped the floor.
Why was I so cold?
I should go back in. Only now I felt like an idiot for running out the way I had. It was too frigid out here to spend any more time second- guessing my reaction. How should I play it when I see Daniel? Act casual? Ignore him? I was mentally pounding my head when another sound joined the echo of my tapping foot. Slamming my shoe to the floor, I held it still and listened to the darkness. I couldn’t hear a thing, not even the muffled drumming of the band.
Turning in a circle, my eyes searched the shadows, unable to see anything beyond the thick blanket of blackness surrounding my solitary swath of light. An unsettling feeling began a slow crawl up my spine. Was it the sudden quiet or the complete darkness that had me feeling on edge? I couldn’t be sure at first, but then there was noise, or maybe just a feeling as the presence of something unseen crept over me, and I realized I wasn’t alone.
“Hello,” I called, my voice echoing down the dark passageway. “Who’s there?”
The only reply was the hiss of my own breath, the rush of my blood as it beat against my ears. “I know you’re there,” I said. I thought I heard something—a sigh or a brush against the far wall.
“Hello?” I tried again. Nothing. Maybe my imagination was getting away from me? I mean, who wouldn’t be creeped out in a dark, frigid hallway? Nothing to worry about.
In case something feral was indeed lurking out there, I retraced my steps, one foot behind the other, my eyes sweeping the abyss in both directions until I bumped up against the steel of the door.
Reaching back, I pushed down on the handle and then pulled while keeping a close eye on a predator I wasn’t sure existed. The door didn’t budge. I turned to face the door, pushed down with both hands this time and pulled. Then I lifted and yanked again. The door stayed put.
I was locked out. The fear of being trapped squeezed my chest with a ruthless grip. Droplets of perspiration rolled from my temples and down to my neck, burning a steamy trail over my cold skin. The air grew more frigid. The darkness pressed closer. My heart began to race, my breath grew more shallow as panic pushed hard at my need to stay calm.
“I’m locked out here!” I pounded my fists on the door as the music started up again. “Can someone—anyone—hear me?” I yelled until my throat was raw, the shrieks shooting from my lips in puffs of white smoke.
Pressing my cheek against the door, I listened to the muffled sounds of a rousing party. The cool metal did little to relieve the heat of my exertion. There was no indication that anyone had heard my screams—at least no one on the other side of the door.
A thump, followed by a drag was the first undeniable conformation that someone—something—was there.
I slowly turned. “Who’s there?” my voice rasped out again. I heard no audible answer, just another thump and a drag. “Can you help me?” I asked. “The door seems to be stuck.”
I waited. The dragging grew closer, the darkness slowly consuming what little light was there in the dark hallway.
“Please, say something.” My voice crackled against the black walls, my eyes focused toward the sounds as the silhouette of a body materialized out of the haze.
At first, all I could make out the bareness of a man’s feet and legs against the grey floor, one foot taking feeble steps forward while the other dragged along in its wake. His flesh was white like a thin sheet of paper stretched over iridescent blue veins.
“Are you all right?” I called out, thinking maybe he wasn’t an attacker at all but someone in desperate need of help. “Do you need medical assistance?”
Another thump and a drag brought him closer. The dim light turned blinding as it reflected off the whiteness of his skin. He was completely naked. His shoulders were slumped over. His arms hung long and limp at the sides of his torso. A stitching in the shape of a Y marked across his chest. His hair was disheveled and receding from a long forehead above sunken cheeks and lifeless, gray-rimmed eyes. He looked like a walking corpse.
My hand flew to cover the scream that exploded from my chest. “Oh my gosh!” I pressed my back harder against the door, feebly edging
myself away. My ankles gave way beneath me. The man took a few more steps and stopped.“Marlie Evans,” he said,
the words booming over stiff lips. The breath solidified in my throat. Absolute silence filled the flickering shadows cast by the light of a dying bulb. A flash of steel running down to a wheeled box on the floor behind him caught my attention. Then the squeak of a pulley had my mind leaping back to the dark-
humored skits that had opened the medical school ball, but I was unable to recall this particular prop.
“Is this some sort of joke?” I called out through quivering lips.
“You don’t belong here,” he said, raising a shaking arm to point a crooked finger in my direction. “You should go back, go back to where you belong.”
I cranked the door handle down again. Again, the latch didn’t release. “Yeah, no kidding,” I said, forcing a weak chuckle. “I would go back in but like I said before, the door seems to be stuck.”
“Marlie Evans,” he repeated with more insistence. I shrank farther back, my eyes darting about the space, waiting for
the prankster to reveal himself. “If this is meant to scare me for some twisted amusement you’ve done a good job . . . I’m officially freaked out!” I screamed then waited, my gaze unwittingly locked with the unfathomable site before me. “Enough is enough already!”
His face was like that of a ventriloquist’s dummy. “You are weak and will lose all that is precious to you, and still, you will not change what has already been decided.”
Each syllable pressed down on me like a heavy weight. I sucked in a ragged breath. Why was I trapped in the cold, the darkness, with death standing before me? Suddenly, this didn’t feel like a joke.
Supporting my weakening body against the exit, my nails bent and cracked as my fingers dug into the hard surface. “Change what?” I pled, tears blurring my focus. “I don’t understand.”
He blinked once, slowly. “The end has already been written,” he said with what sounded like considerable effort.
Terror pushed the blood hard through my veins. “What are you talking about?” I cried. “What end?”
A sneer pulled across his sullen face, his features contorting into a look so vile I felt as though something evil had reached inside me and taken hold of my soul.
Julie N. Ford graduated from San Diego State University with a BA in Political Science and a minor in English Literature. In addition, she has a Masters in Social Work from the University of Alabama. Professionally, she has worked in teaching and as a Marriage & Family Counselor.
In addition to Replacing Gentry, she is the author of two women’s fiction novels, The Woman He Married and No Holly for Christmas, published in 2011. She also wrote a romance/chick-lit novel, Count Down to Love, published in 2011. Count Down to Love was a 2011 Whitney Award finalist.
Currently, she lives in Nashville, TN with her husband, two daughters and one baby hedgehog. For more information or see what Julie is working on now, you can visit her at JulieNFord.com.