The Color of Thunder was the first book I ever completed. (It's not the first book I ever wrote, but that's a topic for another time.) I began writing it after I had a dream about part of the storyline. I was pregnant with my daughter when I began the task, but it wasn't until she was nearly 11 years old that I decided to finish it.
The book was titled Shades of Gray when I first started writing it. It was begun in Colorado, but when I picked it up again we were living in North Carolina. By then E.L. James had found huge success with her erotic romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. My novel then became the Color of Thunder, but the title was not the only thing I changed about the book.
After my husband went through and read part of the manuscript with my new edits he declared that I was not the same writer I’d been when I’d begun the project twelve years before. After reading and rereading I decided that I agreed with him. It became obvious that the whole novel needed to be rewritten.
Our family made another move at the end of 2011—this time across the Pacific to a small town named Linden in southeast Germany. It is here, nearly a year after our relocation, that I finally finished The Color of Thunder. I published it through Xlibris Publishing, and it was introduced to the public on December 18, 2012.
I was completely inexperienced and thought that I needed to do everything on my own. I had not yet been introduced to the amazing indie author community, and didn’t know how important and helpful beta readers could be. I was still oversensitive about feedback, particularly of the negative kind, and relied only on the editing skills that I had gained through a couple previous jobs I’d had working in the publishing industry.
The finished product turned out beautifully. Xlibris took the photo I gave them, (one I'd taken myself) and turned it into an amazing cover. The text layout is perfect, and I’m incredibly proud of it. The Color of Thunder was my first “baby”, and because of that, it will always remain one of my favorites…but after working hard to improve my editing skills, (I now work as an editor for Booktrope Publishing and am in the process of starting up Wing Editing, a family owned editing business) I realize that The Color of Thunder could use a bit of polish. I’ve also published two more novels since my debut release, and I have found my place among many other indie authors. I’m ready to give the Color of Thunder the make-over that it truly deserves.
I love the storyline for this novel. I’m also quite fond of all the characters. None of this will be changed. I’m just going through with an editor’s eye to clean, tighten, tweak and perfect what is already there. I hope to have the new and improved Color of Thunder ready for release near Christmas of this year. I present to you chapter one. I hope you enjoy.
The summer I turned six, a stranger showed up in our church, changing our lives forever. For better or for worse, I'm still not sure. One thing I'm absolutely certain of, though, is that things were never the same for us Linsey's after that hot and airless June afternoon.
Jackson Mississippi was still a small city back in 1940, the year I was born, although it was anxious to get bigger. It was called "Chimneyville" for a time, right after the Union forces burned it to the ground during the Civil War, leaving nothing but the chimneys of houses standing among the debris they left behind. Few antebellum structures still stood in my home town to represent the city's historical past, but, unlike the houses and shops that had once been built, one thing endured the test of time. It was an entity many years older than the twisting Pearl River, or the Choctaw Indians who had once inhabited the fertile land. It was God. God had been there in Jackson, long before Mississippi became the Magnolia State, before General Andrew Jackson gave his name to our fair city, and before Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo 200 miles northeast of the capital.
As a daughter of the local pastor, I had first-hand knowledge of the man upstairs and knew that my father had a close and personal relationship with him. My unshakable belief was that he was everywhere and in everything. He was all powerful and all knowing, and there wasn't anything I could say or do that wouldn't get back to him in one way or another. In my head this pertained to both God as well as to my father.
I couldn't imagine a time when there wasn't a First Southern Baptist Church. In truth, construction of the building began in the early 1900's. Its doors were opened for the first service in the spring of 1920 by my grandfather, Isaiah Linsey and his wife, Ruth right before my father turned two. Outside, beneath a tall, proud spire that shot straight toward the clouds hung a placard with my grandfather's name on it. Twenty some years after Isaiah's death, my Daddy became the pastor of First Southern Baptist. A new sign was hung, one with the name Jacob Linsey painted on it in precise black letters. It was small enough that it didn't overshadow the graceful lines of the building, but large enough to be seen clearly from the other side of Cherry Street on which our church had been built.
Year after year hundreds of pairs of feet traipsed up the three steps that led to the portico of our church and into the entryway beyond. Those same feet carried our parishioners into the long gathering room where candles burned, their flames stuttering in the hot, humid air that found its way through the front doors. No matter where a person's eyes fell there was something to be seen inside the building. There were long rows of cork board lining both walls dotted with flyers for such events as a Saturday morning bake sale, weekly reminders for prayer groups, and sign-up sheets for the bimonthly gathering of the ladies quilting bee. Artwork done in thick lines of waxy Crayola's decorated the walls, and in the third week of July, the projects completed during Vacation Bible School were proudly displayed there. Just before Easter the long gathering room was filled with potted lilies, and for most of the month of December, holly was woven into the wreaths of pine that hung on the double entry doors and along both walls. Tendrils of red velvet ribbon looped and fell from the top of each green circle, trailing down like untied apron strings moving silently, fueled by the bodies of the congregation stirring within the friendly space. This was the feel good part of the church, the place where everyone smiled as they greeted one another. This was Mama's domain, a place where children were not told to hush, and where we ate the remains of our Sunday School treats before our faces were scrubbed with tissues moistened by the spit of our mothers.
I loved the gathering room, but I had mixed feelings about the sanctuary. It was undoubtedly the biggest and most important room in our church, and controlled singularly by my father. The ceiling loomed high above our heads, and my father's voice sounded thunderous and frightening as he preached, everything that came from his mouth hovering heavily above us before tumbling down around our heads and shoulders. Jacob Linsey wasn't a large man, but he dominated the expanse of the sanctuary as though he were ten feet both tall and wide. The only muffled sounds I heard during services were those of waving fans, swinging feet, the creak of a pew beneath tired back sides, and the quiet, almost imperceptible noise of patience being strained for too long a time.
It was my habit to look, not at Daddy, but at the window that towered behind him. I would study it after I took my place on the front pew beneath the pulpit as if each time was the first time I'd ever laid eyes on it. The stained glass had been pieced together on the eastern side of the sanctuary where the morning light hit the serene scene of Jesus in a flowing gown, his arms cradling a white lamb while more of the flock gathered and slept at his feet in the greenest of grass. The sky arched above him, the brilliant blue falling in strips of heated light down onto the white of my father's shirt. It flowed like liquid over him and onto the walls and wooden floor of the sanctuary. Roses the shade of fresh blood dotted the pasture in which the sheep lay, and together those colors fell and shimmered around the room like a warm prism. On days when the sun did not shine the window seemed cool and lifeless. I would slump against the hardness of the pew beneath me and swing my feet until Mama pressed her fingers against my shin and told me without words to be still. All the while my father's voice chased itself in the echo of the big room.
On this muggy morning, the day the stranger appeared, the air was so still not a single leaf moved on the branches of the trees outside. The men in our congregation filed out of the sanctuary after services holding their suit jackets while their wives moved the damp fabric of their Sunday dresses away from their sweat soaked backs. Children were ruddy faced and cranky, eager to be outside on the swings in the side yard.
Mama bounced my sister on her hip in an effort to keep her quiet. Hope was round from every angle, from the dark ringlets that surrounded her head, to the chubby feet Mama always stuffed into black Mary Jane's. Her arms and legs were soft like dough, and the fingers on her hands were dimpled. Even her mouth was shaped in a cherry red circle as she peered over at me, strands of her hair stuck to the sides of her sweaty face.
"I'm going to go and say good-bye to everyone now, Faith," Mama said moving past me and toward the center aisle. "I sent Luke after Mr. Henry. He won't be but a minute. You go on and find him now, you hear?"
She had quit looking at me even before she'd begun speaking, her eyes looking toward the doors of the sanctuary and the line that was forming in the gathering room.
Hope's head bobbed over Mama's shoulder as my mother made a hasty retreat. About half way down Mama slowed as the stranger moved to meet her. He paused and smiled, a dark hat held in one hand as he offered my mother his free one.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Linsey," he said. She gave him one of her prettiest smiles before she reclaimed her hand and moved to the task of caring for Daddy's congregation.
I turned and walked to the end of the pew, my shoes sliding across the wooden floor as I moved to sit in the second row. The scrolled edge of the polished bench in front of me fit nicely in my rounded fingers as I watched this man I had never seen before. Knowing everyone who spent time in our church was an important part of being the pastor's family, and I'd been on many social calls in my short life. At six I could not recall the names of each one of our congregation members, but I knew faces well enough to remember if I'd seen them in services before. I knew which children belonged to which grown-ups, who had been in constant attendance, and those that had been missing from church in recent weeks. This gentleman was a newcomer and I was curious about him.
Daddy poured some water from a pitcher Mama kept filled for him during his sermons. His eyes closed as he filled his mouth with water. He swallowed a glassful then filled it a second time.
"That was a terrific sermon, Pastor Linsey," the stranger said in a clear voice.
Droplets of moisture clung to the coarse, dark hairs of Daddy's mustache. His eyes found and stayed on the other man's face and a smile lifted the corners of his mouth. "Glad you liked it," he said with an approving nod. "Don't reckon I've ever seen you here before. Glad to have you."
The man smiled and creased the brim of his hat in his hands. "This is the first time I've had the pleasure of visiting First Southern Baptist, but my boss has been here and he was right when he said that I'd like your preaching."
Daddy put the glass next to the half empty pitcher and descended the steps that led to the center aisle. His left foot came down first, then the cane he used to walk with hit the floor before his injured leg followed. He moved his hand over the buttons of his shirt and the colors from the stained glass window caught and reflected in each one them. "Your boss?" he asked. "He a member of our congregation?"
The man shook his head. "No, sir, but he did speak to you a couple weeks back. His name is Marcus Landry. He's the owner of WCOL radio right here in Jackson. He'd heard about your church and thought he'd come for a visit. He liked it so much he sent me out."
The colored heat inside the room had grown heavy. I rubbed my nose against the back of my arm and blinked, feeling the sweat on my eyelids cool for a moment beneath the spinning ceiling fan hanging above me. Dust motes floated through the air, sluggish as if even they were too hot to move any faster.
"Marcus Landry," Daddy was saying, his eyes pulled up and to the right as though he were searching for a memory he'd stored there. "Ah," he said with a nod. "I do remember him as a matter of fact. He's Cecelia Crawford's brother."
"Yes, sir," the stranger confirmed. "And I'm Phil Michaels." My father took the man's hand and gave it a vigorous shake. "I'm the program director at WCOL and we're interested in your message, sir. We'd like to hear some of it go out over the air waves as a matter of fact. Both Mr. Landry and I think what you have to say would make some very fine program material indeed."
"Do you now?" Daddy responded, a tone of interest in his voice.
I remained still as my brother plopped down beside me, his hot leg pressed against my own. He nudged me with his pointy elbow. "Look what I got," he whispered opening his fist and showing me two shiny dimes nestled in his palm.
"What are you showing them to me for?"
"Got them from Mr. Henry," he informed me.
Luke had rubbed his blond curls away from his forehead and they stuck up at an odd angle away from his face. One of his big front teeth was growing in crooked, giving the smile he presented a lopsided tilt.
"Children," Mama admonished in a loud whisper from behind us. Both Luke and I looked back and she motioned for us to come to her. " Out with you. Now."
Luke turned to me again, his freckled nose nearly touching my own. "Want to get some ice cream?" he asked.
I nodded and felt his hand wrap around my arm. He pulled me down the center aisle and out of the sanctuary, the stranger and his black hat all but forgotten in the time it took to cross the length of the gathering room and out into the blazing hot sunshine beyond.