Ella Davies, is focused, independent, and driven. Her hard work is finally paying off and she is on the brink of great success. But what no one knows is that her frantic drive is born not from a desire to succeed, but from a need to forget – forget her past, forget her guilt, and mostly, forget the tragedy that changed her life forever.
Ella’s strategy seems to be working but on Christmas Eve she meets Cohen, a strange man with an even stranger purpose. Cohen catapults Ella back through time and forces her to confront not only her own pain, but the pain of those long since passed. In the process, Ella learns about courage and compassion and that in the darkest hour, no one is ever alone.
An interview with author Janet K. Halling
Tell us a little about yourself.
I love craggy, foggy beaches, overgrown forests, and big cities. My favorite season is Autumn. My dream vacation is Europe. I live in Northern Utah with my husband and four children. Right now I have a cold.
Is writing a full-time career for you? If not, how else do you spend your work day?
Creative writing is not a full-time career (yet). I also work as a business writer where I write things like business plans, grant proposals, website text...that sort of thing.
Do you have a favorite character in An Unexpected Angel? Who and why?
I really like Matthew. He is courageous and compassionate and willing to put others first. You see this with Ella. Even though his situation is much more serious than hers, he tries to help her.
Without giving it all away, please tell us a little something about how Ella is going to get through her biggest challenge.
Ella has to learn to let go of the guilt and the grief she feels over events from her past. She has been running from the pain for so long that it takes a lot to get her to stop and slow down to work through it.
What three words would best describe Ella?
Stubborn, scared, heartbroken
Do you share any personality traits with Ella?
I can sometimes be very stubborn and my first impulse is to try and bury my feelings rather than work through them.
What kind of research was involved for An Unexpected Angel?
I did a lot of research into the various time periods the book covers, especially for the WWII scene. I read some really excellent books written by ex-Marines who lived it. With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge and Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin were my favorites.
What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?
The reaction from readers. There have been a lot of people who identify with what Ella is going through and they have told me about their struggles and how the book changed them and changed their lives. I was not expecting it to touch such a deep nerve with some readers; it has been an honor to hear their stories.
What do you have in store next for your readers?
I am working on a YA trilogy. No vampires though, I promise!
What’s the best book your mother ever gave or read to you?
The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read them until they were literally in tatters. Magic!
What was the last book you just couldn’t finish?
I couldn’t get through North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I really wanted to love it but it just wasn’t there for me.
Is there a genre you wish you could write, but haven’t made the plunge? Which one and what appeals to you about it?
I would like to attempt epic fantasy. I love stories of magic and wizards and quests and I would like to tell one of my own. Maybe someday.
What is one trait you despise in people that you tend to give your villains/protagonists? Arrogance
Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
I go through a lot of gum when I’m writing. If things are really clicking and I’m in a groove I’ll start snapping my gum without realizing it. Talk about obnoxious! I have to be careful about that if I’m writing in a public place.
What is your favorite movie based on a book, where you preferred the movie?
Lord of the Rings. It’s a brilliant story and I adore the books, but I think Peter Jackson brought a level of emotion and depth to the movies that can be easy to miss in the books.
Laptop, desktop or notebook and pen/pencil for writing?
I use a laptop and pen and paper. I do most of the writing on the computer but most of the development on paper. I use colored copy paper and go through lots of it, just scribbling down every little idea that comes to me. Sometimes I’ll write out scenes and dialogue, but I mostly use the computer for that.
Is there a book you’ve ever read more than five times? Which book and what drew you back to it?
I’ve read Jane Eyre dozens of times. I love the interaction between Jane and Rochester and I don’t think it gets enough credit for being genuinely funny. And of course the creepy, mad wife roaming around Thornfield in the dead of night makes my little gothic heart shiver with glee.
If you could get anyone to read your book, who would you choose and why?
I want people who are struggling with pain or guilt from their past to read my book. The tagline is “Sometimes finding peace means finding a different perspective” and I really do believe that.
Best Christmas present?
My parents gave us (my siblings and me) a set of Voltron Lions one year. They were super expensive and we knew better than to ask for it so it was a complete shock when we unwrapped them. I think we screamed for at least ten minutes.
Favorite author? Charlotte Bronte
Favorite smell? Ocean air
Favorite series? The Belgariad by David Eddings. Devoured it when I was a teenager.
Favorite movie? Return of the King
Favorite dish? Is chocolate cake a dish?
Favorite color? Blue
Favorite quote? The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment before the miracle happens.
Your best trait? Imagination
Your worst trait? Impatience. I want things to happen right now, I don’t like to wait.
Somewhere there was a rhythmic humming—a kind of a swooshing sound that increased and decreased in volume at regular intervals. She couldn’t remember where she was. Her whole body ached, and her head felt as if it would explode.
Ella groaned and opened her eyes. She was still in the gym, lying crumpled against the weight machine. The treadmill had stopped, and the rhythmic sound was coming from the man riding the spinning bike, which sat nearby.
Her fingers trembled as she felt the goose egg on the side of her head. Her face was on fire, probably scraped on the belt, and her knees were bloody, also from the belt.
Suddenly she stiffened. There was a man riding the bike! A man riding the bike. While she had been lying there unconscious. Had he just sauntered in and climbed on without seeing her at all or had he viewed her inert form without concern? That was cold, even for New York City. Gingerly, she turned her head to look at him.
It was the clerk from the deli, and he didn’t stop pedaling as he glanced her way. “Oh good, you’re awake.”
She stared up at him in mute astonishment.
He reached for his water bottle and took a long drink. “I’m glad you woke up on your own,” he said pleasantly. “I was about ready to pour this in your face, so you can thank me for sparing you an unexpected shower.”
Ella grasped the weight machine and pulled herself slowly to a sitting position. Her head was throbbing, and her stomach lurched. “I could sue you for failing to come to the aid of an injured person,” she snapped rather feebly.
The man studied her contemplatively. “Hmmm, yes, you would think of that, wouldn’t you? But I’m not too worried, Ella. You’re not going to sue me and we both know it.”
She opened her mouth to snarl a retort but stopped abruptly. “How do you know my name?” she demanded. “And what are you even doing here? You don’t live in this building.” She hesitated, realizing she wasn’t sure. “Do you?”
He jumped off the bike and held out his hand. “You should get up. Want help?”
She shrank away from him. “Don’t touch me! Who are you, and how do you know my name?”
“Well, it’s simple really. My name is Cohen, and I’m your guardian angel.” He broke into a brief but rapid tap dance routine and finished with flair. And with jazz hands.
Ella stared at him in perplexed silence, unsure if he was a hallucination or just crazy. “Uh-huh. Right,” she finally said, groaning as she pulled herself to her feet. A wave of nausea hit her, and she stopped, doubling over and willing herself not to vomit. She for sure had a concussion.
She tried to think. Should she go to the hospital? Or maybe just go home and try to sleep? She didn’t know. She made a move toward the door, but Cohen tap-danced over to block her path.
“Get out of my way,” she snapped at him with more bravado than she felt.
He grinned. “Can’t do that. You and me, we have business tonight.”
For the first time, she felt a small dart of fear. Cohen wasn’t exactly menacing, but he certainly was strange. If he attacked her, would she have the strength to fight him? If only her head would stop hurting!
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I already told you, I’m your guardian angel. Well, not technically an angel, but that word will serve as well as any other. Anyway, I’m here to help.”
“Sure. Like you helped me when I was unconscious a minute ago? If that’s your kind of help, no thanks.”
“No, not that kind of help, silly.”
“Look, whatever you’re on, whatever you’re offering, I’m not interested. Just leave me alone, please? I’m sore and tired, and my head is killing me. I need to go lie down.”
“Oh, right. That.” He made some sort of vague gesture and instantly her nausea subsided and the pain in her head vanished.
Chills raced up and down her spine, and she stared at him, “Wait . . . what’s . . . what’s going on?”
“Okay, no more joking around.” Cohen looked suddenly serious. “Here’s the deal. You need help and there’s a lot you need to learn. Only you’re far too stubborn to admit it. You might not even know how much help you need. But I know; so here I am.”
The pieces were starting to fall into place. “Wait . . . Christmas Eve . . . guardian angel. This is some kind of a joke, right?” she said before adding sarcastically, “What’s the matter, Jacob Marley was busy? Clarence already got his wings? Or wasn’t he on duty tonight?”
He grinned. “Both good men. But you got stuck with me. Although, all things considered, maybe it’s me who got stuck with you. You can be quite unpleasant, do you know that?”
Ella snorted derisively. “So when does the Ghost of Christmas Past show up? Or is he waiting for me upstairs?”
“Dickens took some liberties. It doesn’t exactly work like that. At least, this time it won’t.”
“You have exactly one second to get out of my way or I’m going to start screaming at the top of my lungs!”
Cohen cocked his head to one side and gave her a brief shrug of resignation. “Okay then, you win. Can’t say I didn’t try.” He stepped smoothly to one side and swept his arm in a wide arc toward the door. “Be my guest.”
Throwing him what she hoped was a withering glare, Ella marched past him, flung open the door—and stepped into a nightmare.
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Meet the Author
Janet Halling discovered her love of writing at the age of six when her story of a lonely duck won a first grade writing contest. She has a degree in Marketing Communications and lives with her family in northern Utah. She is currently working on her next novel.