When I dove into Dan Conway’s novel Heartsight, I thought it was Christian fiction. I’d come across it while researching comparable titles for a book I’m writing and I’d searched Christian Fiction with Blind Heroes or some combination thereof and Heartsight came up in the results. I meant to just read the first page or two but Dan Conway owned me after about ten paragraphs. Then as I devoured this book in under twenty-four hours, I came across a few things that gave me pause. So while I thought it was pretty edgy for Christian fiction, I was still already writing Dan’s feature in my head before I was done with the novel. When I finished the book, head over heels for this story and Dan, I knew by then the publisher was either the edgiest Christian publisher or the cleanest general market publisher I'd ever read. So I checked into Astrae Press and discovered it’s the latter.
Because I value your trust in me and my recommendations, I need to tell you specifically what would be objectionable to some readers. There are several occurrences of mild profanities, one occurrence of alcohol consumption by a main character, and while it was incredibly tastefully written in every occurrence, there are points in the novel where the sexual tension could fry bacon. The hero and heroine reach second base before marriage, though to his credit Dan is the one who kept them from third. Which is part of why he’s here. If I were to put a drop of that man's blood under a microscope, there would be orange heads in it. I couldn’t NOT feature Dan. Because he is an incredible hero in a novel that knowing it is general market, I feel very good about promoting. So I have given a full disclosure so that as a reader you can decide independently whether or not this novel is appropriate for you.
About Heartsight (Released February 2011):
On a secluded beach in North Carolina, three lonely people find hope in each other.
Trish Evers is an artist and single mother, who has inherited her grandmother's Bed and Breakfast in a North Carolina coastal town. Though she must sell the house, she decides to bring her daughter to the beach for one last summer vacation in her childhood town.
Bella is a six-year-old girl who has Down syndrome. Rejected by her father, Trish is the only parent she's ever known. Bella likes to explore the beach and has a tendency to wander off. One day, Bella goes exploring on her own, and Trish finds her in the company of an intriguing stranger.
Dan Conway is a U.S. Marine, who had been born into a family of Marines. Now blind as a result of combat injuries and unable to "suit up," he feels he no longer has a purpose in life. He's come home to the beach, where he spends his days in solitude. Dan must learn to believe in himself and to love life again, which he begins to do through his interactions with Bella and Trish. When a hurricane strikes, and Bella wanders off again, her only hope for rescue is Dan.
Excerpt from Heartsight:
She stood in front of Gran’s big mirror. She vaguely remembered it had once hung on the dining room wall above the buffet but when the frame had broken, Gran had taken it down.
Dan stood behind her, his head just above her shoulder, not quite touching. She could hear and feel his breathing, and his nearness was becoming a temptation.
“Tell me about the woman in the mirror,” he whispered.
“I…ah. Yeah.” She giggled. “I feel silly.”
“Let me start then.” He lifted a hand to her hair, combing it with his fingers. Seeing the action in the mirror at the same time she felt his touch made her heart beat a little faster. “Her hair is almost straight. It’s almost always just a little bit messy, like a lover’s been running his fingers through it.”
His voice alone was seductive but when he spoke about lovers and touched her like one, she trembled. Already at the edge of love, she wanted to be able to fall, and just as badly wanted Dan to be the one to catch her.
He continued talking as though oblivious of her inner battle. “Now, think in terms of your painting. If you were painting this woman, what color is her hair?”
“It’s light bro—”
Dan pressed two fingers against Trish’s lips. “Try again.”
She watched the couple in the mirror, finally forcing her attention to the woman who stared back.
“It’s warm brown, the color of nutmeg or maybe melted caramel.”
“Good girl,” he whispered.
Easy for him to say.
“Tell me about her eyes.”
“Th—they’re kind of almond-shaped.”
“Kind of? Or Are?”
“Are.” Her voice barely worked. “Are almond-shaped. And sort—and they’re widely spaced, the color of honey, with flecks of amber all through them.”
“Her nose is narrow and straight. Her cheeks are high and round.”
He didn’t say anything, but she knew what he wanted.
“Her lips are full but they fit her face. They’re a deep rose color, and she doesn’t wear lipstick because she chews it off. When she smiled, her teeth show. She has a crooked eyetooth on the right side.”
Dan nuzzled her neck. “Go on. Tell me about the rest.”
“I have long arms and I don’t like to wear too much in the summer, so I wear tank tops or sleeveless blouses. I do a lot of lifting with my art so my arms look okay. They’re toned up, I mean, not flabby. My hands are big for a woman but they match my body. I have long fingers and I keep my nails short.”
Trish faltered. Logically her breasts should come next but she suddenly felt shy. “My… um… bust is full, too big and—” She stopped, unable to go on. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
She tried to turn around but he held her in place. She tried to edge past him but he blocked her way. “Let me show you,” he said softly.
With the backs of his knuckles he grazed the side of her right breast. The touch was neither sensual nor erotic. It was a gentle, almost reverent caress. But watching him touch her was heating her blood.
“These are the breasts of a mother. They’ve nursed a baby, haven’t they?”
Trish nodded. “Just for a little while. Bella was too weak to nurse, so I pumped.” She clamped a hand over her mouth. “I can’t believe I just told you all that.”
“Because it’s important. You nurtured your daughter. It doesn’t matter how it was done. You did what nature intended. You took care of your child.”
Emotions welled, joined the heat in her blood, and her breaths came in short gasps.
He moved his hands lower. Her abdomen quivered as he rested his hand there. “You aren’t flat. You have a gentle swell. You grew a baby here. So what if it left you a little stretched out. That’s maternal beauty.” He grazed both hips at the same time. “Your hips aren’t wide at all. They fit the rest of you perfectly.”
“My butt’s big,” she said in a quiet voice. Then she shivered as he moved his hands to her derriere.
“It’s round. Some people pay money to have this kind of work done.” His touch wasn’t impersonal, but it still wasn’t sexual, either.
Her body’s reaction, on the other hand, was neither impersonal nor asexual. She felt flushed all over and wherever he was touching her, heat radiated to places she’d thought were dead, or at least asleep. It was enlightening to look at herself objectively, to see herself the way he did. And seeing herself in his arms, she felt like she fit there.
Dan turned Trish around to face him. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Is there anyone named Fatty Patty here?”
She shook her head as shivers ran the length of her spine. “No.”
Trish was moved by his observations. Out of anyone else’s mouth, they might have sounded cheesy, shallow, even falsely flattering. But she had no doubt of the sincerity behind Dan’s words.
Stretching a little, she laid her lips lightly against his. He responded instantly, his mouth moving on hers, warm and sure. Inside, Trish was soft and quivery. Dan took the kiss a little deeper, sliding his arms around her waist to her back. One hand stayed in the small of her back, the other pushed higher.
She leaned into his body, feeling alive, feeling sensual. Feeling attractive for the first time in years.
“Dan.” When they leaned apart again, she whispered his name, unsure herself what she wanted to say to him. She wanted to surrender to the moment, to the emotions he’d awakened. But even as the thought formed, she knew he’d back off again if she did.
“Hush,” he whispered back. He pulled her close again, resting his cheek against hers. His warm breath teased her ear. “Sweetheart, Gary Evers stole something from you with cruel names and malicious comments. He made you feel like you were less than you are. But you’re a beautiful woman. Whatever else happens here, with him, with Bella… don’t let him take that knowledge from you again.”
Trish swallowed hard. She’d never in her life thought of herself as beautiful. But when Dan said the word, she felt it to her soul, which was as terrifying as it was pleasing.
Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.
Gallant ScoreAs heroes go, Dan is pretty much every flavor of awesome there is. He's so wonderful with Bella all the time. He keeps calm and respectful in the face of some pretty nasty accusations and demeaning behavior by Bella's biological father (when he finally shows up). He allows Trish to handle herself and doesn't rush in to fight the battle for her. He is generous with no strings attached, and what always, always endears me to a hero no matter what—places Trish’s emotional well-being ahead of his own physical desire. Kay Springsteen wrote that scene with such a depth of emotion and leashed passion, captured Dan’s fear and allowed us so deep inside his struggle that I'm still amazed by how honest that scene was without being graphic or explicit. And there’s some serious orange heads earned late in the novel when the storms hit. You’ll be glad I didn’t spoil for you by telling you what they are.
Wounded ScoreDan is blind but he's not emotionally wrecked by it. After four years, he's worked out the anger and is more troubled by feeling he'll never be able to contribute to the good of the world again. Then of course there's the burden he carries at being unable to save the little boy wired to the bomb that took his eyesight. In an incredibly refreshing way, Dan thinks he's way more brooding than he actually is compared to other heroes with physical disabilities who have been featured here on FHF. Every once in a while he'd make a joke about his own blindness, throwing Trisha completely off kilter and making me grin.
Softie ScoreI'm still blown away at Dan's patience and understanding with Bella, and most of this orange is in his interaction with her. The German Shepherd on the cover is Dan's seeing-eye dog Jack and the way he really is Dan's best friend was a great aspect to show how caring Dan is. I love the moment on the beach with Bella and Trish building sand castles. Bella wants to go pick up shells and Dan calls Jack over, frees him from his harness and says "Take a break and go be a dog for a while, buddy." As soon as Jack and Bella take off, the next words out of his mouth to Trish are "Can you see her from where you're sitting?" Dan and Bella have their own story within the romance with her mom and I loved getting to experience that. Don't mistake soft for weak, as made very clear when Bella's biological father shows up to wreak havoc. Railroad a Marine? As. If. Bella's father is the one who deserves the stupid strikes.
Stupid StrikeI actually reached for anything that might put a little orange here for any of you who are having trouble finding Dan believable. Couldn't do it. Trust me. He is very believable, especially when he begins to be aware of Trish as more than Bella's mother.
Swoon ScoreDan has oh so many swoon-worthy moments but my favorite is one night on the couch where Dan insists on his own version of twenty questions while playing footsies with Trish (and JUST playing footsies). I wanted that scene to be the excerpt but for it to work you needed the complete scene and it was too long for the blog. What I hope you took away from the excerpt I did choose is the way Dan sees the beauty of the woman Trish is when she can’t and calls that out in her. As for Dan’s body, well, he IS a U.S. Marine and still very fit as only soldiers are. And he is a friend and father-figure to Bella because he cares for her as a person, not to try to win her mom. That remains true even when he and Trish begin to develop a deeper relationship. Dan is as attractive on the outside as he is on the inside. He is the total hero package and there’s enough in the novel to give me confident hope a relationship with God is in Dan’s future. And if you’ll let me put the heroes and books aside for a second, that is really the most important thing in anyone’s future. Even more than I love great fiction heroes, I love people and I want as many of you guys as possible to know the ultimate hero.
About the author Kay Springsteen:Kay Springsteen is a romance supporter, who makes her home in Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to having written six full length contemporary romance novels and two Regency romances, she works as a senior editor for "clean reading" publisher, Astraea Press. When she's not editing or writing, Kay is busy with her hobbies of reading, photography, gardening, hiking in the mountains with one of her rescue dogs, and spending time with her terrific family. She believes in miracles and the romance of life, and she knows everyone has a happily ever after waiting out there somewhere. But until you get to it, why not pick up a good book and think about the possibilities?
Visit her website at www.kayspringsteen.wordpress.com
The FHF exclusive directly from the author:
Interview with hero Dan Conway:
(As for animation, he isn't going to move a lot--first because he is a Marine and they don't. Second because blind people don't gesture as much as sighted people--so he will mostly sit straight, not slumped, and obviously cannot meet anyone's eyes)
- What do you consider your greatest achievement? (smiles) Making Captain with the USMC
- What is your most treasured possession? (sighs, gives some thought) Grandfather's dog-tags, mother's box of recipes.
- What or who is the greatest love of your life as the story begins? (shrugs) Up until now, it was being a Marine. Currently... my dog.
- What is your most marked characteristic? (shrugs) I have no answer for that. I'm afraid it's my blindness, but love it when people can look beyond that.
- When and where were you the happiest? As a marine.
- What is it that you most dislike? (sad smile) that slightly helpless, kind of frustrated feeling when I can't do something sighted people take for granted--that I always used to take for granted. Like see a sunrise or seeing someone you love in the distance.
- What is your greatest fear? (shrug) That I will never be worth anything or make a relevant contribution again.
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? (shifts in seat) Failing someone... failing to help them when they are in trouble. Being helpless when they need you.
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue? (sighs) Bravery, especially in context of just performing my job, or being brave because I handle being blind so well--I mean, do I have a choice? How does that make me brave?
- On what occasions do you lie? In order to protect someone else or keep them calm, like when I told the little boy with the bomb "it's going to be okay."
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I wouldn't brood as much.
- What is your greatest extravagance? (big grin) Computer equipment with modifications for the blind, for things like reading mail, going on internet.
- What is your motto? (big grin) Semper Fi
The Giveaway:Good news: There is no giveaway of the novel or giftcard this feature.
How is that good news? (You know you thought it.)
I have something else we're going to do with the money I usually spend on those.
Better news: In e-book format, Heartsight is $1 for Kindle and $3 for Nook. If you're reading this post, you have something you can read an e-book on. The book is available in print also, but it's going to cost you the rough equivalent of two gallons of gasoline to have it that way.
Best news: I'm passionate about the quality of this novel (please don't let the cheap kindle price fool you), the FHF-worthy-ness of Dan Conway, and supporting our United States Soldiers & Veterans. So if you buy your own copy of Heartsight between now and April 15th and forward the receipt to fictionherofeatures at hotmail dot com, I'm donating a dollar to the Wounded Warrior Project. (Up to $50.00) Dan Conway is a fiction hero, but the life he represents is not, and I don't ever want to forget that. Let's do this.
If you have a U.S. Soldier or Veteran among your family or close friends and would like to share, I'd love to recognize them below. If they're on active duty, please let me know so I can offer a special prayer to God for their safety. For those of you whose loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice in combat, know I speak for many when I say there aren't good enough words to express my gratitude. That's hard for an author to admit, but the truth.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called the children of God." Matthew 5:9