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Interview and excerpt - If Tomorrow Never Comes by Marlo Schalesky

Captain's Log, Stardate 03.30.2009

If Tomorrow Never Comes
by
Marlo Schalesky


Childhood sweethearts Kinna and Jimmy Henley had simple dreams–marriage, children, a house by the sea…everything they needed for happily ever after. What they didn’t plan on was years of infertility, stealing those dreams, crushing their hopes.

Now, all that’s left is the memory of young love, and the desperate need for a child to erase the pain. Until…

Kinna rescues an elderly woman from the sea, and the threads of the past, present, and future weave together to reveal the wonder of one final hope. One final chance to follow not their dreams, but God’s plan.

Can they embrace the redemptive power of love before it’s too late? Or will their love be washed away like the castles they once built upon the sand? The past whispers to the present. And the future shivers. What if tomorrow never comes?

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Excerpt of chapter one:

Only the fog is real. Only the sand. Only the crashing of the sea upon the restless shore. The rest is a dream. It has to be. I say it again and again until I believe it, because I cannot be here. Not now. Not with mist dusting my eyelashes, sand tickling my toes, salt bitter on my lips. Not when the whole world has narrowed to a strip of beach, a puff of fog, and a single gull crying in an invisible sky.


This is crazy. Impossible. And I'm too old for crazy. I won't be some loony old woman with a house full of cats. I refuse to be.


Besides, I prefer dogs.


I touch my neck, and my breath stops. The chain is gone. My locket.


My mothers voice teases me. “Not impossible, hon. Improbable. Because with God all things are possible.” Her words, spoken in that ancient, quavering tone, hide a laugh turned wheezy with age. I hear her again. “Someday youll lose that locket, Thea Jean. You just wait.” Her grin turns the sides of her eyes into folds of old parchment. “And thats when the adventure will really begin.”


But I don't want any adventure. All I want is a comfortable chair, a good book, the sounds of my grandchildren playing tag under the California sun, and my boxer at my feet.


I want to go home.


I glance out over the ripples of Monterey Bay. White-capped waves. Dark water. And then I know. Thats what I need to wake me up, get me home. I need a cold slap in the face. Something to shake me from this crazy-old-cat-lady delusion.


I stride forward until the surf kisses my feet, the waves swirl around my ankles, knees, waist, arms. Cold. Icy. Welcome.


The water engulfs me. And suddenly it doesn't feel like a dream.


-
Fog closed in around Kinna Henley as she fell to her knees and pawed in the sand. The grains bit into her hands, filled her fingernails like black soot. And still she dug. Deep into the oozing wetness. Deep enough to bury her sin. Or at least the evidence of it.


No, not sin. She wouldn’t call it that. Desperation, maybe. Determination. But not sin. God wouldn’t bless that, and He had to bless today. He just had to. She was betting everything on it.


Kinna glanced over her shoulder. Somewhere, a gull cried. Once. Only once. Somewhere, water broke along rocks and sand. Somewhere, the sun rose over the horizon.


But not here.


Here, there was nothing but the fog and the shore and the sand beneath her fingers. Alone.


Barren.


She hated that word.


With a deep breath, Kinna reached into the pocket of her nurse’s smock and pulled out six empty prescription vials that didn’t bear her name. She held them in her palm. Minute bits of liquid shimmered in the bottoms, reflecting only gray, all that was left of the medication that held her hope, flowed through her veins, and ended in her ovaries. Expensive medication she couldn’t afford on her own. But she needed it. She’d tried too long, prayed too long, believed too long…for nothing.


This medication, this Perganol, would change all that. It had to.


She closed her fist.


What’s done is done. I had to take it, God. Don’t You see? I had to.


She turned her hand over, opened it, and dropped the vials into the hole. Then she covered them and pushed a fat, heavy rock over the top.


Gone. Buried.


She wouldn’t think of how those vials had been accidentally sent to the hospital. Of how they were supposed to be returned. Of how she said they had been. Or how she slipped them into the pocket of her smock instead. She’d told herself it didn’t matter, no one would know, no one would care, no one would be hurt. She made herself believe this
was the only way. And it was. Nothing else had worked. Not charting her temperature, not a million tests, not herbal remedies, not two failed attempts at adoption. Not even prayer.


A dozen long years of it all had taught her that. God promised happily ever after, but so far, all she’d gotten was month after month of disappointment, pain, and the fear that nothing may ever change.


But now, change would come. The medication was gone, the vials hidden, her ovaries full to bursting.


Finally.


A sound came. A shout, maybe. Kinna leapt up and turned, but no one was there. No one walking down the beach. No one swimming in the surf. No one making sandcastles along the shore.


She wouldn’t think of that now. She would not remember the first time she had knelt in this sand, dug in it, made castles at the edge of the water. She wouldn’t remember the boy who made her believe fairy tales could come true. Or what happened between them after that.


That was gone. Past. All that remained was the promise that had flowed out of those stolen vials and into her blood. That was all that mattered.


Today, everything would change.


Kinna picked up her bag and strode down the silent beach, her elbows bent, her arms swinging. Fast,determined. Five minutes up, five minutes back, turn and go again. Twice more, and she’d check exercise off her list for the day. Once, she exercised for fun. Now, it was a means to an end, a way to prepare her body, to convince herself that she was doing everything she could, everything she should. That’s what life had become.


She sighed and quickened her pace. She missed the old Kinna, the one who laughed easily, who teased, who jogged along the beach just to feel the breeze in her hair and to smell the salty scent of the sea. The Kinna who still believed in fairy tales.


But soon she would believe again. She would laugh, tease, but not jog. Not for nine months, anyway. Because now her dreams would come true and the pain would end. God would finally do for her what she’d asked, begged, and pleaded for so many years.


Once, she’d been so sure that God would answer. So sure of her faith. God would not disappoint her, would not let her down. But the years eroded that faith, washing it away, bit by bit, as surely as the sea washed out the sand on the shore.


Until today.


Now she had faith again. She would stop being that woman filled with pain and doubt. She would be filled with faith…and more.


Right, God? She slowed. Doctor’s orders. Or at least, nurse’s orders.


God didn’t answer.


But it didn’t matter. She’d waited long enough. Tried, prayed, hoped. And finally, she’d happened upon those vials as if they were meant for her. As though it didn’t matter if she just slipped them into her pocket. A simple act. Easy. So why did she still have to bury them in the sand?


She knew the signs of guilt. Growing up as a pastor’s daughter taught her that. She knew a lot about guilt.


I did what I had to do. That’s all. I can’t live like this anymore. It’s got to change.


She’d done what she never would have believed. Kinna Henley had become a thief.


She gripped her bag until it creased in her hand, pressing into the flesh of her fingers. Once, she’d wept and stormed, screamed and threatened. She’d sobbed into too many pillows, curled in too many corners, slammed too many doors.


Until now.


A chill slipped under her nurse’s smock and twirled around the short hairs near her neck. It was so cold here, so lonely. Not even the call of a gull or the chatter of a sea lion kept her company. Nothing but endless waves and the eerie silence of the mist.


And God, just as silent.


This time, God, don’t let me down. Please… Not again.


This time she’d made plans, acted on them. This time, she’d sold her soul. No, it’s not that bad. It’s not!


What if…? What if I fail again?


But it wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t.


God would listen. God would relent.


Kinna didn’t want fame or fortune, shoes, clothes, or the latest Prada handbag. She didn’t want a new car, a new house, or even a new job. All she wanted was a child, a baby of her own. What she’d always wanted, as long as she could remember. A husband, a baby, and happily ever after.


Didn’t God say that to His faithful? Didn’t He say that all she had to do was pray? How could it be too much to ask for only what every other woman in the world seemed to have? Just a baby. To be a mother. Nothing more. It seemed so simple, so normal, so impossible.


This was her last chance. At least that’s what the doctor said. “One more cycle, Kinna.” Cycles, not months. Everything was measured in cycles now. “And then you need to consider in vitro fertilization.”


But she couldn’t afford IVF. She couldn’t even afford Perganol. The credit cards were maxed, the house mortgaged and mortgaged again. And Jimmy had said no more debt.


She closed her eyes. She’d done everything right. Perfect. She’d taken her prenatal vitamins, eaten her vegetables, not allowed a drop of caffeine to touch her lips, walked each afternoon. She’d charted her basal body temperature for a week, logged the dates, bought not one but two ovulation predictor kits with seven sticks each. She’d tested every day, twice a day, from day eleven to day fifteen. And this day, the time was finally right—the perfect time to conceive.


And, of course, there were the vials.


Around her, the fog swirled and thickened. The ocean murmured words of doubt. She wouldn’t listen to that. Not anymore.


She kicked a bit of sand at her feet. A string of dried kelp slid between her toes and sandals. She flicked it away, then reached into her bag and...


An Interview with Marlo:

How did you come up with the concept for If Tomorrow Never Comes?

If Tomorrow Never Comes began with a single image that popped powerfully into my mind – an old man, walking along a foggy beach at dawn, bending to pick up an old locket from the sand. The rest of the story grew from there. The funny thing is, when you read the book, you’ll find that Kinna finds the locket, not an old man. But originally the image of the locket in the sand was so intriguing to me that I kept thinking about it until a story began to develop.

How closely is If Tomorrow Never Comes based on your personal experience?

In If Tomorrow Never Comes, the main characters are struggling with the fall-out from infertility. I’ve spent most of my adult life – 15 years – dealing with infertility and miscarriage. I’ve had some successes along the way, and whole lot of failure, disappointment and pain.
So, as far as plot-line goes - what happens to the characters and how they’re changed and challenged through the book - that is uniquely Kinna & Jimmy’s story. But the emotions, the fears, the questions they face are things I drew from my own experience.

The longing for a baby that seems like it will never be fulfilled. I’ve been there. Month after month of trying and failing. Turning into year after year. I’ve been there. Frustration. Doubt. Wondering how God could possibly love me in the midst of this. Been there. Having to pry my white-knuckled fingers off my own hopes and dreams. Been there. Choosing to love anyway. Choosing to believe anyway. Choosing to trust God anyway. Been there.

It seems that just about every deep and meaningful thing I’ve learned about God, I can point to my journey through infertility and say, “Yeah, infertility taught me that.” It taught me that I’m not the god of my life. God is. It taught me there are things I cannot control, cannot achieve, no matter how hard I try. And sometimes we must choose to live the life God has given us, with love and hope, even when it’s not the life we dreamed.

Because infertility taught me that God calls us not to the pursuit of our dreams, but to love. “Love one another,” Jesus says. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” God taught me that through the journey of my own infertility. My hope is that If Tomorrow Never Comes will reveal the same truths to others as well.

What is the symbolism for the title If Tomorrow Never Comes?

The idea behind the title is that the choices and decisions we make today dramatically impact our future, our “tomorrows,” and not only ours but the tomorrows of others as well. Choosing to love, choosing to do right despite pain, disappointment, and sorrow, allows tomorrow to come. But choices made out of desperation, fear, and clinging to our own desires can cut off the future God wants for us.

We don’t know, we can’t see, what tomorrow holds. So all we can do is do what’s right now, love now, trust now. Because God sees the whole of our lives and weaves all things together, even those hard and painful things, in a way that will make a beautiful masterpiece in the Kingdom of God.

So, really, the title means that if we choose love today, if we choose sacrificial love, God will hold our tomorrows in His hand. That’s what’s at the heart of If Tomorrow Never Comes . . .the choice to love, the choice to believe, the choice to let go of our dreams in order to embrace His. To do it today, for the sake of all our tomorrows.

Do you have a favorite character in If Tomorrow Never Comes? Why?

My favorite is Thea (her name is short for Alethia, the Greek word for Truth), who is the old woman whom Kinna rescues from drowning in chapter one. Throughout the story, all the reader knows is that Thea is there for a reason – she has a purpose in Kinna & Jimmy’s lives. With wry humor and odd confrontations, she steers Jimmy & Kinna toward reconciliation and one another. She helps them to remember their past love story.

What I like best about her is her humor mixed with mystery. She’s just fun. ☺ She thinks she’s in a dream, and doesn’t want to become some crazy old lady with a houseful of cats. But despite her doubts, she chooses to care about Jimmy and Kinna and help them, no matter what. She chooses right, and as it turns out, that makes all the difference, for them, and for her too.

How did you choose the story line?

Well, the story line I chose isn’t the one you’ll read in the book. The story line you’ll read is the one the characters insisted on. Mostly it was Kinna’s fault – she simply wouldn’t do what I’d outlined for her to do! In fact, I rewrote the first third of the book a dozen times trying to convince her to act the way I wanted. But she wouldn’t cooperate. Just like in the story, she had her own plans! So finally I gave up and allowed the story to change and flow as the characters dictated. Needless to say, that worked out a lot better. So, I invite the reader to experience the story of If Tomorrow Never Comes much as I experienced it – page by page, scene by scene, being surprised and delighted by each turn of events.

What message would you like your readers to take away?

Our culture tells us that we can do anything we set our minds to, we can accomplish any dream . . . and we should. “Reach for your dreams,” we say, as if that is the highest goal of humankind. Success posters (and platitudes) abound.

But 15 years of infertility and miscarriage have taught me that we are not the gods of our lives. There are things we cannot control, no matter how hard we try.

Perhaps that is why God calls us not to the pursuit of our dreams, but to love. “Love one another,” Jesus exhorts in John 13:34-35, and also gives, as the second greatest commandment, the exhortation to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18, and all 3 Synoptics)

So, in our Grasp-Your-Dreams culture, I hope this book will stand against the tide, calling people instead to the way of love – to the way of laying down their lives for others instead of clutching their own dreams and plans.

I hope readers will be inspired to fight for their marriages with sacrificial love, and will be challenged to look to the future for the rewards of loving sacrificially, and to the past to remember the seeds of real love.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

I hope to make God’s love in the midst of trials and tragedies evident and unmistakable. I dream of opening readers’ eyes to the wonder and mystery of our incredible, vivid God. And I hope the vision of Him will take their breath away.

Are there any other new projects on the horizon?

Yes! My third “love story with a twist,” currently titled Shades of Morning, is due out in early 2010. I’m in the midst of writing it now and am enjoying the characters and plot. For those who read If Tomorrow Never Comes, watch for Marnie, the quirky owner of the coffeeshop and bookstore, who will be the main character in Shades of Morning.

Marnie has her life just where she wants it. At least that’s what she tells herself – her past is hidden, her regrets locked tightly in a box on her shelf, and her bookstore and coffeeshop business is booming. No one knows what she’s done, who she’s been. That is, until the man she once loved finds her again and brings startling news – she’s now the guardian of her 15-year-old nephew, a boy she never knew existed. And to make matters worse, when the boy arrives, she discovers he has Down Syndrome. The past collides with the present, the box of regrets is exposed, and Marnie’s world shattered and rebuilt through the love of one special boy who makes all things new.

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