"Michelle Stimpson will have you laughing, crying and relating to each of her vivid, vocal characters." --AAMBC Book Reviews
"Her spiritual perspective adds depth that has you pondering her characters long after the book is done." --Tiffany L. Warren, author of In the Midst of It All
Camille Robertson had her fifteen minutes of fame in the late '90s with the sexy R&B girl group Sweet Treats. Now she works as a telemarketer and longs for the past. With her thirtieth birthday around the corner, Camille is determined to break back into the music industry. But her new agent says her only chance is to reinvent herself--as a gospel singer. So Camille joins the nearest mega church, headed by handsome worship leader, Ronald Shepherd. She quickly wows the choir and orchestrates a plan to secretly record herself and make a demo. But when she and Ronald sing a duet together, it ignites a spark for them both--and leaves Camille conflicted.
Camille is grateful for the relationship developing with Robert, but she's not willing to let go of her dream--even if it means using him to get there. Before long, Camille finds herself betraying the people she cares about most. Can she have love, forgiveness, faith--and fame?
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May 29, 2012
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Excerpt from Falling Into Grace by Michelle Stimpson
Your account is overdrawn.
Camille Robertson unchecked the e-mail notification box on her cell phone. No need in setting herself up for even more depressing announcements. Bad enough she was turning the big three-oh today. She didn't need to be reminded that she was also broke. Below broke, actually, because by the afternoon, her account would be charged another thirty-four dollars for insufficient funds.
She closed her eyes as the phone's screen dimmed and then went blank. Insufficient. A good word to describe Camille's life for the past eleven years.
The dull beep of her neighbor's alarm clock added another level of ridiculousness to her life. Cheap rent always came with thin walls and bad layout, i.e., adjacent bedrooms. No privacy. Not that Camille needed it. Her life was as uneventful as they came.
She listened to the beeping awhile longer and decided that this fellow tenant must have already left the apartment, or maybe she was dead. Either way, the clock had another fifty- nine minutes to blare unattended.
With the last moments of sleep now forfeited, Camille slapped her dry feet onto the cold tile. Pedicures got laid off a long time ago. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been pumped up in a hairdresser's chair. Boxed perms, homemade hairstyles, and do-it-yourself French manicures had become a way of life now.
Camille steadied herself on the edge of the bed, thinking about her plans for the day. Her father would probably call and wish her a happy birthday in one breath, ask for some money in the next. He still believed that Camille had some kind of money stashed from her brief but profitable R&B run a decade earlier.
"I know you didn't go through all that money that fast, baby girl," he had practically begged at Christmastime. "All I'm askin' for is a couple thousand dollars to put a new engine in my car. Dang! Hate to see what happens if I need a kidney!"
A couple of thousand dollars would have been like ten dollars when Camille was riding high. But now, in the real working- class American world, a few thousand dollars might as well have been ten million dollars, because, either way, she didn't have it.
Three months had passed since that depressing Christmas conversation. Camille had made attempts to contact her father, but he hadn't been too receptive. Probably just as well, though, because she was within an inch of calling it quits with Bobby Junior, as everyone called him. Fathers were irreplaceable, Camille knew. But what good was a father who constantly reminded her of her biggest failure?
Heavy footsteps overhead caused the white, frosted ceiling lightbulb cover to clank. Camille pictured the woman upstairs plodding across the floor, her chunky frame swaying with each flat-footed step. The old Camille would have sworn at the fat woman, said, "It's about time she turned off that alarm, with her fat [so-and-so] self." The new Camille experienced stuffing an extra thirty pounds into her Spanx daily. She literally had no room to resent big girls, because, right about now, Camille might make a good Lane Bryant model.
She stood and opened the center section of the eighties style French closet doors. Her closet offered varieties of only black and gray. Shades for the self-conscious.
She pulled a knit dress from the closet and grabbed undergarments from her drawer on the way to the bathroom, sidestepping the areas where carpet had worn thin enough to expose the staples.
The bathroom mirror added insult to injury. The under-eye circles could be softened with concealer, discolorations with bootleg MAC foundation. Those off-white teeth, however, required a professional. If she could afford dental insurance, she might even be able to replace the "temporary" crown she'd been wearing so long she'd probably need a porcelain veneer at this point.
After plopping her clothes onto the toilet seat, Camille further surveyed herself at thirty. Nothing was the way it used to be. The whites of her eyes, once bright and shiny, had lost their glimmer, thanks to crooning in smoke-filled nightclubs trying to get rediscovered. Patches of dry skin lightened some areas on her otherwise caramel brown complexion. Her lips, which had actually been mentioned once in People magazine for their "perkiness," seemed to have taken a permanent downturn at the corners. They reminded Camille of her deceased mother's lips. Momma was always concerned. Worried.
Maybe if Camille worried more, she would get more done with her life. But as it stood, she wasn't concerned enough to worry. Wouldn't make much difference anyway.
Once out of the shower, Camille made a half-hearted effort to make herself presentable for work. Somehow, men didn't quite view Camille as the washed-up ex-beauty she knew she was. A trip to the corner gas station brought a misguided suitor toward Camille's ten-year-old Lexus coupe. Try as she might to dissuade him by avoiding eye contact and pretending to dial numbers on her phone, the tall, thin brother approached her nonetheless.
He took the liberty of resting a closed fist on the trunk.Way too close for a first encounter. Camille might have made a run for the store if he hadn't been wearing obnoxiously loud cologne and cheap transition glasses that barely reacted to the early-morning sunlight. Sure signs of a harmless wannabe player.
"Your man ought to be out here pumping gas for you," he remarked, his silver grill exposing the fact that he, too, resisted the thirtysomething years racking up on his life calendar.
Camille knew her response was supposed to be either, "I don't have a man," or something to the effect that her man was sorry, which would, of course, give this amateur an opportunity to step in for an unhappy-chick rescue mission. Instead, Camille replied, "He's out of the country handling business."
Undaunted, this smooth operator examined the pump panel. "He must not be handling it too good, got you putting cheap gas in this luxury car. Gonna mess up your engine, you know that?"
Camille dared not reveal her special remedy for saving on gas: alternate regular with premium. She looked the stranger dead in the eyes. Were it not for Miss Norris's super-scary Sunday school warning that we should always be nice to strangers because they might be angels in disguise, Camille might have flat told this guy to leave her alone. Really, why waste his time when Mrs. Loud Cologne might be down the row at pump number seven?
Camille chose a condescending rebuttal. "Well. People handle things well, not good."
"Whichever one it is, sweetheart, he ain't doin' it." He raised an eyebrow. Stood silent. Then his facial muscles jumped an inch. "Wait a minute. I know you."
Thump-thump in Camille's chest as the attitude slipped away.
"You were the lead singer with that group!" He snapped his fingers. "Aw, man, I can't think of the name."
"Sweet Treats," she helped him out, nodding all the while.
"Yeah!" He hollered and covered his mouth as though he'd just witnessed a monster slam dunk in a basketball game. "Man, that CD was the jam back in the day. And you still lookin' good."
Suffocating a smile, Camille thanked him for the compliments. "Meet me, baby, meet me in the hot tub." He crossed his arms across his chest in slow-dance grinding formation as he sang the familiar lyrics from Sweet Treats's debut compilation. "Girl, I think I lost my virginity to that song. Everybody did!"
Camille seized the opportunity. "You want an autographed CD?"
Camille pushed the trunk icon on her key fob. The trunk popped up. She ripped open one of three identical boxes and pried a CD out of its row. She slammed the trunk closed, then fumbled through her purse for a pen.
"What's your name?" She had to get personal before springing the price on him.