Character Interview — Janell Butler Wojtowicz

Today I’m excited to welcome author Janell Butler Wojtowicz as she introduces us to one of her characters,  Chris Witney,  from Embracing Hope . Read all the way through to the end–Janell will give a free ebook to one lucky reader who leaves a comment.

Question: I’m chatting with Chris Whitney, the student president at Riley University. Chris, what does a student senate president do?

Chris (thoughtful, leaning back in the chair, one leg over his knee, arms crossed) – Practically everything. I develop a platform on what we need to do to improve the university. I evaluate what’s working and what’s not working with student concerns. Like a curfew policy in the campus dorms, which is a stupid concept when you think about it. We can vote, join the military and get married, but we have curfews? That’s one reason why I became a commuter student. No curfews in my apartment building! (laughs) I have to coach the inexperienced senate members. (huffs) One is inept. I work with a budget, meager, of course. Most is spent on Homecoming, but I don’t think that’s a waste. Homecoming is the one time of year when the kids can cut loose and have fun.

You have a close working relationship with Drew McKinley, the dean of students. How’s that going? Any tension?

Chris (leans over, interlocking his fingers) Drew and I are tight, like this. I can almost read his mind. He’s a guy who wants it right and wants it right now. Once he makes up his mind he won’t change it. We’re a lot alike that way—stubborn (sits up straight.) Tension? Sometimes we’ve gone head-to-head, but I can stand up to him.

Drew’s had a difficult time since losing his wife. How’s he doing?

Chris (shrugs): His job keeps him focused on something besides his personal life. He works a lot. I’ve heard he sometimes spends nights in his office, poor guy. He likes hanging out with students—has lunch with them in the dining hall—so that’s been a good distraction. He needs to find another girl and remarry; have kids.

Where are you from?
I grew up on a farm in central Iowa. It’s a big farm—a corporation, actually: 3,000 acres; cattle, horse breeding business; fifteen employees. (shakes his head vigorously) But I’m not meant for the farm. I don’t want to wear overalls and haul honey.

Honey? You raise bees?

Chris (outburst of laughter): Honey is a nice term for manure. You’re definitely city-bred.

What are your career aspirations?

Chris: I’m a finance major; I love working with money! My goal is corporate, international, corner office on the 50th floor, beautiful secretary—I guess you’re supposed to call them administrative assistants now. Whatever.

Is there anyone special in your life?

Chris (playful smile, wink): It wouldn’t look good if the senate president didn’t have a date to the important events. I’ve dated a few girls; none seriously, though. They get clingy and want to get married. You know, earn their MRS degree. I’d like someone more mature; who knows who she is—and totally devoted to me. (smooth laugh)

Since Chris has so graciously answered all these questions, let’s put Janell in the hot seat by asking her some tough questions:

What is your Favorite Food? White cake with buttercream frosting “as thick as a Lutheran hymnal.” I believe cake is just a foundation for the frosting.

If you couldn’t write what would you do? I developed an interest in cake decorating when my mother would buy me fancy birthday cakes made by our neighbor’s mother. When I was just starting my journalism career I would bake and decorate cakes. I’d bake them for family birthdays or holidays, but once I baked sheet cakes for a friend’s college graduation reception. It would be fun to get back into it, especially with all the cake decorating tools available. I love Cake Boss, Cake Wars and Cupcake Wars on the Food Channel. My granddaughter, who is just 11, has expressed an interest in cake decorating, too. We even took a class at a craft and hobby store.

Janell Butler Wojtowicz cake

 Do you prefer to cook or bake? Why? I prefer baking. (Can you can see the trend here?) I have a sweet tooth, obviously. I like the creativity of making cookies and cakes. They’re also comfort food to me. Baked goods aren’t eaten right away like a meal; people can savor them later and over time. They find a home in the cookie jar or on a cake plate. And most people love baked goods. We have a weekly social hour at our condo and I always bring something sweet. My neighbors have come to expect some sort of baked goods from me; if my husband and I don’t go, we hear from some who missed the goodies.

About Janell
Janell Butler Wojtowicz, born and raised on an Iowa farm, was one of those kids who loved to write the dreaded “What I did on summer vacation” essay. She has spent her entire 30-year career in writing, including newspaper journalism, Christian higher education public relations, and local government public information. She and her husband, Frank, live in New Brighton, Minnesota. “Embracing Hope” is her debut novel; click here for an introduction.

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Sneak Peek into Embracing Hope

Chapter One

Drew McKinley twisted the gold wedding band around and around his finger then made a tight fist. He wandered over to his office window and stared at the scurry of activity on the Riley University quad. The scene brought a spark of eagerness that almost overshadowed the sadness clinging to him. Yet the low gray clouds and drizzle wrapped him in a drowsy blanket, and he closed his eyes.

“It’s a new school year, Lord. I need patience, strength, and understanding.” He stopped, not knowing what else to pray for. When he opened his eyes, they rested on the large, white gazebo in the middle of the green expansive quad. His heart thumped at the memory of kissing his wife, Kendra, in front of over two thousand cheering college students when he was introduced as their new dean last September. Had it only been a year? It felt like a lifetime. At times, a horrible dream. Would he ever wake up?

A car horn jolted Drew, and he gazed at the disorganized procession of cars, pickups, motorcycles, and bicycles parading onto the suburban Omaha, Nebraska campus. Within minutes, hundreds of students, ranging from eighteen-year-old, wide-eyed freshmen to forty-something seminarians, fanned out among the stately red brick Colonial Revival buildings.

Inside Williams Administration Hall, the robust aroma of hazelnut coffee from RU Grounded, the coffee shop on the first level, wafted into Drew’s second floor office. Youthful male and female voices echoed up and down the hallways. Sharon Abbott, the assistant dean, hummed “This is the Day the Lord Hath Made” in the outer office. Drew peered out and saw her polishing the top of the desk intended for the new communications specialist. At age fifty-five, Sharon had as much energy as the students. Today, Drew needed that energy.

“Allison starts work today, remember?” Sharon asked as he emerged from his office. “I hoped you’d get to meet her first, but you were tied up with freshmen orientation. Did you read through her resume?” Still holding the can of polish and dust cloth, she scrutinized him with a protectiveness that reminded him of his mother. Despite her five-foot-two buxom stature, she had proven to be a formidable presence with the students—and him.

Drew nodded and shrugged on his charcoal gray suit jacket then tightened his red and white striped tie. When Kendra had given him the tie that first Christmas they were married, he had joked that it looked like a candy cane. It was his favorite.

“R-U ready?”

Startled by the booming voice behind him, he spun around to the cheery face of campus pastor Mitch Lindstrom.

“Just about.” Drew misbuttoned his jacket and with an impatient sigh rebuttoned it. The tie didn’t feel right, either, so he started over. He would never get used to tying it himself.

“Are you OK?” Mitch’s smile dimmed and his eyes behind the glasses registered concern, which irritated Drew.

“I’m fine.” He hesitated then returned to his office and picked up the new Bible from the corner of his cluttered mahogany desk. Andrew Everett McKinley was embossed in gold script at the bottom of the black leather cover. It was Kendra’s last Christmas gift to him. “What’s the student senate’s theme verse this year?” He opened the Bible, but didn’t have a clue where to look.

Mitch’s forehead furrowed. “You’re the one who chose it: Psalm 16:11.”

Drew paged through the crisp pages, found the passage, and accepting a yellow Post-It note from Sharon, marked the page and closed the Bible. Mitch led the way out of the office suite. The two men sauntered down the cavernous corridor of the three-story edifice and down the mahogany curved staircase. He sensed Mitch’s scrutiny, so he squared his shoulders and tried to look motivated.

Mitch broke the silence. “It’s going to be a great year.”

The inane comment from the articulate pastor pulled a chuckle from Drew. “Can’t you think of anything better to say?”

“Yes. You’ve been distracted the last couple of weeks, and I’m worried about you.”

“I can take care of myself,” he muttered, glancing at his Rolex watch: seven-forty-five.

“I know you can, but are you?” Mitch asked.

Drew patted his friend on the shoulder as they stepped outside. The sun burst through the clouds bathing the campus in golden morning light. People streamed up the sidewalks toward Riley Community Church greeting the two men with enthusiasm. Drew took a deep cleansing breath of the rain-freshened air and his sadness waned.


And now for how to enter to win a free copy of Embracing Hope: Leave a comment and we’ll randomly draw one winner.

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