A couple of years ago, I came across an article in Bazaar Magazine written by Matilda Kahl, an art director for a leading advertising agency located in New York. This article fascinated me for several reasons: (1) because, like her, I consider myself a creative type, (2) because I love fashion and am always trying to figure out ways to build a more successful and professional wardrobe, and (3) because for a short stint, I was a fashion consultant. After reading Matilda’s article about why she decided to establish her own “work uniform,” I was intrigued, and I’ve shared this with every section of my Internship Preparation class each semester. As you can imagine, some lively discussions ensued.
The premise of Matilda’s decision to build a black and white work uniform is based in logic and created for simplicity. By taking the “creativity” out of selecting and creating a fashionable and unique outfit each day for work, Matilda puts that energy to work for her incredibly creative job. Her black and white uniform consists of black bottoms and white or cream-colored tops; she accessorizes with scarves or bows. Additionally, she said she did not skimp on the quality of her clothes; she bought designer clothing and expensive tops and bottoms that she cares for, but the overall idea was that she never has to worry if anything matches or doesn’t work. The simplicity of the way she dresses is always in style.
Look—let’s be real—I don’t know how many of us (a) WANT to do this, or (b) WOULD ENJOY doing this and not get BORED, but it certainly is food for thought. It takes away a lot of stress in the morning when one is rushing out the door for work. And, it does allow room for creative energy to be used elsewhere.
I’ve looked at my own closet—it’s filled with black, that’s for sure. I could surely buy more white tops and make this happen.
Will I? I don’t know. But it sure is an enticing thought.
While my novels always tend to have a happy ending, my short stories do not. I don’t know why they go down this way. It seems to me like short stories—writing in the short form—allows you to write more pointedly, and that, in turn leads sometimes to unhappy little vignettes.
This piece is loosely based on a dream I had. I will say nothing else about it, and I change things around, of course, because it’s fiction as opposed to non-fiction.
This will end up being the first half or third of a short story which I hope to include in my collection of short stories I will publish later this summer.
I hope you enjoy it. And if you twist my arm, maybe it will eventually have a happy ending.
To be continued…
F R I D A Y F I C T I O N — R E G R E T
It was cold and rainy for an April day in the south. The trees were swaying as the rain belted down and gusts of wind caused them to become heavy and bend. The dark clouds moved swiftly across they sky, and Sunny jumped back into her car after dropping her four-year-old at preschool. She sat for a second at the wheel chuckling as she thought about Susie who was dressed in her red raincoat with black polka-dots and matching red boots. Sunny made sure she had put her hood up as they walked into the school. Susie, however, insisted on carrying her ladybug umbrella, despite the fight against the wind. Sunny, on the other hand, didn’t even bother with an umbrella because what was the point? She was about to squeeze a workout in and get sweaty anyway, so what harm would a little more moisture do to her?
The intense gym workouts had become an obsession since Jerry left. If she didn’t get one in each day, she felt as if she would go insane, because, quite frankly, a thirty-seven-year-old woman whose husband just left her and her daughter might actually go stark raving mad over the feeling of utter rejection, not to mention the self-loathing that came along with it. Working out to excess simply made her feel better, at least it had won out over yoga and meditation, and she had tried them too.
The gym was just a few minutes down the road from the school, and Sunny put her signal on and turned right into the parking lot. She took a deep breath, grabbed her towel, ear buds, and cellphone, and got out of the car. The rain had turned to a bit of a mist, and she walked through the door. At the check-in, she swiped her card, and began to walk toward the aerobics studio.
“Sunny?” she heard a male voice call from behind her. She recognized the sound of it, but in the second it took for her to turn around, she quickly hoped it wasn’t him.
She turned and saw him standing before her. It had been just over ten years.
“Nick,” she said, more as a statement and less as a question.
“I thought that was you,” he said. There was only a slight smile as he said it, but it was there. Examining his face in that moment, she was able to recall the old expression he wore for months as she looked at him: the way he felt about her then was the way she felt about Jerry now. “How are you?”
“Good,” she lied. For a moment, she considered telling the truth, that she was anything but good, and rather merely surviving. However, she knew better than to do that and quickly focused on how she looked in her cropped, black exercise bottoms, tight top, and sneakers that looked a little ratty. Her hair was pulled up in a high ponytail, and she was without makeup. She thought about the darkness of the circles under her eyes and that the lines around her eyes must have deepened over the years. Of course she had to run into him when she was not looking her best—or rather more like her worst. After all these years, seeing him now in this manner was part of her punishment. “How are you?” she asked him.
“Very well, yes,” Nick said. “I’ve had a lot of professional success, so I can’t complain.”
She noted the emphasis on “professional” success. She glanced slyly at his left hand. It was without a wedding ring, but that didn’t mean anything anymore. Lots of men didn’t wear wedding bands on their fingers. Still, she wondered.
“So what are you doing in town?” she asked.
“Doing double duty. I’ve got a work engagement, and I’m visiting my mom,” he said.
“That’s convenient,” she said. “Double duty.”
“I suppose,” he said.
He stared at her with his intense brown eyes. There was always something about Nick’s stare that made Sunny feel as if she were completely naked in front of him, as if he could see right through her and down to her soul. Perhaps that’s why he wrote about such things. About broken love and the seeming lack of forgiveness. About people who kill each other’s dreams slowly by making the wrong choices. About love gone wrong.
The thought of it all—even after so many years—made Sunny suddenly not care about her workout. She searched his eyes to see if anything remained. He had never forgiven her. They had said it all so many years ago, and yet it still felt unfinished. The truth was, she would never know. She would never be brave enough to ask him.
He was still looking at her, still staring, and with nothing more to say but those few words exchanged. Ten years of words left unsaid.
“Well, I’ve got to run, Nick. Good to see you,” she said, beginning to walk away.
“But you haven’t even worked out,” he said.
“Wrong class time,” she yelled back, heading for the glass double doors, trying to keep it together, her escape route just steps away.
She got in the car and could feel herself begin to pant. Her hand trembled as she put the key into the ignition. Tears fell onto the steering wheel. It was becoming clearer now—now that she had been through the same. She felt his pain wholeheartedly now and understood why he was so bitter and angry and vengeful for a while. She got why someone incredibly like her in all aspects showed up in his stories sometimes. The names were always changed, but she could see herself in the characters.
Sunny looked at her watch and knew she had time before she had to pick up Susie, so she drove straight home and into the driveway like a maniac. She ran into the house and turned into the study where for years she had kept them all—every single one of his books. Did he know she had read them all a thousand times? Out of her favorite book spilled the letters, the postcards, and the scribbled but never said wedding vows. She gathered up all of Nick’s works in her arms. She loved the scent of the books—especially his books—for in some miraculous way they seemed to smell like him. The titles were all there and she placed them on the floor, stretched out on top of them. Regret was a powerful thing. She cried the entire hour until she had to pick up Susie.
As a university professor who primarily teaches writing courses, one of the best things about connecting my life as a teacher and my life as a writer is just how many times the two intertwine. Whether that intersection means writing a textbook or a book of fiction, I get the opportunity to show students that I indeed do practice what I preach.
Today is another such opportunity. Having placed as a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards book contest for 2017 with Inn Significant, I get the opportunity to use the skills students learn in public relations writing and produce and promote a press release about the award. Promoting ourselves as independent authors is no easy endeavor–just ask any independent artist, whether that includes art, music, writing, acting, film, or dancing. Having to “sell” ourselves and our work or product or capability every day is a job in itself.
The NIEA provided us with a press release catered to our own specific book and genre as a contest finalist. Therefore, I am sharing that here today. It takes perseverance and a lot of tenacity to continue to write and promote a book. This is the third promotion of a novel I’ve worked on, and trust me, you get better at it, but it never gets any easier.
If you know an independent author, the best way to help is to write a review and recommend the book on social media. It’s the most significant way to get that book title into people’s minds, and a positive review certainly helps sell it. On Monday, a local book club came to my home to discuss Inn Significant, as that was their chosen book. They have helped me in more ways than you can imagine, by recommending it and helping me connect with people in Oxford, Maryland, where the story is set. I’m now scheduled to sign books on July 16 at the local bookstore, Mystery Loves Company.
It’s what every writer dreams of — a little recognition for the work you slaved over for a year and a half. Just a little nod to let you know your work was not done in vain.
As I have chosen my own path of writing and publishing as an independent author, whereby I do all the work on the book myself—from writing it to editing it to designing the cover and laying it out for print and for digital media to uploading it and publishing it via my hub Mimosa Publishing—being a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards really means something to me. I am so grateful and thankful to those who read and reviewed Inn Significantat NIEA in order for it to earn a place in the contest. Thank you so much for this honor.
Two years ago, Beneath the Mimosa Tree was also a finalist in this same contest. I was tickled pink then, and I’m tickled pink now.
Being an independent author is not really all that glamorous, as you can surmise from the grunt work I just shared that we must do; there is no one else who does it for us. We get down and dirty. We have people help us edit. We write, revise, write some more, and revise some more. We spend hours on a book—and trust me, it’s not for the money. We do it for the sheer love of the craft: of writing, of storytelling, and of making those who read our books happy they picked it up.
That’s the very simple answer as to why I continue to write and be an independent author.
It’s not easy to break into the publishing world, and years ago, writers did not have the means by which to publish ourselves. Places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble make it easy for people like me who have the knowledge of publishing books (and magazines, as I also have the experience as editor of Orioles Magazine) and are not afraid to tackle this process. For that, I am thankful. We didn’t have this avenue 15 years ago. Just as musicians and YouTubers have independent avenues, so do we, as writers.
To the people who actually read my books and tell me they like them, thank you. You all push me to want to tell you even better stories each time I sit down to write.
So, thank you EVERYONE. Thank you to readers of Steph’s Scribe, thank you to those who have written reviews of my books, thank you to readers of my books, and especially, today, thank you to NIEA for this recognition.
You made my weekend.
About Inn Significant: A Novel
Two years after receiving the horrifying news of her husband Gil’s death, Milly Foster continues to struggle to find her way out of a state of depression. As a last-ditch effort and means of intervention, Milly’s parents convince her to run their successful Inn during their absence as they help a friend establish a new bed and breakfast in Ireland. Milly reluctantly agrees; when she arrives at the picturesque, waterfront Inn Significant, her colleague, John, discovers a journal written by her late grandmother that contains a secret her grandmother kept from the family. Reading her grandmother’s words, and being able to identify with her Nana’s own feelings of loss, sparks the beginning of Milly’s climb out of the darkness and back to the land of the living.
Yesterday, students at Stevenson University celebrated their graduation at our ceremonies in Maryland. As a professor in the department of Business Communication, I was thrilled to see our graduates walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. They worked hard the last four years, and it paid off.
As for my colleagues and me, that means we are done teaching until August (unless some are teaching a summer course). While we certainly have preparations to make for the Fall 2017 semester (and I will be teaching a newly created course as well that requires a lot of work), we are free to do some things we want to do during our time off. I’ve compiled a list of the 8 Things Teachers Enjoy During Summer Break having spoken to countless teachers who enjoy the down time between the school year. Here are 8 things teachers may do during their summer break:
Clean: The summer months provide ample time to get to those projects that have been sorely neglected. For example, next week I will be tackling the dissection of my garage. We’ve lived in our home for 4 years, and it’s time to do some major cleaning—the kids have grown, and we no longer have a need for toys, old sports equipment, and certain memorabilia. Cleaning out offices and closets are also high on the list of summer projects.
Read: During the semesters or school year, we grade a lot of written work, and we bring a lot of that home with us, which leaves little time to read for fun…just ask my book club; I barely have time to finish some of the books we choose throughout the year. Summer reading means we can immerse ourselves into our own pleasures, which includes books we want to read and books we need to read. There is nothing better than catching up on a few good books.
Travel: My colleague, Heather, is off to Italy; others are heading to the Outer Banks; our family is gearing up for another trip to Hilton Head with a stop in Charleston. My husband and I are planning our 20th anniversary trip. Summer is the best time for teachers with children to travel—no one misses school days as everyone is off. Traveling allows us to decompress, de-stress, and relax in a location we have selected. Whether it’s a long vacation or short day trips, travel allows us to become connected to people and places in the most fascinating ways.
Write: Summer allows us time to write, especially for those of us who have to present at conferences, research our discipline, and publish works as part of our academic careers. It also allows us time to write creatively—especially for those of us who have a creative spirit and write on the side.
Exercise: It’s true. I find I have much more limited time to work out during the school year as I have that responsibility along with the responsibility of taking care of my family. In the summer, there is no excuse for not squeezing in a workout, a long walk, a bike ride, or a swim at the pool. Making time to spend on our health and well-being is important, and summer is great time to start making strides towards better health.
Garden: I was talking to my colleague Roger yesterday before graduation ceremonies, and he was telling me about how he couldn’t wait to begin tackling his garden. He, like many others, enjoy the serenity gardening brings us. It’s also a great way to get a little exercise and tend to nature and see the beautiful results of your labor as flowers bloom and veggie and fruit plants provide you with fresh offerings right from your yard.
Reconnect: Being a teacher doesn’t leave a lot of time for social interactions simply because our work and family life commitments can be time consuming, both inside and outside of the classroom. Summer offers teachers time to reconnect with neighbors and friends at neighborhood functions, barbecues, pools, clubs, or at adult socials.
Indulge: Summer provides teachers the time to indulge in our favorite hobbies—and that can involve anything! It could mean attending baseball games, making pottery, taking photographs, running, or painting. It’s important to have hobbies, and the summer months offer teachers time to reconnect with some of their interests and talents.
I know I haven’t hit them all, but I think I’ve covered some of the main things teachers get excited to do during the summer months. If I’ve missed something, please let me know, and truly, HAVE A GREAT SUMMER, FELLOW TEACHERS!
DISCLAIMER: Please forgive the quality of the photos today. I took pictures through the plastic of our wedding albums. I love you all, but not enough to take them out of their sleeves and destroy my albums.The quality of the actual photographs is gorgeous. 🙂
On November 1, 1997, my husband and I tied the knot in a small, quaint Methodist church in Arnold, Maryland (outside of Annapolis), and then held our reception in the Ulmstead Barn–a barn in my parents’ neighborhood. I’d always imagined having the reception there; there was something romantic and nostalgic about hosting our family and friends in a unique place that not everyone has access to (you can only rent the barn if you live in the neighborhood).
However, there was one problem: it was a functioning barn with horses on the ground floor, and on the top level, there were two rooms that could function as space for a reception. But that was it. We had to bring everything in to make it work. But I was up for the challenge, was an avid reader of Martha Stewart Weddings, and had an idea of how I could make it feel like the final scene in “White Christmas” (which my dad later told me the reception reminded him of that movie).
The barn had no air conditioning, and so we felt safe picking November 1. It rained and it was warm that day–not at all what we had expected. But nevertheless, it came together, albeit that we were all little toastier than we thought we would be.
I had visited a farm outside of York, PA, and picked all of my plants, pumpkins, gourdes, etc. which would be used as decorations for the event. My bridesmaids and I lined the stairs in bacopa plants and white lights. We strung white lights throughout the room, decorated the fireplace with fall colors, and put white linens on every table. People’s placecards were mini-pumpkins with their names on them as they entered the barn on the main level. It definitely had the feel of a rustic, fall, quaint barn wedding, and many of my huband’s relatives who were used to big, extravagant weddings in hotels in New Jersey said it was the most intimate and sweet wedding reception they had attended.
I took it as a great compliment.
Today, with Pinterest and Instagram, two social media platforms that didn’t exist back then (I was tearing things out of magazines and Googling, but there wasn’t anything like those!), people can get all kinds of amazing ideas for weddings. And barn weddings seem to be quite popular. My cousin Lizzy also was married and had her reception in a barn. It was stunning.
As I have begun to draft a sequel to Inn Significant and am playing around with the idea of a barn on the site of the Inn which will hold weddings and parties, I have done a lot of research on barns and barn weddings via Pinterest and the Internet. Also having written a textbook on Event Planning (Event Planning: Communicating Theory & Practice published by Kendall-Hunt) with my colleagues and friends Chip and Leeanne, I have a lot of experience in event planning from my days working at the Baltimore Orioles doing large-scale event planning, along with masterminding my own wedding from start to finish, I think I may be able to bring realistic touches to my novel.
And so, I continue to be obsessed with barn weddings. You see, it doesn’t go away just because my own wedding happened almost 20 years ago. And now I can take that love and roll it into fictional storytelling and make it exactly how I want it.
It’s good to be a writer. 🙂
Some of my current favorite barn venues for weddings include these three…
I’m not saying I’m going to do this. Making a commitment to writing another book may be too much for me right now, but the other day, I could “hear” Milly’s voice in my head, so I sat down and wrote.
Maybe I’m not done with her yet. Maybe I’m not done with her story and the story of the Inn.
What follows is what came right from my head to my fingertips as I typed, and is what could potentially be the beginning of a sequel. I’ve never written a sequel before, and the notion of it scares me a little because there’s a lot of pressure to do the first book justice. Nevertheless, I’ve heard what some of you have said…that there’s still more story there…and I’m toying with it.
To those of you who have read Inn Significant, I’d love feedback. I need it.
I’m not sure if this is what’s next on my writing horizon or not…but I would appreciate any input you may have.
We shall see, my friends. We shall see.
By the way, the inspiration for how the barn looks comes from this barn, the White Sparrow Barn in Texas. It’s stunning.
T h e S e q u e l t o I n n S i g n i f i c a n t (maybe)
C h a p t e r 1
The wind whipped, bending the trees in half, as the storm began to wreak havoc on our small town. The river looked angry, as it tossed the white caps into the air and pummeled the shoreline. We had just spent the previous weekend planting vibrant crepe myrtles, miniature cypress trees, and a variety of shrubs and flowers around the perimeter of our new, bright white structure with a light grey tin roof. The long, curvy, slate walkway was completed just two days ago, and the lights that lined it were supposed to be installed today.
No such luck.
We were down to the wire with our first wedding scheduled in two weeks, and the storm was certainly going to set back our timeline—by days. All of the tables and chairs were scheduled to be delivered this week, the chandeliers needed to be installed as they had arrived late from our vendor, and the remaining final touches of paint and sinks for both the men’s and women’s bathrooms were on the docket to be finished over the next seven days.
And while all this might sound a bit desperate and chaotic at the last minute, the construction had gone swimmingly. The barn had been built in record time; its soaring, vaulted ceilings and windows allowed natural light to flow inside it—and it turned out exactly as our architect, Simone, had designed it. She was instrumental in planning a venue that suited the land, matched the feel of the existing Inn, and offered a picturesque setting for weddings and other special events. The sliding doors on the river side of the barn were crafted to open fully to a covered patio with waterfront views, and they were dreamy to say the least. We had decorated the patio with potted boxwoods and cascading flowers planted in urns, which we had moved inside last night before the storm hit to preserve them.
This behemoth of a tropical storm, as it was now being referred to by weatherpersons on every news channel, was churning up a lot of debris, and I’d never witnessed the Tred Avon looking so violent. The Chesapeake Bay was thrashing even more than the river, and pictures of flooded downtown Annapolis had made the news highlights this morning. The images of the storm reminded me of what had happened to Nana’s dear Ferio as he endured that fateful hurricane so long ago. The thought of it all sent a chill up my spine, and I couldn’t help but worry about some folks who may not have taken proper precautions and made their way to safety.
Mother Nature does not mess around. When she has something to say, she tends to say it in a big way, just to make sure we’re all paying attention, and we are quickly reminded that we must respect her authority.
I stood on the porch of Inn Significant in my rainboots and blue raincoat and watched as Oxford got pummeled. My mother was inside making a huge pot of soup for all of us in case we lost electricity, which was certainly a possibility, but hadn’t happened yet. Despite the deluge from the sky and raindrops the size of small pancakes, it was still warm out. John and I had scurried over in our SUV, crawling at about five miles per hour, but my new house—the one I bought impetuously—was only about three quarters of a mile away. We had secured that property—the one that we would soon live in together—and decided to weather the storm at the Inn. There were no guests booked, as everyone had cancelled when the latest weather report concluded that treacherous weather was indeed approaching.
While the renovation on our new place was being done, John had remained living on the grounds in his cottage on my parents’ property. Truthfully, we were enjoying a little bit of courtship before our own wedding, which was set for later in the year.
I looked down and touched the diamond he had given me after we had fully committed to each other and our relationship. Sometimes it felt surreal.
The ring was stunning—and much bigger than the one Gil had given me during our humble beginnings when we were very young and didn’t have any money. John had a lot of money saved up over the years, and he prided himself on being able to give me a ring that, as he said, “was as beautiful as I was, inside and out.”
Those are the kinds of words you can get used to hearing for the rest of your life.
A bolt of lightening flashed in the distance, and seconds later, the boom of thunder sounded and echoed across the river. I felt the porch tremble, and I must admit, I did as well. It also must have startled the seagull that was perched under a tree, for he took off flying against the torrential rain, battling the wind that offered tremendous resistance. And yet, the seagull somehow prevailed and made it safely to another perch.
I stood on the porch and watched as the river sang a much different tune today than it did most days in our town; I wanted it all to be over.
There was something ominous about it, and I didn’t care for it at all.
–Copyright 2017/Stephanie Verni/All Rights Reserved
I always knew I wanted to have children, and I think at one point, I thought I’d have a lot of them.
That was until my daughter almost killed me during delivery, and as well as from the aftereffects of said delivery. Honestly, if she had been born before my son, I would only have one kid. What happened during that delivery scared the living daylights out of me. I knew I’d never have another child after that. (Which actually, was quite convenient, as my husband was content with two kids: a boy and a girl.)
And yet that incident left me second-guessing, which starts to become the mantra of a mother. You’ve heard your friends and family members tell a story about their child and then add on, “I should have done this….” It’s true. We do it. It’s easy to continually second-guess yourself about how you’ve raised (and continue to raise) your kids. Did I do enough? Have I been supportive enough? Honest enough? Loving enough? Understanding enough? Tough enough?
You get it, right moms? The list goes on and on. The truth is, we’re not perfect. No one is.
We can second-guess ourselves until the cows come home. (And I’m told, eventually, the cows do come home, but it could take a while).
So my thought for this Mother’s Day is a simple one: we have to stop questioning ourselves.
Hear me clearly:
You have done enough. You are doing enough. You are enough. Your kids love you despite your mistakes, your occasional bad moods, your tendency to say “no” sometimes for their own good, your chaotic schedules and long work hours, your incapacity to ride the big rollercoaster at the theme park, and your ability to always rise above any nonsense and always be able to hug them and tell them that you love them.
When I read what my kids wrote in my card today for Mother’s Day, I realized a couple of things: (1) they say sweet things—and they mean them, and (2) no second-guessing is going to stop me from being the best damn mother I can be, even when it’s hard, even when I don’t always agree with them, even when I see things differently than they do, and even when they say they don’t need help with something, but they really do.
Being a mother means we have that “mom radar”—we know when guidance is needed, when a hug is needed, and when lending an ear and really listening can make all the difference.
I’m not a perfect mom, and I don’t pretend to be one. I’ve lost my cool. I’ve yelled (I’m Italian—what the hell do you expect?) I say stupid stuff sometimes when they want to hear something else.
Nevertheless, I am a mother, and I know I am learning right along with them as we all continue to grow together.
And second-guessing our past decisions, tactics, and methodologies won’t do anyone any good. We do the best we can. Each. And. Every. Day.
Yesterday on Instagram, a fellow writer I follow who follows me back asked for input from other writers. Her question was this: How do you write authentic characters, and then how do you make them sound convincing in dialogue?
As someone who has written three fiction books and teaches the subject of writing, I have some advice I can offer. I may not be perfect, and I may be an indie author, but I think I have some ideas to share that may be helpful. I enjoy offering tips to beginning writers because we’ve all been there. These tips are from experience and encompass the best advice I can give from my own perspective.
First, let’s tackle making characters authentic and believable. To begin, you have to have a pretty good sketch of your character. To illustrate my points, I’m going to use John, a main character from my newest book, Inn Significant. Milly, the other main character, is the narrator, so it’s up to me as the writer to showcase John as Milly sees him throughout the book through her eyes. Let’s begin.
John’s Character Sketch
John is 38 years old. He was in the military and had a couple of heartbreaking and powerfully disturbing experiences when he was overseas flying military aircraft. These experiences haunt John, and while I never come out and say he has PTSD, he has PTSD. As the writer, I know this about him. This is the makeup of John that leads him to want to live a simple life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland working at an Inn in a small town (where he is from). He wants nothing complicated. He works for Milly’s parents at the Inn and has his own cottage on the grounds. From this point, I made a list of other things John likes in order to “see” him as a character—and to keep me on track as I wrote him. What are some other characteristics about John? He’s kind. He’s helpful. He likes doing things to please others. He likes to sneak into the Inn’s kitchen at night and whip up his grandmother’s muffins for the guests. He is an artist, which is how he relieves his stress. He runs every day. He’s in shape. He has high cheekbones and is tanned from working outside in the gardens. He drinks Gatorade. He listens to James Taylor. He’s close with his family, and he adores his grandmother. He’s respectful. He’s loyal. And he’s always been incredibly fond of Milly, even when she was married (before her husband suddenly passed away). He likes to read, but isn’t a writer. He owns a boat and likes to kayak.
That’s my basic character sketch of John. These were the things I knew about him as I began to write.
Knowing all these things about him helped me write dialogue that works. So how can you write dialogue that works? To me, you know the characters so well that you can picture exchanges happening as if you are watching a movie. You almost have to pretend they are real. How would you like to see things unfold? How would the characters relate to one another? What would a realistic scene sound like?
Keeping these questions in mind will help you write your dialogue scenes in a way that you should write them. And my other big tip on writing dialogue that works is to read it out loud many times to yourself, and if possible, read it aloud to someone you trust to get feedback.
As an example of this, I will share an exchange between John and Milly from my book; this exchange takes place the first night John asks Milly to hang out with him in the Inn’s kitchen and only her second day working at the Inn (she’s filling in for her parents who have gone away for a year). Milly has not been alone with a man since her husband’s death two and a half years prior, so she’s a little awkward and nervous, but trying to relax as he’s baking.
The Excerpt from Inn Significant
I watched John move around with ease, almost ambidextrous in nature, gliding around effortlessly, pulling items and food from cabinets and pantries. He opened the oven to check the temperature. He mixed up a gooey batter in a sturdy, red mixing bowl with a matching red Williams-Sonoma spatula.
“I’m sorry. I already started the process when I decided to knock on your door,” he said. “This batch is mixed.”
He filled the muffin cups with the batter, letting it pour into each cup, and when they were all filled, he slid the entire tin of what looked like perfection into the oven.
“Would you care for a cup of tea?” he asked, attempting to conjure up a British accent. It didn’t go too well, and we both smiled.
“Yes. Decaf, please,” I said, attempting to produce a similar accent in response, but failing miserably at it.
“Got it,” he said as he began making it.
“I feel silly just sitting here not helping.”
“Don’t. It’s my grandma’s recipe, and because a little birdie told me you didn’t try one this morning, I’m going to make you try one as it comes out of the oven. Your mother told me that your writing career began with food reviews. I’m looking forward to your verdict.”
“That was a long time ago, when I actually was a writer and it meant something.”
“I understand,” he said. “But I’d still like to hear your review of Grandma’s muffins.”
“I’m feeling extraordinary pressure to like them,” I said.
“The word ‘like’ shouldn’t be a part of your vocabulary when you’re describing treats you will salivate over,” he said with a wink. “That’s something you do on Facebook. As a writer and former food critic, I expect a far more elaborate and eloquent dissection and analysis of the food from you.”
“I’m better on paper,” I teased.
When the timer went off, he pulled the first batch out of the oven, steam rising off the tops ever so slightly, and then sat across from me at the table.
“Have one of these,” he said, and he placed a hearty, substantial treat onto my delicate plate adorned with roses.
“A crunchy muffin?” I asked. It appeared to be hard on the bottom with some sort of loose, sugary topping that resembled a crumb bun on top.
“Grandma will want to know if you like her recipe.”
I remember distinctly when I wrote my first novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and I read a passage back to my husband. I was writing from a 32-year-old man’s point of view, and I needed to know if Michael would say what I had written. I read the passage aloud to my husband, and when I was done, I stopped.
“Is that what Michael would say?” I asked my husband.
“No,” he said. “Michael would not say that.”
“What would he say, then?” I asked my husband, seeking help with the paragraph, especially because my husband happens to be A MAN.
“I don’t know,” he said, “but he wouldn’t say that.”
I reworked that paragraph at least ten times until finally, I read it aloud once more, and my husband said, “That’s it. That’s what Michael would say.”
And that, my friends, is why you seek input from others and why it takes time to write something vivid, meaningful, and realistic.
I want to turn off my brain, have someone else serve me brunch (which we have already arranged, thank goodness!), and do, as Audrey Hepburn says in Roman Holiday, “just whatever I’d like for a few hours.”
I think there’s a misconception with regard to Mother’s Day and gift-giving that we “need stuff.” I don’t need anything at all that’s tangible and store-bought. I’m going to speak for tired mothers around the world when I say this: You can just hand us our tiaras and let us do what we please.
All we need is a little serenity and peace; we might even like to curl up with a good book or watch an old movie.
Honestly, that’s all we want.
Well, that and maybe a little chocolate.
There have been a couple of new reviews that I’ve loved seeing on Amazon about Inn Significant. I’m still getting a lot of positive feedback on the book with several people telling me it’s the best of my three novels. While each one is incredibly special to me, I take that as a wonderful compliment. I would certainly hope my storytelling gets better each time. At least, that’s what I aim for with each piece of fiction I write.
I suppose I’ve always had a fascination for living near the water, and it shows up in my writing. Inn Significant, my latest novel, is set in an Inn on the Tred Avon River in Oxford, Maryland, and features a love story within a love story. There’s something wholly romantic about living near the water, the peacefulness of it all, and the sentimental feelings I have about it come out in my storytelling.
Today, I thought I’d feature the first poem I ever had published a few years ago. I’ve been writing poetry for ages (I think my earliest poem dates back to 6th grade), but I don’t often share my poetry with people, as it can be incredibly intimate and make me feel a little uncomfortable, because it often comes from a place deep down within your soul. However, I’m going to brave it this summer and include some of my poetry in my upcoming book that features short stories and poems called The Postcard and Other Short Stories & Poetry. Wish me luck. I am not entirely comfortable putting these personal thoughts out there, but I guess I have to get over that (which is why I prefer writing fiction–you can hide behind the make believe).
The poem I’m sharing today was featured on The Whistling Fire, which is no longer in existence, so I feel that I can post it now on this blog. It’s one of many poems that will be featured in The Postcard.
Let me know what you think. It’s a sestina poem , and this type of poem is tough to write because the words at the end of each line must remain the words at the end of each line throughout the poem, but in a different order for each stanza as you build the poem. As you will see, my repetitive words are as follows: sea, garden, children, direct, cherish, and beauty. There’s an order to it, and if you like to challenge yourself, I suggest you attempt a sestina.
In the meantime, here’s The Things He Cherished.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
T H E T H I N G S H E C H E R I S H E D, A S E S T I N A
by Stephanie Verni
In my cottage by the sea,
hours spent admiring the garden,
I wait patiently for my children
to return home, direct
from the city to cherish
this place. Its specialness and beauty.
Flowers, surf, majestic beauty—
sharp, blue sky against the sea,
it reflects in my children’s eyes; I cherish
watching them work in the garden
my husband’s eyes in theirs, a direct
melding of our souls into those of our children.
My son, my daughter, walk the lane. My children
still seem so young, their beauty,
their clear sense of life’s direction,
wanting to pay homage to their father, ashes in the sea.
My tears water the garden—
this garden that he cherished.
And oh! He cherished
this home, his dream, and his children,
his handprints still fresh in the garden
his loving touches made it beautiful.
The wind, the water. How he loved the sea–
echoes of his voice saying they provided him direction.
Now heaven’s offering him direction
from above—a new view to cherish–
this diminutive cottage dwarfed by the sea.
Will he see our children?
Will he remember the beauty
he created, lovingly, tenderly in the garden?
My hands are not those of a gardener,
his passion for it—teaching the children
his tricks. How to tend to nature’s beauty,
wanting something to cherish.
Grateful for them, knowing my children
will comfort me in his cottage by the sea.
Memories alive in the vibrant garden.
We’re here. Direct sun sparkles off the sea.
He, at peace. The things he cherished.
It’s a prayer all of us have sent up at some point in our lives: Please, God, don’t let the small, rambunctious kid sit near me on the plane.
Sometimes prayers get answered.
Sometimes, they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I love children, especially my own more than others, but when I’m packed in like a sardine on my way to a pleasant vacation—or even worse, on my way home from a pleasant vacation—the last thing I want is a fussy, crying, obnoxious kid sitting next to me on my journey from which there is no escape until we land. I already come to the journey on an airplane with a touch of claustrophobia each time I buckle the lap belt, recognize that there’s no getting off no matter what, and carefully consider whether or not to fight for an armrest. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of confinement, even if it’s taking me to or from a splendid place. In nonverbal communication, we call the study of the spatial requirements that affect human interaction and behavior proxemics, and quite frankly, I need all the personal space I can get to ward off anxiety.
So, what happened was this: I saw the kid coming and sent the prayer up.
Now, make no mistake—I’m not mad at God, because I know how busy He can be and completely understand the magnitude and quantity of other pressing requests and matters that must take precedence over mine. But at least give me brownie points for trying.
I had spotted the family earlier in the airport as we waited at the terminal, but we boarded before they did. I sensed that there might be a disturbance in the force, as the kid seemed to be a handful. Along with my husband and kids, we said hello to the pilot, scooted down the aisle, found our spot, and settled in.
Just as we were all positioning ourselves and getting comfortable, I looked up and saw that family heading straight for us.
Low and behold, the family sat directly in front of me with the kid, while the grandmother was seated across from them on the aisle seat. I tried to stay positive and hope for the best. Honestly, I did.
However, for the entire two-hour trip, the kid was passed back and forth from mother to father and over to the grandmother. The kid fussed, cried, screamed, wanted food, didn’t want food, wanted a drink, didn’t want a drink, and threw his blanket and toys into the aisle in a fervent fit of madness. I’m guessing he was between the ages of two and three—and he brilliantly manipulated all three of the adults like a pro. When he didn’t get his way, he demonstrated one of the most sensational temper tantrums I’ve ever witnessed with a high-pitched squeal that made the hairs on your arms go straight up. The entire plane was treated to the kid’s soprano voice, and I noticed the flight attendants, after trying to help, share worrisome glances as they tried to keep their distance from him as much as possible.
Who could blame them? I wanted to do the same. In fact, I almost offered to help the flight attendants pass out peanuts so I could escape the extraordinary octave the kid was capable of reaching (watch out Mariah Carey—he’s coming after your notes).
Needless to say, when we touched down, my anxiety level was at a 12 on a scale of 10. So much for the relaxing flight home from a fantastic vacation.
Moreover, if I’m not mistaken, I think I heard a rumble from the passengers of glee along with a quiet show of applause that we were soon to be…