5 Tips To Help Your Productivity



When I give book talks, people who know I have a full-time, demanding job as a professor—along with an active family life—often ask me when and how I find time to write.

I find that a question funny because we all have the same amount of hours in a day. Some people just use those hours more advantageously than others. I have to laugh because it’s not exactly as if I’m in a jungle in my safari hat fighting through the plants in search of time. If I were, I’d want more of it. We all would.

Hence, this statement: I don’t FIND time to write; I MAKE time to write. And, like most people in life who want to accomplish things, whether it’s schoolwork, activities, professional or personal development, volunteering, or being creative, sometimes our daily responsibilities get in the way of us finding time for the things we feel passionate about ourselves.


It’s true. I am busy, and I do get a lot done in one week. So, what are my suggestions for being more productive? I’ve put my thoughts on paper, and this is what I’ve come up with…

  1. Put away the social media. Honestly, it’s the biggest time suck. Since I’ve put myself on a NEW, SELF-IMPOSED PLAN for social media use, I’m hitting my stride. I just finished reading my 7th book so far in 2018 and am already pages into a new novel. I’ve also been writing a little more during the semesters (I typically have to wait until summer to do the majority of my writing, but I seem to be finding much more time for it now). Create your own plan for how much time you’ll allow yourself to spend on social media a day, and then, let it go and stick to it. It’s amazing how those minutes and hours begin to come back to you. You’ll feel like you found time in that jungle, I promise you. Also, admittedly, I’m a little happier for it. I’m still on social media, but just at a more regulated pace.
  2. Block out time for yourself to work on your projects. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is to block out time that is yours—yours alone for your projects. During this block of time, don’t answer emails, do busy work, or do anything related to being reactive; instead, set this time for yourself to be proactive. In other words, these block of time are for you to do the things you need to do for your job, your passions, or for self-improvement. It can be a challenge, but sometimes routine can help you stay in this mode.hourglass-time-hours-sand-39396.jpeg
  3. Don’t allow the word “procrastination” to cross your lips. Honestly, as a professor, I see what procrastination can do to college students and their work. It’s not good. I have to laugh when students say to me that they wrote the paper the night before and that the assignment was easy. (Seriously–do they not understand that I can tell it was written the night before?) What I say in response to that claim is this: “Think how much better your paper might have been had you allowed more time for it.” Rarely is anything we produce at the last minute exemplary work. If I wrote a novel quickly, believe me, you would be able to tell (and I would want to hide my head in the sand). Projects need time. Give them the time they need.
  4. Keep a list of things to accomplish—check it off each day. I remember when I worked at the Baltimore Orioles, one of the things I would do each night before I left work was to make a “to do” list for myself and set it next to my phone for when I came into the office the next morning. There was such a sense of accomplishment when I was able to check those things off that list. Now, as I write my novels on the side and have a full time job as a professor, I have to keep similar “things to accomplish” lists. It may be as simple as “grade papers,” “write the next chapter,” or “edit pages 1-15.” I won’t say I’m always successful at these lists, but they set the stage for a plan, and I sure do my best to follow them to keep me on track.
  5. Strive to set and meet your deadlines. As an indie author who tries to publish a book every other year, I have to impose my own deadlines. As well, you may have to set your own goals or end times for your projects. Beginning something can be daunting and the process can be ongoing, yet we all need to know when time’s up. If you don’t set a goal for yourself, you could end up in perpetuity trying to finish the project—or you may give up or realize it’s going nowhere and that you wasted your time.

Hopefully, these ideas will help you chart your new course to being more productive. It’s one thing to read this list; however, it’s another thing to begin implementing the list. Give it a try, and let me know how you do.



BooksStephanie Verni is a hopeless romantic, Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University, and the author of Inn Significant,  Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

Giving Away Some LOVE…stories. An Amazon Book Giveaway—Inn Significant

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Want to enter to win a copy of INN SIGNIFICANT?

See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: Inn Significant: A Novel.



Ends the earlier of Feb 11, 2018 11:59 PM PST, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.

I looked around one last time and heard the voices that I sometimes heard when the world was quiet_ You're okay, Milly; you're okay, they said.The door blew open, and then, I was gone.


Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.



Book Marketing & An Infographic

One of the things we independent authors have to continually do is market ourselves, our books, and what we are working on presently.


I am no pro at it, believe me, but I strive each day to work on it and learn something new. Therefore, this morning I told myself I would design a marketing piece—take a new tactic—and that piece is the infographic below that showcases each of my fiction novels with a brief description of what they are about. I’m posting it below for feedback and to hear from other indie authors about what you do. What have been your most successful PR and marketing tools for book sales?

I’d love to hear from you.

For many people, charity is a direct reflection of their own inn

Need a Last Minute Gift for Someone? Steph’s Scribe Shares Our Favorite Books…

If you need a last minute gift for someone, books always are special. Giving a gift of a book is giving a gift of time–time spent with a book, a story, and characters. It’s a great escape and a reason to become involved in someone else’s life for a little while. Reading helps build empathy and understanding, and it’s such a great way to share what you enjoy with someone you care about so that you can talk about the book, too!

Today, Steph’s Scribe is sharing our Favorite Books, and here they are alphabetically by author:

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Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I pretty much love anything by Mitch Albom, but The Five People You Meet in Heaven is my personal favorite. Albom dives into the idea of how our lives touch others, even in the smallest of ways. This story will leave you feeling touched, enlightened, and thinking deeply about how you touch the lives of others. I absolutely love it and had my interpersonal communication class read it.

 Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice.

The story of Elizabeth Bennett as she faces class distinctions, marriages, upbringing, wealth, and love, has remained a well-loved classic of English literature. The love story between Elizabeth and Darcy is one filled with misunderstandings and misinterpretations with regard to their pride and prejudices. Austen brilliantly depicts Elizabeth’s wonderfully strong personality and it is especially noticeable through Elizabeth’s dialogue and exchanges she has throughout the book. Elizabeth is an intelligent, witty, and strong woman for her time. It is my all-time favorite book. Steph’s Scribe also recommends all the Austen books: Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Emma, and Mansfield Park.

Bank, Melissa. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

Melissa Bank brings contemporary wit and situations to her book. In this text, we follow Jane Rosenal as she grows and develops over the years in this collection of developing short stories that build this novel. This book garnered much acclaim; Bank and Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones fame, have been credited for establishing what is known as “Chick Lit.” Bank’s book is rife with intelligence, as she covers dating, loneliness, love, and the trials one must face with relationships.

Berg, Elizabeth. Three favorites: Say When, The Year of Pleasures, and Open House

Elizabeth Berg’s Say When is told from a man’s perspective. He recounts his wife having an affair and we see it all through his eyes. It was interesting because the woman was the “bad guy” in this scenario, and the husband was the one waiting, desperately wanting his wife to return to him. I enjoyed that Berg painted the wife as a bit aloof and tough to like. This perspective made it even more interesting. Steph’s Scribe also recommends a couple of other Berg books: The Year of Pleasures and Open House, which was an Oprah book club selection.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre.

Bronte’s first-person narrative of orphaned Jane Eyre covers Jane at Lowood School and continues as Jane’s becomes a governess to Mr. Rochester’s daughter” Adele. The book has themes of love, morality, understanding, and   forgiveness. After a series of circumstances and after Mr. Rochester and Jane fall in love, the book takes a dark turn for a spell, but eventually ends with Jane and   Mr. Rochester together. Their love story comes full circle. Bronte’s masterful storytelling in first-person keeps the reader tuned-in to the stories that Jane tells from her perspective, often matter-of-factly, of her life at Thornfield Manor.

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights.

In Wuthering Heights, Bronte depicts two tormented lovers, in this part mystery, part ghost story, that is labeled a romance. This story is haunting for a few reasons: the nature of the characters, especially of the brooding Heathcliffe, is brilliantly written; the cruel fate that drives Heathcliffe and Cathy apart is emotionally written; and the struggle for them to continue their love that goes beyond the grave is chillingly written. These factors combine to make Emily Bronte’s novel a classic of literature, and one of the best romances ever written.

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening.

Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a young, married woman with children. When she is on vacation with her husband, she meets a man named Robert with whom she falls in love. This love that she has for Robert makes her more aware of herself, as she uncovers who she is and what her particular wants and needs and interests are. She makes a decision against all conventions, and we see a woman take control of her own destiny. This book caused a stir in its day because of its sexual tones and the outward behavior of an extramarital affair. We see the development of Edna as an independent woman, no matter how tragically it ends.

Davis, Jill. Girls’ Poker Night & Ask Again Later.

I loved both of these books by Jill Davis, a former writer for David Letterman. Davis has a knack for telling lighthearted stories with both punch and a wicked sense of humor. While reading Ask Again Later on the beach, I started laughing so hard I began to cry and my whole family asked if I was okay. I couldn’t help myself; Davis knows just how to throw a zinger in right in the middle of normal conversation. I can see why she wrote for Letterman.

DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Edward Tulane is a selfish, toy, porcelain rabbit that is loved by his owner, Abilene. However, Edward’s selfishness and inability truly to offer love in return, causes him a series of troubles. In this beautifully crafted story told by Kate DiCamillo, Edward transforms, as a series of misadventures pass him along from owner to own. DiCamillo’s storytelling is masterful. Michael Patrick Hearn of The New York Times described DiCamillo in his review of Edward Tulane from 2006 this way: “DiCamillo’s style often echoes the rhythms and aspires to the grandiloquence of Victorian or Edwardian children’s literature. More important for a young audience, she is a refreshingly graceful storyteller with a finely tuned ear for the discerning detail.” DiCamillo’s melodic graces as a writer captured my attention immediately. Two of DiCamillo’s other books, Because of Winn-Dixie and The Magician’s Elephant, are also favorites–and ones to share with the whole family.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol.

There aren’t many novels that have captured the hearts and imaginations of readers like Dickens did with A Christmas Carol. This fantastically witty, amazingly creative, well-told story comes to life year after year. Readers are treated to Scrooge, a memorable character in action and name, and his encounters with ghosts who try to save his soul, and make him a better person during the days he has left. The transformation of Scrooge is enlightening and enjoyable. It delights us and warms our own spirits. From this story, we quote often Scrooge’s words, “Bah! Humbug!” and those of Tiny Tim, “God bless us everyone!”

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic.

This book is for all creative-types out there. We all need to hear what Elizabeth Gilbert has to say about Big Magic. It’s good stuff, you guys. I absolutely love this book. If you know someone who is trying to balance the day-to-day life with the creative life, give them the gift of this book. It’s wonderful and it reaffirmed why I work the way I work and why I write on the side. I can’t stress enough how important it is to hear what Gilbert has to say about creativity in general and how we manage it.

Gregory, Phillipa. The Other Boleyn Girl.

Through Philippa Gregory’s novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, readers are treated to Henry VIII’s court, and the story of Anne Boleyn as told by “the other Boleyn  girl,” her sister, Mary Boleyn. In this graphic novel that showcases the fictional insights of Henry VIII’s obsessions, sexual desires, and madness, Gregory craftily weaves this story. Gregory’s ability to go inside the character’s heads is a treat; historical fiction has never been so much fun.

Gruen, Sara. Water for Elephants.

Gruen weaves a particularly good story; it’s well researched and well told. You will escape into the circus, a sort-of fairy tale, mystical life which is brought to life by realistic characters and their ability to know what’s right and good. And the elephant will become your personal hero.

Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken.

But when we read something as amazing as “Unbroken,” we can’t imagine hearing the story in any other way. Laura Hillenbrand, the author, goes about her craft so meticulously and elegantly, revealing the story at a melodic, somewhat haunting pace, that we cannot tear ourselves away from Louie’s predicaments. We are swept up in his story, and at the end, are left marveling at both his incredible journey and Hillenbrand’s grace as a storyteller.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

While I am not a fan of the creepy horror and suspense novel, I am a fan of Stephen King. This book is one of the few written by a writer for writers that offers inspirational anecdotes and tips. Talk of his “toolbox” and his passion for writing, coupled with a memoir of his life, make it an interesting—and  informative—read. I recommend it to any aspiring writer.

Lawn, Beverly, ed. 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology.

This collection of short stories has proven worthy of being included in my Anthology. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gabriel Barcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” are among the illustrious pieces included in this book.

Miller, Sue.  The Good Mother.

This novel’s subject, characters, and themes remain troublesome, even twenty-four years after it was written. When Miller wrote this compelling, sexually descriptive and revolutionary novel, times were different than they are now. This novel’s frankness combined with the revelation of the character’s innermost sexual thoughts and actions, and their repercussions, rocked women of all kinds, including the feminists, the non-feminists, and those in between. The portrayal of Anna Dunlap as a divorced woman whose world is turned upside down when she takes a lover and ultimately loses custody of her child is shocking, infuriating, and depressing. Miller writes in an exacting manner the slow, torturous downfall of Anna, and we, as flies on the wall, watch it happen the same way we slow to watch a car accident on the side of the highway. It is painful and maddening.

Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus.

The story revolves around a circus that appears in the middle of the night, but it’s not your average circus. It is filled with magic, illusionists, and contortionists. It’s dark and lovely at the same time. It’s about manipulation and control. But at the very heart of it is a love story, though it’s a very different one, indeed. Morgenstern’s prose is sure to captivate you and leave you wanting more of her glorious storytelling.

Moyes, JoJo. The Girl You Left Behind, One Plus One, Me Before You.

JoJo Moyes is one of my favorite contemporary writers of today, and I model my own writing after her brilliance. She is exceptionally great with dialogue, which allows you to get straight to having a relationship with her characters, and falling in love with them. I particularly loved The Girl You Left Behind, as it passes from current time to Nazi Germany. It’s a great story, and amazingly, has a happy ending. I was sobbing by the end of Me Before You (which was made into a film, and it’s not a bad take on the wonderful book), and One Plus One is a lighthearted romp with a child prodigy in math.

Munro, Alice. Open Secrets.

This collection of short stories focuses on women. Munro is at her best as she describes stories about enduring love; long lasting secrets; two childhood friends who recapture their lives; and a woman in Canada who devises a plan to escape what could be a serious fate. Munro’s description and illumination of people, places, and cultures makes her someone  to read and with whom you may want to become better acquainted.

Picoult, Jodi. Change of Heart.

Picoult’s book features controversial and modern subjects; this one focuses on the death penalty and religion in the United States. The story is told by four characters that rotate telling the story, so as a reader, we are privy to thoughts of these four characters. One is a priest, one is an attorney, one is a mother whose daughter and husband have been murdered, and the other one is a prison inmate. Thought provoking and memorable, Picoult’s storytelling wraps its arms around you and pulls you in immediately.

Pilcher, Rosamunde. Coming Home. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.

Rosamunde Pilcher is one of my favorite authors. Her book, Coming Home, is charming from beginning to end. Pilcher is full of description; she takes her time telling a story. The story takes place around World War II in Cornwall, England, so the setting is lovely. In this novel, we follow Judith, the main character, as she goes to boarding school, grows as a woman, and experiences tragedy and romance. This was a best-selling novel for Pilcher. She retired from writing in 2000.

Shreve, Susan Richards. Daughters of the New World.

Shreve begins the novel in 1890 when Anna comes to America from Wales to work for a physician in Washington, D.C. Anna’s daughter, Amanda, then becomes the main character of the book, and we follow the three generations of women that follow her. This is yet another book on my list that focuses on women, their relationships, their trials and tribulations, their successes and their fears. This one has stayed with me since I read it in 1994; I have passed my copy along to many friends.

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why.

My fall special topics class for our newly created agency was required to read this book. Sinek is a great speaker and he understands the “why” behind what people and companies do to be successful. This book is replete with fabulous examples and underlying philosophies that will help you understand why you do what you do. I highly recommend this book for business people and creative types alike. You won’t want to miss out on Sinek’s great interpretations and quotes.

Sparks, Nicholas. The Notebook.

This classic book, the one that really put Nicholas Sparks on the map, is a book we all should read, especially those who are about to marry. It’s so special, and the story is one that will never go out of date, because love—deep love—means forgiveness, kindness, and understanding.

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help.

Gosh, I loved this book about three women, told in alternating perspectives. Two women are hired help (Abilieen and Minny) and one is a college graduate (Miss Skeeter) who sets out to write a book about the situation in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. There’s plenty of drama and humor in this book, and it took Ms. Stockett five years to get it into a publisher’s hand after 60 rejection letters. You will enjoy this beautifully constructed stories about prejudice and friendship.

Trigiani, Adriana. The Shoemaker’s Wife.

I enjoyed reading this sweeping story of Italian immigrants loosely based on the history of the author’s own grandparents. From the mountains of the Italian Alps to New York City to a small town in Minnesota, the characters and sights covered in this novel will allow you to become a part of a different time and place when the world was a different place, America was growing, and World War I loomed. The truth of the matter is this: a good book will never let you down.

Tyler, Anne. Ladder of Years.

I have read this book twice at different times in my life. There is something about Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler that is gripping. Her descriptive language is instrumental to her storytelling, but I think the success of her books has more to do with her characters. In this book, the main character is Delia Grinstead, who (literally) walks away from her family while on the beach in Delaware. At 40, Delia is lost. She doesn’t have a sense of purpose and she does not feel wanted or needed by her family. The story begins as she attempts to forge her own life, and leave her family behind to discover herself. While some of Tyler’s characters can be quite quirky (i.e. Muriel in The Accidental Tourist), Delia seems rather levelheaded, which is why this book intrigues me. Even normal people can do the unimaginable.

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome.

Wharton, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, wrote Ethan Frome in 1911. Ethan Frome is another of the literary tragedies written in Wharton’s style of dramatic irony. The characters of Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie are a fabulous study in character development. Ethan is a sad character, and we get to know him most; however, Zeena and Mattie are sad, too. This triangle of love and entanglement climaxes when we see Ethan barraged with guilt over his feelings for Mattie, his wife Zeena’s cousin who has come to live with them. In a strange twist of fate, an ironic ending comes to pass. Wharton offers us a melancholy look at emotion, love, and guilt, and the repercussions of it all.

White, E.B. Essays of E.B. White.

Known as one of the best essayists and prose writers of our time, E.B. White’s clear, concise style of writing is apparent in his collection of essays. A long-time writer for The New Yorker, E.B. White showcases his talents in this collection, namely in the form of “Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street,” “Death of a Pig,” and “The Geese.” White’s writing is contagious. His deliberate prose is low on adjectives and adverbs, yet beautifully communicates his insightful observations and nuances of them, as well.

Winton, Tim. The Riders.

On a recommendation from one of my friends, I picked up a copy of The Riders. This story, by Tim Winton, makes it to my list for its bizarre storytelling. The strange melding of the actual story with fantasy in this book is intriguing. The story is about a man, Fred Scully, who goes to Ireland to fix up a house. As it nears completion, he awaits the arrival of his wife and child, who are back at home selling their home in Australia. When Scully arrive at the airport to pick them up, only the daughter comes off the plane. From this point on, Scully and his daughter traipse all over Europe trying to find his wife, who has vanished without explanation or communication. This story of desertion, loss, and the panic to understand something that perhaps can never be understood, won Winton a finalist award for the Booker Prize.


Or, if you feel like supporting an INDEPENDENT AUTHOR (me), you could pick up one of these on Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

I N N   S I G N I F I C A N T   ( 2017 )

Inn Significant CoverTwo 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.

Available via Amazon by clicking here.

Available via Barnes & Noble by clicking here.

Finalist – National Indie Excellence Awards


B A S E B A L L   G I R L   ( 2015)


Francesca Milli’s father passes away when she’s a freshman in college and nineteen years old; she is devastated and copes with his death by securing a job working for the Bay City Blackbirds, a big-league team, as she attempts to carry on their traditions and mutual love for the game of baseball. The residual effect of loving and losing her dad has made her cautious, until two men enter her life: a ballplayer and a sports writer. With the encouragement of her mother and two friends, she begins to work through her grief. A dedicated employee, she successfully navigates her career, and becomes a director in the front office. However, Francesca realizes that she can’t partition herself off from the world, and in time, understands that sometimes loving someone does involve taking a risk.

Available at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Available at Barnes & Noble.com by clicking here.

Honorable Mention for Sports Fiction – Readers’ Favorite


B E N E A T H   T H E   M I M O S A   T R E E   ( 2012 )

BTMTNEWCOVER3-17.inddAnnabelle Marco and Michael Contelli are both only children of Italian-Americans. Next door neighbors since they were both five years old, they both receive their parents’ constant attention and are regularly subjected to their meddlesome behavior. In high school and then in college, as their relationship moves from friendship to love, Annabelle finds herself battling her parents, his parents, and even Michael. She feels smothered by them all and seeks independence through an unplanned and unexpected decision that she comes to regret and that ultimately alters the course of her life, Michael’s life, and the lives of both of their parents.

Set in Annapolis, Maryland, New York City, and London, England, in the 1980s and 1990s, Beneath the Mimosa Tree examines both Annabelle’s and Michael’s journeys over the span of ten years as we hear their alternating voices tell the story of self-discoveries, the nature of well-meaning families, and the sense of renewal that can take place when forgiveness is permitted.

Thank you to those stores that have graciously agreed to sell my debut novel, “Beneath the Mimosa Tree.” I’ve attached links to each below, along with a video trailer about the novel’s story line.

Available at Amazon by clicking here.

Available at Barnes & Noble by clicking here.

Finalist – Indie Excellence Awards

Bronze Medal Winner (tops in its category) – Readers’ Favorite Awards


Giving Thanks To You

Yes, it’s that time of the year.

Time to be thankful for people and blessings.

As it’s officially Thanksgiving holiday break for me, I’d like to take a moment to thank you, the readers and supporters of Steph’s Scribe. If it weren’t for readers, we bloggers wouldn’t be doing what we do. From the days when we wrote in journals and didn’t have the vehicle to share our thoughts or ideas, it’s wonderful to have that access through this platform; I’m thankful for the opportunity and take my responsibility of writing for you seriously. It’s an outlet for me, I take great pride in it, and I never want to let anyone down. I’m always open to input and suggestions, so feel free to drop me a line on the blog or at my email, stephanie.verni@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading my Steph’s Scribe, my books, and offering me encouragement throughout the year.

I’m very thankful to know you here.

Thank you, readers!

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Stephanie Verni | Author, Blogger & Professor — Visit my Amazon page for more information about my three contemporary fiction novels and textbook on Event Planning.



What I’ve Been Up To


A room without books is like a body without a soul. – Cicero   I’m still working on my novel, but honestly, I could probably do better if I could stay up 24 hours a day.


It’s Monday, November 20, and I’m not as far along with National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo) as I would like to be. I’ve hit over 12,000 words, but if one is trying to finish a novel in four weeks, one has to do better than that.

But there’s been a slight problem. Father time has keep me busy in other areas.

Because it’s been so busy and I have not been fulfilling my obligations very well as a promoter of #nanowrimo, I believe I owe you the reasons behind why I have not held up my end of the bargain.

Let me present you with my Three Main Excuses.


Every weekend, my husband, son and I have been embarking on college visits. To date, and since the end of September, we have completed 6 visits, with only one left to go. While we are making headway, it takes away from my time writing, not to mention the hours we spend discussing college possibilities.

Lynchburg, Virginia


I have been co-teaching a new course at our university, and as such, it has taken up a great deal of my time, along with the time I spend teaching my other three courses, advising our Integrated Marketing Communication Club called ’47 House, advising students for next spring’s semester, attending lectures and promoting NaNoWriMo on campus, and just chatting with students throughout each day. Life on campus this semester has been inordinately busy, but fun. I’ve enjoyed it, but I won’t lie. Turkey break couldn’t come at a better time for me to catch up on some grading! If you’d like to hear more about the new course I’m teaching, click here.


img_5564Those who know me VERY well know that I used to sleep very little. When I was getting my MFA a few years ago, I averaged about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Every night. I would work during the day, take care of my husband and kids, and then at about 9 p.m., I’d slip into my office where I’d work on my studies until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. Then, I’d get up and do it all again. I find I’m more tired now than I used to be, and a lot of it is probably because I get up earlier with two high school students than I used to. When they go out the door, so do I, and I’ve been at my desk much earlier than in years past. I used to write at night, often late into the evenings when I wrote my first three books, but now, forget it. I’m in bed and asleep most nights before midnight.

So, there you have it. Three main reasons why my writing is not up to its “full steam ahead approach” my other novels took.

But I’m here now.

To present you with today’s prompt.



Your favorite character (either one you have written yourself or one of your favorites from literature) meets your best friend or your favorite relative in a bar. What takes place during this conversation?


Write about a time you won something or lost something. Practice describing the scene and using your emotions and lessons to tell this story.

Visit Stevensonwritenow for more prompts from our school, Stevenson University!

Catch you later this week.

K E E P   W R I T I N G!





Chapter 4 of the Sequel to Inn Significant and Today’s Writing Prompt

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This setting is an inspiration for the sequel to Inn Significant. Such a beautiful barn.
In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here’s yet another chapter of what may end up being the sequel to Inn Significant. I’ve passed 10,000 words, but this chapter brings me to 9,385 for this endeavor.

Here’s what I’m working on presently:

  • Extending the characters by allowing readers to get to know them even better
  • Working on creating additional scenery and settings within the town of Oxford, MD
  • Bringing in new characters
  • Creating realistic dialogue
  • Bringing a lighthearted tone to the story

Anyway, those are my goals for now.

Here’s Chapter 4.

C H A P T E R   F O U R  O F  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

“Will you look at that!” my mother said aloud as a group of us were standing in front of Inn Love Catering watching the installation of the new, elegant calligraphy sign.

“It’s so fancy!” Colette said.

“And feminine,” Eva said.

I squinted to see it as the sun was beating down on us on that glorious May afternoon.

“Not too feminine,” John said, my father nodding along in agreement with him.

“No, not too feminine. Just right,” Eva said.

We were all there for a final walk-through with our contractor. It was the final day, and Ernie was with us to make sure all the electricity and appliances were in working order as Colette and Eva needed to begin planning the food for the wedding that would take place the following week. The menu had been pre-arranged, and they would be working on some of the preliminary shopping and details before they actually made the food. Additionally, the dishes, glasses, and cutlery were arriving later today, and John and I would unbox and organize them in the barn. Each day, my excitement level grew, and I hoped that our team of novices could pull this type of event planning off. I’d done a lot of research over the last year, and had met with other wedding and event planners for advice. I’d taken copious notes, attended small workshops, and having planned my own first wedding years ago to Gil, I knew what was in store, from the vacillation of emotions that all brides and grooms go through to understanding that it was the details that made each event special. One of the similarities I’d gleaned from being a writer to now being an event planner is that both occupations required attention to detail—I don’t believe you can be successful without understanding the nuances and strategy of the details. The second thing I think both occupations have in common is that in both cases, it’s imperative that you listen to other people’s stories, as those stories can help you better define whatever it is you are creating. And young couples embarking on marriage with a large-scale reception want to know that their story is told.

That said, I had been designing something “magical” for Carolanne and Tim’s wedding next Saturday. That was the word they used when my mother and I asked what “feel” they wanted from the night, so my mom and I were hard at work to give them that type of ambiance.

“These all look like they’re in working order. Those two fridges are massive!” Ernie said. “I guess you’ll be able to make me a lot of food, Colette!”

“I’ve roped off a corner inside just for you Ernie. And don’t forget, there’s another massive one in the barn’s kitchen,” Colette said.

Eva glanced at Colette, a look of hesitation in her eyes. “I hope we can pull this off, Colette. My heart’s starting to race!”

“Don’t worry, Eva. Milly and I have become accustomed to the feeling of a racing heart for the last year and a half. We have to have faith that the stars will align,” my mother said.

John put his arm around me and gave me a squeeze. “You’re going to blow them out of the water,” he whispered in my ear.

I smiled at him. I may have been a slow learner, but I knew now that he was just the sort of person I needed in my life.


“Okay, there, Richard. Are you in comfortable?” John asked Richard, as we got him in the car.

“I promised Eva that I would not make you all crazy with my bad temperament, but this knee is driving me insane. I just want it to heal, already.”

I felt badly for Richard. He wasn’t a man who liked to sit idly for too long. He was always on the move, whether he was playing golf, fishing, or boating. As a younger man, he was incredibly athletic, and even played on a local men’s softball team until five years ago when his knees began to give out.

“I can understand,” John said sympathetically.

“And I certainly shouldn’t be complaining to a man who wore a uniform and fought for liberty! Never mind me, John. I’ll just shut up and enjoy sitting by the water with my book.”

“It’s only been a few weeks, Richard. Give it time. You’re coming along nicely,” Eva said.

“Nicely, but not quickly.”

“It will come. It will come,” she said, patting him on the arm and giving him a peck on the top of his head.

We pulled into Inn Significant, and Colette had already set up for afternoon tea. There were quite a few guests mingling on the lawn, sitting in the Adirondacks, and enjoying the temperature and sunshine. There was absolutely no humidity in the air, a light breeze caught my hair, and the sky was crystal blue.

“I’m tempted to go for a paddle,” John said to me as we walked back up the slow sloping hill after we settled Richard and Eva in chairs down by the water. Eva had brought her new cookbook, a notepad, and lots of sticky notes to tag recipes. Richard brought a Tom Clancy novel. “Look how calm the water is. It’s like glass. Care to join me?”

“You know, I think I would love that. Let me just get a handle on things and make sure nothing is pressing. How about if we go at five-thirty after I check some emails and help Colette clean up tea?”

“Sounds great. I’ll meet you at the launch area at five-thirty. It’s a date.”


Twenty emails had arrived in the two hours I was gone. Six of them were from Carolanne. I perused the remaining lot when I saw it. There it was—another message—in my inbox. I clicked “open.”

Dear Milly,

I am ecstatic! I have booked my flights and am looking forward to seeing you in late June. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I feel as if I have found some very dear, new friends. I will be in touch as the date approaches. In the meantime, best of luck with the Inn, your new venue, and with your writing. I look forward to each week’s new post from Inn Significant.



I stared at the email and thought for a moment about the wonder of connections. Since I’d been in Oxford working at the Inn, so much had changed for me. It was overwhelming to recount the abundance of love I felt in this town among these people. And it all started because my parents knew better than I. They understood exactly what I needed most. And then came John and his kindness and the fact that he found Nana’s journal, which had been a stroke of pure providence. And now, to sit here, reading an email from Nana’s first husband’s nephew? It was almost too much coincidence for me to understand, and yet, all I wanted to do was appreciate it.

My curiosity was piqued. What would Marco be like? What stories might he have to tell? How would my mother react to meeting this relation to her mother by marriage? I often wondered how my mother felt about her mother keeping this secret; we had spoken of it often, but I always felt as if my mother felt slightly betrayed by a woman she loved so much, so unconditionally, and whether or not she wondered what her own father had known and thought about Ferio?

As for me, I would always be thankful for my grandmother’s love for Ferio and for her journal and words and love. Life is ironic and sad and twisted at times, but at the heart of every loving family is a sense of belonging and forgiveness and love beyond compare.

The phone rang and startled me out of my deep thoughts.

“Inn Significant, may I help you?” I asked.

“What the hell would you say to the fact that we’re buying a second home in Oxford?”

“What? Have you lost your mind?”

“Nope. You’re going to get to see me all summer now. I’m going to spend summers with you.”

“This has to be a joke,” I said. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope. Go check it out. Number Seventeen High Street.”

“Number Seventeen High Street? I don’t have to check it out, Gracie. I know the house. I ride my bike around this place almost every other day. It’s adorable. Tell me you’re not pulling my leg.”

“I’m not pulling your leg. I want to be closer to you guys, and I want Abbie to have a sense of family. It’s lonely here, and since I don’t work in the summer and it’s a short drive from Pennsylvania, I will live there during the week and Cal will come down on weekends. We’re using some of the inheritance money from Cal’s aunt to do this.”

“Remarkable,” I said. “I was just thinking about coincidences, and then the phone rings and it’s you…with crazy-ass news!”

“Aw, I love you, too, Mills,” she said.

“How long have you known this?”

“What? That I wanted a place in Oxford or that we’re buying a home?”

“Both,” I said.

“Well, after I visited that first time when we set up the website and then after I knew you were going to be permanently living there and seeing your own adorable house, it all came together. Cal was on board right away because he’s not sure what’s in store at his company and he’s been looking at virtual jobs. We’re just not that attached to the townhome here. We were excited, too, that Abbie could make summer memories. And I hope Abbie can do that kids camp thing now that we’ll be residents. John better take us out on his boat, because we won’t have one of those.”

“He would love to. He always loves going out on the boat. In fact, I’m supposed to meet him and go kayaking in a bit.”

“And you wonder why I want to move there,” she said.

I could feel myself getting choked up. What was happening? Were these tears in my eyes not tears of sorrow but rather tears of joy? I felt wholly unsteady.

“Gracie?” I said.

“Yes, Mills—”

“Do Mom and Dad know?”

“Not yet,” she said. “I called you first.”

“This feels like a dream.”

“For me, too, Milly.”

We hung up the phone before we became two mushy heaps of happiness flooding the place with love.


The water remained still, and our paddles cut through that stillness, making slight slushing sounds each time we rowed. We watched silver fish shimmer as they popped out of the river and then right back into it. In synchronicity, we paddled on, listening to the peacefulness of nature or the hums of other boats. An occasional powerboat roared by, or the sounds of the flutters of a sail of a large sailboat could be heard as it finagled its way out of the river. Fellow boaters waved to us, and we returned the gesture.

As we coasted a bit and lifted our paddles out of the water, I leaned back slightly to feel the early evening sun on my face. I closed my eyes and breathed in the late spring air.

Washington, D.C. and Gil and tragedy seemed miles and miles away from me now. It had been over four years, and the pain that I felt had diminished, though it would never fully be gone, and I would never forget it. They say that time heals all wounds; I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but time certainly has a way of making it feel less like it’s going to kill you.

The distance time put between my former life and my life now made me ask questions such as what would Gil be doing now if he were alive? What would the two of us be doing if he were still here? Would we ever have had a child together? Would we still be in D.C., he working as a government contractor and I still writing for the magazine? Reflecting on these types of questions had been commonplace after the accident, but now, I only allowed myself to think about it now and then, when silence offered room to think about it for a minute or two.

The bottom line was Gil was taken far too early from us, and the hard, cold reality was that nothing could be done about it.

I tore myself away from these thoughts and turned around to look at the man behind me who was hopefully going to be in my future. As I had allowed myself to feel love and compassion again, I realized just how handsome John was; his eyes expressed his thoughtfulness and his overall goodness. I totally understood why my parents thought so highly of him once I gave myself permission to get to know him—fully. He was the complete package, but it was his gentleness and understanding coupled with his own hardships and vulnerability that made him utterly attractive to me.

“Hello, beautiful,” he said, as he caught me looking at him.

I smiled. We had an understanding between us that uniquely ours. A connection grounded in place and people and circumstance.

“I love you, you know,” I said.

“Ditto,” he said back, as we floated and allowed the soft, rippling water to guide us.





#nanowrimo | Write 500 words

For Fiction

Two characters have not seen each other in over five years and bump into each other at the location of your choice. They were in a relationship, but something went wrong and they parted ways. One loved more than the other and still has lingering thoughts about that person; the other moved on without a second thought. Write the scene.

For Nonfiction

In letter form, write to someone as if you were to actually send the letter, but maybe are too reserved to do so. Write it with feeling and honesty and emotion. Be clear and concise with your message, but write it from the heart.


Chapter 3 (Rough) of The Sequel to Inn Significant

Once again, in the spirit of National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo), I am sharing what I’m working on thus far. Today’s chapter represents 3,093 words, so I’m at about 7,000 words so far, which, quite frankly, is a little behind the 8-ball for this point in November. But, we do what we can.

Here’s Chapter 3 of what may be the Sequel to Inn Significant. It’s rough, and still being built, but at least it illustrates how you build your characters…and storyline…one word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter at a time.

Keep writing, you guys!

FullSizeRender-21C H A P T E R   T H R E E

of the sequel to

I N N   S I G N I F I C AN T



“Come on—let me see it!” I said to John after we ate dinner on the water, drank one too many glasses of wine, walked back, and were inside his cottage. For some reason, I didn’t want to stay in our house alone that night. I wanted to be with him in his cottage, snuggled up close to him, my head on his chest listening to his heartbeat. I’d grown to love being on the Inn’s property, and sometimes just being down the street felt too far.

“Oh, no you don’t!” he said. “I told you! You don’t get to see it until the wedding!”

“Well, the wedding is nine days from now.”

“No, Love. You don’t get to see it until our wedding. Not Carolanne and Tim’s wedding.”

“Damn. I thought I could trick you,” I said, feigning a pout. He’d kept a painting in the corner of the room with a drape over it and forbade me from uncovering it. He was working on something, and I knew it was off limits. Besides, what bride-to-be would want to ruin a surprise? Still, it was fun to bait him.

“You’re good with a couple of glasses of wine in you,” he said smiling broadly as he walked toward me and put his arms around me. I returned the gesture and embraced him. He pressed his body against mine.

“Are you saying I’m only good when I’ve had some drinks?” The scent of him awakened my senses. I’d gotten to the point recently where I could allow myself to not just feel frisky without guilt, but to be frisky without guilt. I was making progress.

“No, but you’re much less uptight after a couple of Pinot Grigios.”

“Uptight! You think I’m uptight?” I was smiling back at him. I knew he was right. One hundred percent right, but it was fun to play along with this flirtatious game with a person I almost scared away as my internal battle raged on for far longer than necessary.

“Care to prove me wrong,” he teased.

He kissed me then, and what happened afterward solidified that I was not, indeed, uptight, but rather a woman who still had the power to love and the ability to show it.


Aesthetically, we knew we wanted everything inside to be white. The barn ceiling had been white washed to show just a little bit of the natural wood, and the walls were painted a bright white. We had strung the twinkle lights on the sides with help from John, who painstakingly made sure they were perfectly spaced out and aligned properly. The tables and chairs had arrived as well, and yesterday, we set them all out on the floor to get a feel for how they would be arranged with enough room for the dance floor. My two favorite aspects of the barn were the enormous amount of windows we had built into the structure, along with the sliding barn doors which added such a great deal of character to the place.

“Morning, Milly!” Ernie, the electrician and Yacht Club sailing champ, said as he approached me, massive, metal toolbox in hand. I was clearing the potted plants out of the barn and moving them back into place on the patio so Ernie could hang the chandeliers. He said the job would most likely take him two full days, even with his crew. “This place is gonna be gorgeous,” he said. “It is already!”

“I think the chandeliers will be the finishing touch, though, Ernie. Your bit of magic should do the trick.”

“Lord knows how much your mother loves chandeliers,” he said with a wink. He had installed them all in the Inn when she first renovated the place. “Where the heck is Colette? She promised me her Oxford-famous quiche this morning.”

“Well, then, let’s get you fed before you risk your life playing with live wires and climbing on very tall ladders today,” I said.

Ernie placed his toolbox inside the barn, and we walked up the path to the Inn. Colette had kept her promise, and was pulling a quiche out of the oven as we entered the kitchen area. “I could smell it from the barn,” Ernie teased, giving Colette a peck on the cheek. The two were old friends, and Ernie and Colette’s husband were best friends.

“I only made it for you, Ernie, because I knew you’d be working all day in the barn, and I didn’t want you to faint from hunger knowing Gwen’s out of town,” Colette said. “When does she get back?”

“Monday,” Ernie said. “I just drove back last night, and she’ll stay another week with Belle. I don’t know if they understand what life’s gonna be like with twins. God bless ‘em.” 

His daughter and her husband had just brought two twin girls home from the hospital, and Ernie and Gwen had gone to Richmond to help out.
Colette placed the food in front of Ernie with a napkin, fork, knife, and a big glass of orange juice. “I really wish they would move back to Maryland. It would be a lot easier for Gwen and me to help out. I know Gwen would love that.”

“Are they trying to move home?”

“No talk of it yet, but we’re trying to put that bug in their ears, especially since Gwen’s husband’s family lives on the West Coast.”

“Well, maybe they will. Fingers crossed.”

John came through the door then, cleaned up from his yard work, and gave me a hug. I sniffed his neck. He’d worn the after shave I love. “I see Colette’s got you covered, right Ernie?”

“More than covered,” Ernie said. “I’m in heaven. And I’ve got to finish this before all the other guys decide they want to invade Colette’s kitchen.”

“Not just my kitchen for much longer, Ernie. I’ve got a new role now.”

“It will always be your kitchen, Colette,” I said. “No one could ever replace you. And, by the way, I think your value increased over the last year. Now you have three kitchens to boast about.”

“Yes, but now you’ve got Sylvia in the mornings. You can tease her now,” she said with a wink.

Sylvia was our new morning breakfast cook who would be starting next Monday. She had recently moved to Oxford after an unbearable divorce, and was set on making the town her home. She’d bought a small cottage in town, and had worked as a chef at restaurant in Vermont for ten years before she moved to Pennsylvania. We loved her from the day we met her; her honest, self-deprecating sense of humor, her vulnerability, and her warm smile were attributes that we admired. She was moving into her rental this week, and was anxious to get started as soon as possible.

Colette, with encouragement from my family and John, accepted the responsibility of being in charge of food and wedding cakes for all events on site. After brainstorming, we decided it was best to invest in and create a side catering company called Inn Love Catering, an arm of Inn Significant, with Colette at the helm. Karen, our former part-time assistant, was Colette’s first hire. Karen would be the organizer, bookkeeper, salesperson, and catering coordinator along with Colette on site, and Colette would be the catering manager and creator of all dishes and food for our events. She was in the process of hiring two additional catering assistants, as well, and Karen was almost done recruiting her wait staff for the weddings. As the kitchen at the Inn was not large enough to prepare all the food for weddings of up to 120 people, we leased a store across the way on S. Main Street and set it up as our catering hub. We also built a smaller kitchen in the back of the barn to be used for the day-of events. The last year and a half had certainly been a busy one, and I was thankful for the projects that kept me moving ahead.

I felt my phone ring in my pocket, and I excused myself to step outside.

“Milly Foster,” I said, as I did not recognize the number.

“Well, hello, Inn-ovator,” the voice said, emphasizing the word “inn.” He referred to me this way, and he said it in a kind of Arnold Schwarzenegger voice like The Terminator, and no matter how many times he said it, the imitation always made me laugh.

“I didn’t recognize the strange number that popped up,” I said. “I didn’t know it was you.”

“Well, no, of course not, which is why I’m calling you from a land line. A land line, Milly. I can’t remember the last time I held a regular old phone in my hands. I’m having flashbacks to my teenage years when I would stretch the cord into the closet to talk to one of my girlfriends.”

“What the heck happened?” I asked.

“Lost the damn thing in the ocean. I’m an idiot. When I get back to the States, I have to get a new phone. I’ll be back tomorrow—flight leaves later today. How are you? How’s John?”

“We’re both good, but not as good as you are in Europe. How’s Palma?”

“Glorious. Got a great article out of it, but I’m ready to be home. How’s the barn coming? Is it done? I heard you guys got hammered by some violent tropical storm.”

“Yes. Didn’t care for it at all,” I said. “And the barn’s almost done. Ernie’s here to hang the chandeliers today, so after that, I think it’s smooth sailing.”

“Please don’t mention boats or water. That’s what got me into this mess. At least I didn’t lose my passport.”

I laughed. He always knew how to make me chuckle and look at life in a much lighter way. I knew he was good for me. Whereas I had the propensity to see things in terms of gloom and doom, Miles looked at life jokingly, optimistically. Very little phased him. 

Everything with Miles was fun—at least that’s the way he made it for me, which was why our friendship continued to be one of the best parts of my new life. He’d also become my part-time writing partner, as we were working on a project together on the side.

“Don’t tell me you were having wild sex on the boat with some exotic and stunning Spanish maiden and your phone went flying into the ocean, Miles.”

“Okay. I won’t tell you that,” he said. “But I would be lying.”

“Miles Channing! You devil!”

“I like to think so,” he said with a laugh.

I hung up with Miles and walked the stone path to the office. There were a lot of odds and ends that needed tackling before we were responsible for the happiness of a bride and groom on their wedding day. I could feel my adrenaline begin to kick in as I knew my “to do” list was growing exponentially.


In the morning, I left John’s cottage the same time he did when he went for his morning run. I had left my bike there the night before, and needed to go home to shower before the day’s events began. This was my morning routine at least once a week, as it was our decision not to live together until we said “I do,” and because I still had a little bit of convincing left to do to make sure John knew all was well with me and with us.

It was a good thing I went home as early as I did, because Eva Bramble was walking that morning and had a way of making me look at things with fresh eyes. She was just passing my house as I put the kickstand down. She was wearing her white jogging suit with a matching visor and some very new, bright pink Nike sneakers along with her Fannie pack around we waist. Her lips were adorned with coral lipstick, a shade she loved and wore whenever I saw her. I’d been able to get to know Eva ever since that day I stopped by her house and she gave me the shoebox of things that belonged to my grandmother because she had offered to help Colette out as a part-time worker at the catering shop. Apparently, Eva was one heck of a baker, and since partnering with Colette, seemed to have quite a few recipes up her sleeve that she baked for the Inn. Now she would help bake some of these goodies in the S. Main shop where all the food preparation for our events would take place—in addition to making some of the pre-baked goods for the Inn. I think Eva was just delighted to be a part of the excitement, and we were thrilled to have her.

“Good morning, Eva!” I called to her as she was rounding the corner.

“Good morning, Milly,” she said back as she approached. “How are things with the barn?”

“I can’t wait for you to see it. Are you stopping by later? Ernie installed all the chandeliers yesterday. It’s absolutely stunning.”

“Marvelous!” she said, clapping her hands. “Have you and John set your date yet?”

“We are close, Eva. Very close.”

“I’m sure your wedding will be gorgeous! And you’ll have everything down like clockwork by then. Remember—I’m happy to help any way I can when that time comes.”

“I’ve made a mental note,” I said. “How’s Richard feeling?”

“As ornery as ever,” she said. “Why do you think I’m out walking and will then lock myself into the catering shop? He’s so frustrated with the physical therapy and recovery. Knee replacement is not fun! That’s why I vowed to keep myself in shape after I saw him go through all this.”

“Poor thing,” I said. “It must kill him that he can’t play golf right now. What can we do for him?”

“Maybe we can get him out of the house later and he can come see the barn and sit by the water at the Inn.”

“I’ll have John come get him—would that be okay?”

“Perfect,” she said. “How about during tea time?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

“How’s your place coming along?” she asked.

“Oh, Eva,” I sighed. “I don’t know. I’m just not feeling it yet.”

I don’t know why it was so easy to be completely frank with this woman. I felt like I could tell her anything and she would never judge me—not one bit.

“You know I love decorating and design,” she said, “mind if I take a look?”
“Not at all,” I said.

We walked up the pathway and I opened the door. It was the norm in our town not to lock our doors. Keys were left under mats, in garden adornments, or nowhere at all, just the door left unlocked. The place felt barren, as there was little furniture inside it. The house was still a work in progress. It was charming on the outside, but it had needed some rehabbing on the inside. Sometimes John and I spent the late weekend hours working on projects. We couldn’t do it all, especially the kitchen, so we hired a contractor to remove old cabinets and countertops and install new ones. It was coming along, and what was once dark on the interior had been brightened up with lots of white paint and new windows along the back of the house to let the sun stream through the windows. The original, wide-plank, pine floors were my favorite, and once they were revitalized, they were stunning. One bathroom—the one in the master—had been gutted and rebuilt prior to my purchase of the place, but we’d kept the old claw-foot tub. Now John and I were just making some cosmetic changes to it.

Eva looked around, and I could tell she was summing up the living area and kitchen. “It’s odd, Eva. Even though I’ve owned it for a year and John and I have spent a lot of time in it, it still doesn’t feel quite like home. In a strange way, I miss my little cottage on the property. Well, it was never mine, anyway; it always belonged to my parents, but I think I so desperately needed that time and space that I think of it fondly. I also learned a great lesson about living in it, and that is, I don’t need a lot of space or a big house for something to feel like home. The cottage was cozy and charming and intimate, and this feels sort of big and vacant.”

Eva moved over to me and put her arm around me. “You and your mother have created a beautiful Inn and barn—just translate that loveliness into a place here that makes you happy. Do things that make you happy inside, allow yourself to express what you love, and it will start to feel like yours.”

“That sounds wonderful, but I also need to make it feel like John’s home too.”

“That you can do,” she said. “John’s artwork could be prominent on the walls; photographs you’ve taken could be displayed. Buy some cute signs from one of the stores in St. Michaels, and have fun looking at some of the great antiques stores in Easton. You’ve got this. I think maybe you are just afraid?”

“Afraid? Of what?”

“Of making another commitment and allowing yourself to be vulnerable again.”

She was right. About all of it. Fear lurked in every dark corner of my mind. It made me unreasonable. It made me terrified. I’d lost one husband, and I didn’t want it to happen to me again. Allowing yourself to love again takes great courage, and I seemed to have about as much courage as the Cowardly Lion did in the beginning of The Wizard of Oz.

It was sad, actually, to look around my place—this house that I purchased. There were hardly any decorations on the walls, and I had refused to retrieve my old furniture and other belongings from the storage unit, so it was downright barren. At that moment, I decided that I needed to donate those things. I think the bottom line was that I didn’t want them any longer. They didn’t belong in this house.

They didn’t belong in a place where a new beginning was about to happen.

I needed to start over.





Prompt & Podcast – November 6 #nanowrimo

Hello, Friends!

Today, I’ve got a PODCAST for you about WRITING CHARACTERS with my favorite tip about writing these characters. I think you’ll find it helpful if you don’t already do this.


Writing Character Sketches

Steph’s Scribe


Write 500 words | #nanowrimo | Choose one of the prompts below

To go along with today’s PODCAST, write one of the two prompts below.

For non-fiction writers:

Write a short biography of your best friend(s) as a character sketch. Use all the information you know about him or her, from what they look like to their characteristics to their likes and dislikes. Try to write 500 words.

For fiction writers:

Pick a character from your upcoming novel and write an in-depth character sketch. Include everything and anything you can about the character so that you can use it in the future as you construct and build your novel.

Good luck and have fun!


Sharing Two Chapters of the Sequel to INN SIGNFICANT #nanowrimo

So today, before I post my prompts for you and writing podcast later about characters and creating your characters, I decided I would be brave and share my first two chapters of the sequel to Inn Significant, my third novel. I’m dabbling with the idea of a sequel, so I thought I’d share what DRAFTING looks like. This is my FIRST DRAFT. I haven’t really edited much yet at all.

My approach is to just tell the story first. Editing comes later. But I know these characters pretty well at this point (though I am introducing some new ones), but for me, it’s about getting in their heads and telling their story.

Here, then, are the first two chapters of what a sequel might look like if I pursue this. And, if you’re counting words, these two chapters are roughly 4,000 words. #nanowrimo



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 prior, 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 River looking so violent. The Chesapeake Bay was thrashing even more than the river, and pictures of flooded downtown Annapolis had made the news highlights earlier 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 did not mess around. When she had something to say, she tended to say it in a big way, just to make sure we were all paying attention, and we were humbly reminded that we must respect her authority.

I stood on the porch of Inn Significant in my rain boots and red raincoat and watched as Oxford was pummeled. My mother was inside making a huge pot of soup for all of us and wanted us to eat it quickly 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 imminent.

While the renovation on our new place was being done, John had remained living on the grounds in his cottage on my parents’ property. I looked down and touched the diamond he had given me after we had 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 two nickels to rub together. 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 could get used to hearing for the rest of your life.

A bolt of lightning 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 on 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.


“Emilia—soup’s ready!” I heard my mother call from inside.

My father and John were just coming down the steps, tools in hand, as they were making some minor repairs to the Inn while it was empty. A squeaky floorboard, a leaky faucet, and a screen door that was askew—those were some of the things that needed attention. John had purchased cans of paint two days prior for touch ups and repainting that needed to be done in some of the guest rooms. My mother was meticulous about the upkeep and decorating of all the guest rooms and common rooms at the Inn; likewise, my father was in-tune to scratches on the walls and handles that needed tightening. The tropical storm was keeping us from being outside, so the agenda for the day called for indoor repairs, at least until we potentially lost power.

“Our punch list is almost complete,” my dad said proudly as he took the lid off the pot of soup and inhaled as the steam tickled his nose. My mother gave him a whack, and he laughed.

“Off the goods,” she said.

I know my dad was anxious about our first booked event on-site that would take place in a couple of weeks, and he wanted to make his contributions so that things could run smoothly as we hosted our first wedding with as little drama as possible. Inn Significant’s guest rooms would be full with the immediate family and the bride and groom, and we helped book other guests at the Robert Morris House across the road and at hotels and inns in Easton and St. Michaels. The wedding—the first one we would host on the grounds—was smaller in size with only eighty guests, so we were thankful it wasn’t the full one-hundred and twenty we could seat.

“Look at those sheets of rain,” my mother said. “Are you worried we might have flooding? I hope the plants and mulch don’t wash away.”

“It looks like the storm is taking a turn and will be out of here by tonight,” my dad replied, peeking at his weather app on his phone. “I think this may be the worst of it. Just a lot of rain, but I don’t think we need to worry.”

“That’s a relief,” she said.

I was setting the table and John came up to me and gave me a little peck on the cheek.

“What were you up to?” he asked me.

“Truthfully, not much. I was watching the storm from the front porch until that bolt of lightening and crack of thunder happened, and then I worried about the safety of my friend, the seagull. Then I came back inside and dried off. There’s something eerie about how dark and gloomy it is out there—and the wind! So unbelievable!” I said.

We sat at the kitchen table—the same one that John and I used to make the muffins back when I first arrived at the Inn. So much had changed for me, and yet so little had changed, too. I realized I was full of contradictions at that moment and decided to just eat my soup and stop thinking.

Thinking too much and too deeply always got the better of me, and I’d vowed to give up too much deep thinking altogether. It had a tendency to churn up old feelings and guilt, feelings of love and regret, along with a whole host of “what ifs.” If I were to be completely honest, the hopefulness you feel when you finally realize that you have the capacity to move on with someone else is euphoric at first, but at the same time you never lose feelings for someone who was dead and gone. And that made love a uniquely complicated animal altogether. So it was best not to think too much about it and just—live.

When I mentioned these complex feelings to my mother in the strictest of confidences one night when she could tell something wasn’t right with me, she offered the best advice.

“As Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy,’ you know,” she said. “You can’t compare John to Gil. It’s simply not fair. They are both wonderful men in their own right, but to pit one against the other, that’s just not a kind thing to do. How would you feel if someone did that to you? And let us not remember: Gil is no longer with us, God rest his soul. And so you are left with a man who adores and loves you, and you must allow yourself to move on, Mills, in every sense of the word.” She was right, and I knew it.

Emotional breakdowns often caused people to do the most extraordinarily stupid things.

Of course I shouldn’t have compared John to Gil. Sometimes with an unexpected death, a degree of selective memory and knighthood went along with it. It’s human nature’s rule that we only tend to remember the wonderful and noble things about our love and our relationship when it is no longer viable. We tend not to dwell upon the bad aspects of our relationships. Nevertheless, when someone died young, it was easy to remember them so fondly as to put them on a pedestal, and unfortunately,it had the potential to hinder the building of a new, quality romantic relationship. Why? Because there remained a cruel posturing and it could be summed up with one question: How could someone else ever live up to the fond memory of a dead lover?

This was the question that left me perplexed, and incredibly inane. In the beginning of my relationship with John, as we began to acknowledge that we had a fond and growing romance, it wasn’t entirely easy for me. I still held on to baggage. And the word baggage certainly has a negative connotation. When I look back upon the events of last year and a half, I know that everything happened for a reason, albeit with a little push and strategy from my parents. I was delighted that they got involved in trying to foster a relationship between John and me. They were looking out for my best interests. And as a bonus, they adored John.

Getting close to another person again takes courage, and perhaps I didn’t fully have that courage, not to its fullest extent. I wondered if I needed more time alone—not another year spent wallowing in my misery, but another year of running the Inn, getting back to myself, writing more and finding my independence instead of forging ahead into another relationship, where always in the back of my mind was the possibility that I could lose him. To what, exactly, I wasn’t sure. All sorts of things loomed inside my head. At the time, I didn’t look at this fear as being selfish, but they were certainly grounded in fear. I found myself continually second-guessing whether or not I had completely healed.

And then John said something to me that made me wake up and snap out of it when I finally had the courage to share the feelings I was having with him, honestly and in an open manner.

“Time isn’t always the answer, Milly. Sometimes the answer is just deep down in there—either you feel it or you don’t. And if I’m not the answer that’s deep down in there, then I need you to just tell me. I’m a big boy, and I can take it. I don’t ever want to be the person you are settling for because you lost your husband. I want to be the man you love and want to share the rest of your days with from here on out as you move forward. Settling for me? That would kill me.”

And, quite frankly, hearing him say those words killed me a little.

The fear I had of allowing myself to become closer and emotionally connected to him ricocheted back to me. I regretted everything I had said and did and second-guessed. My heart knew what was right, but my head continued to play tricks on me. My life had become full again, and I couldn’t imagine John not in it.

That was when I knew for sure. I apologized, I cried, but I know I hurt John that day. We pushed back our wedding date several months because he needed to be sure I loved him the way he needed—and deserved—to be loved. Since then, I’ve spent the last six months assuring him that he had my heart. Fully.

There were things you said and did sometimes that you wished you could retract, like an unfounded and misguided story in The New York Times, and yet, just like that story, the ideas, unfortunately, already had legs and had been read and interpreted, and taking them back was not an easy endeavor.

But I was fighting my way back. And I was fighting for him.

C h a p t e r   T w o

Two days later, the sky turned a bright blue without a cloud in the sky. I was at the Inn early that morning, and John was already tending to the lawn. I straightened up the Adirondack chairs and cleaned them off with a rag. Inn guests would be arriving later that morning, the first bunch to check in after the storm.

We had ten days remaining until we hosted Inn Significant’s first wedding. The delivery truck appeared with all of our chandeliers and the electrician was on his way with a crew to do the installation. I couldn’t wait to see how the lighting would affect the ambiance of the room. My mother and I had been the interior designers, having spent countless hours researching other venues and picking and choosing aspects we liked from each of those we admired and folding them into our design. Our architect helped us incorporate those features into the structure.

John peeked his head into the office.

“I’m heading over to Home Depot to get some things to finish up the kitchen area in the barn. Do you need anything, Love?” he said. He called me Love a lot, and honestly, I adored it.

“I think I’m good for now,” I said.

“I’m off then,” he said. “And don’t forget about dinner.”

“I won’t,” I yelled back.

I opened up the website and checked to make sure there were no inquiries or questions that needed attention. I continued to blog once a week from Inn Significant, and enjoyed telling the stories of the Inn through our site. Occasionally, I’d receive comments, and I loved responding to people as they asked questions or just said they enjoyed reading the blog. I also enjoyed reading reviews people posted after they had stayed at the Inn. For the most part, they were very, very good, and we all took them seriously.

Next, I checked my emails. Carolanne, the bride who would be our first to host her wedding at the Inn sent me a quick email.

Thank you so much for always answering my questions and getting back to me so promptly, Milly. And thanks for arranging those last minute bouquets for our moms. I am so excited to host our guests at your lovely location. I can only imagine how gorgeous the barn will look. See you next week.

The next email was from someone named Marco DiBlanco. My heart skipped a beat. I opened the email.

Dear Milly,

Good morning!

We have never met, but I found your website when I was doing a search for my uncle, Ferio DiBlanco. My father passed away at the age of ninety a few years ago, and Ferio was his older and only brother. My father suffered from dementia for the last fifteen years of his life, and it was difficult to get coherent stories out of him during that time. Despite their age difference and Ferio being in America while my father stayed in Italy as a young boy during America’s depression, Ferio and my father kept in good touch and appeared to be very fond of one another. I found some letters after my father’s death that were sent from Ferio to my father, all written in Italian. When I searched online for Ferio several years ago, there was nothing that led me to anything about his life. I had almost given up doing any research at all. That was until I did another search a few days ago and miraculously found your website and your stories. I was intrigued to read about your grandmother and Ferio on your blog, as my father had mentioned Ferio’s American wife when I was younger and he told me stories about their house and Ferio’s job in Maryland. Unfortunately, my father never actually met your grandmother; he only knew of her through the letters Ferio would send home to his family. So all of this to say, I guess the Internet is truly good for some things, no? It has led me to you and to some family history.

I am sure you are surprised to read this email from me, especially in that we are not related by blood. However, we are related by wonderful circumstances. I live in Italy in Orvieto, and I own an art gallerie (or as you may write, gallery). I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and studied art, which is why my English is not so bad (and we were taught it here a little in Italy, too). Ferio was from Orvieto, as well. I am writing to you, Milly, as it is my intention to come and see the place where my Uncle Ferio lived after he left Italy and paint it. I have also read that the Eastern Shore has a vibrant community of artists, and I would like to spend some time in town. I would very much love to meet you and get to know you, as your grandmother was such a meaningful part of my uncle’s life, and I imagine he loved her very much. I feel we are connected through that relationship. As well, three years ago (and two years after the passing of my father), I lost my wife of thirty years to cancer. Sad as it is to say, from what I have read on your Inn’s blog, it seems we also share a loss of beloved spouses.

Would it be possible for me to reserve two weeks at the Inn, so that I might come and stay and meet you and take in the scenery that looks so welcoming on your website? I am not looking for anything free from you as I have the means to pay for my trip and my lodgings. Please let me know if this is possible. I am longing to come back to America for a visit and to reconnect with my family’s history.

Fondest regards,

Marco DiBlanco

Owner, Gallerie Storie Di Vita

Via Santo Stefano, 7, Orvieto, Italy

My mother popped open the door holding an enormous disco ball in her hand.

“Too much?” she asked, holding it up for me to see. Then she took a closer look at me sitting frozen behind the computer. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

“I think I may have,” I said.


“So, wait a minute. This guy is Ferio’s nephew? He’s probably my age.”

“I don’t know how old he is, but he is definitely claiming he is Ferio’s nephew,” I said.

“This is getting really interesting,” my mother said, placing the disco ball on the floor. It tried to roll away from her, but she wasn’t having any of that. She pushed it into the corner and then sat down next to me on the white chair. “Honestly, I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was married before and never told anyone about it. Never told me, her only daughter! Now I have to meet Ferio’s relative, having never known of Ferio before you came to the Inn and discovered our family’s little secret. I mean, who knew? The world is a small one, Emilia Foster. It’s a good thing you’re grabbing hold of it, because my head is spinning, especially after having read my own mother’s journal. Talk about it getting weirder. You better call someone at the networks and tell them the Kardashians are passe. We just might have a reality show brewing right here in Oxford.”

I loved when my mother was funny and dramatic and on top of current entertainment events. She looked at the world in almost the same way Miles did—never too far into the future and with a glint of fascination in her eye. Through all of my dark times after Gil’s death, I needed her, even when I thought I couldn’t take one more day of her trying to cheer me up with a stupid joke or a funny looking stuffed animal. And I actually felt sorry for her even when I was at my lowest, because she, unfortunately, still had the energy to deal with me.

We read through Marco’s email again together, and then looked over the bookings for the next month. We penciled Marco into a room and blocked it off for two weeks so that he could come to America and we could meet him.

He would be our adopted cousin, even if he wasn’t a cousin by blood.

We drafted our email back to Marco and offered the dates that were available for a two-week stay. We would wait for his reply.

In the meantime, there was work to be done, emails to return, a wedding to get in order, and lights that needed lighting. My mother grabbed the disco ball and headed for the door so Ernie could put it in its place. She glanced at me before she walked out, and we grinned at each other as we both shook our heads in disbelief. It was barely ten in the morning, and already, the day’s excitement was percolating. I decided that I would credit the tropical storm for churning up this strange new development that had occurred since its visit. The winds of Oxford were swirling.

I took a deep breath and continued on to the next task. My fingers started typing.

Dear Carolanne—My mother and I cannot wait to help make your wedding magical. The chandeliers are being installed today, and you will make the most beautiful inaugural bride the Inn and barn have ever seen…


–Copyright 2017/Stephanie Verni/All Rights Reserved

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

Prompt & Podcast – Day 3 #nanowrimo

Happy Friday afternoon!

I hope you are doing well AND doing well with your writing. As it’s Friday and the weekend is ahead of us, maybe finding some time to write won’t be as challenging for us as it is during the week.

Today’s PODCAST is about THEMES. I share with you some thoughts about themes and what I think about with regard to novel writing and my readers. I hope you’ll have a listen and let me know your thoughts.


Steph’s Scribe


Talking About Themes


As for today’s PROMPTS, they are below.

Have a good weekend, and keep writing.


#nanowrimo | 400-500 words | Steph’s Scribe


Write about a very vivid memory you have from your childhood. Insert as many details or bits of dialogue you can remember into the prompt without distorting the truth. Let this be written as if you are the age you were when that memory occurred.


A character works at a place and has been happily employed there for many years. However, a change in management has led to your character’s disillusionment with the company. The boss calls the character into the office to talk about some things, some of which the character was not expecting. How does this scene go?



Every One of My Books Has Killed Me a Little More



In 5 years, I wrote three novels and a textbook while working full-time as a professor. I think that warranted a short respite.


You see the title there, and maybe that’s why you clicked over to see what’s going on here.

If you did, please know I didn’t say that quote. It was said by the famous late writer, Norman Mailer. “Every one of my books has killed me a little more, ” he said.

I didn’t know the man. I’m not on par with him as a writer. I am not as prolific a writer as he was. And I certainly don’t earn my primary income as a writer as he did.

And yet, I can totally understand what he said.

As some of you who follow my blog may know, I hit a wall this summer. Exhaustion took over, and I needed a break from writing. While writing novels hasn’t killed me, the promotion of them was making me crazy. Every morning I thought to myself, “Just what do I need to do today to sell one book? How can I market my book today on social media? How can I spread the word about my novels? How can I post one more thing on social media without annoying my friends and supporters?”

img_1179These thoughts began to consume me, and I knew I had to tread lightly. Ruining friendships over book promotion is not worth it, but I needed to put a little distance between me (as a person and friend and mother and wife) and my writing and marketing. I could feel myself slipping into a sort of dark abyss and feeling quite down about things, and I didn’t want those feelings to affect me and my family.

Taking a respite from writing has been just what the doctor ordered. I am concentrating on my family, helping my son with his college applications, teaching at the university, planning a new course I am co-teaching, and exercising, something I had let slip as well.

The miraculous thing that happens when you put a little distance between you and your writing are these things called invigoration and inspiration. I find I am becoming inspired by things I’ve neglected to notice; I am invigorated by relationships I never knew I could have; and story ideas seem to be coming to me at a mile a minute.

It’s a good thing I keep a notebook. I jot down ideas that may be novel-worthy, and I’ll examine which stories I might like to tell next.

I still keep a paper planner in which I jot down things, keep notes, make to-do lists, and write inspiring quotes. Still works for me as opposed to using my iPhone or Outlook calendar.
I’m not done writing novels, I’m just gearing up for something I can sink my teeth into to grab hold. The inspiration fairy, when given some room to breathe, seems to want to come to life and help out a weary writer and marketer.

And, moreover, because I do LOVE writing so much, I don’t ever want to utter the words Norman Mailer said.

I won’t ever let my creativity and need to tell stories kill me a little.

I absolutely refuse to allow that to happen.