Another reader wrote, “Weaving in pieces of a family mystery through a found journal, the author introduces a new set of characters in a completely different time, but reminds us that some things are truly timeless.”
And, yet a third reader wrote, “All I can say is AWESOME! This needs to be made into a movie and I need a sequel! I was hooked from page 1. I completely fell in love with the characters and the setting. What an amazing job Ms. Verni did to transport you to the little town of Oxford. It definitely has ignited a spark in me to make it out to the Eastern Shore this year.“
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 deceased 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.
I hope you’ll enter to win and see what I’ve been up to, not just here on the blog, but in my novel-writing life.
“Inn Significant: A Novel by Stephanie Lynn Verni is a beautiful story that looks at the heart of depression. Milly Foster lost the will to live the moment she learned about her husband’s tragic death. And that was two years ago. Asking her to look after their business while they are away to help a friend in a startup bed and breakfast in Ireland, her parents couldn’t imagine what this would do to her. While at the inn, Milly’s colleague, John, discovers a diary to her grandma. Read on to find out how an old journey changes everything in the life of a woman who is just as ready for the grave as a corpse, sending her on a personal odyssey to find answers to her own pain.
At the beginning of the story, we meet the protagonist, a grief-stricken woman who has just learned about the death of her husband. Only one thought occupies her mind: “I don’t want the paramedics. I don’t want my mother. I want Gil!” The drama, the emotional intensity of the story is evidenced by the opening pages and readers who love emotionally charged stories will be gripped by the heart from the very start. Stephanie Lynn Verni’s writing is exceptional and I enjoyed the way it captures the powerful emotions, especially those of the protagonist. Milly’s journey towards healing is realistic, one that readers can connect with easily. What made this story stand out for me was the depth of the characters and the gorgeous writing. It was hard for me to let Milly alone, even if I found her headstrong and stubborn from the start. As the story progresses, she learns to shift her gaze onto reality and matures far more quickly than I could have imagined. Inn Significant: A Novel is entertaining, inspiring, and outright delightful, one of the stories I won’t hesitate to recommend to readers seeking a fun read.”
I wanted to take a moment to tell you why I do this and why this is important to me. As a kid, I used to sit at school and write short stories and then come home and finish them. My favorite class in high school by far was Creative Writing. I wrote poetry (mostly really mushy stuff that I shared with boys and probably shouldn’t have), and I always thought somewhere in the back of my mind that I would write a book.
Being an independent author is one of the most rewarding and hardest things I have ever done. It’s rewarding because I am doing exactly what I wanted to be doing as a teenager—telling stories on paper. It’s the hardest thing because having to promote my books constantly to get my name out there is a daunting task, and one that someone only with nerves of steel should be doing.
Admittedly, I don’t always have nerves of steel, but I keep on doing my thing because that’s what I have to do to hope someone will pick up my book and read it. There’s a lot of competition out there, and I know people are selective. Therefore, I am truly appreciative when you stop what you’re doing and read what I’ve written. It means so much to me, and I thank all of you who have read Inn Significant or any of my other books.
If you haven’t, maybe, just maybe this review will inspire you.
I’ll be taking Inn Significant on the road for a couple of upcoming books talks and signings.
The first, to kick off the Summer Reading Program at the Broadneck Library in Annapolis, Maryland, I’ll be doing a book talk and signing on Monday, June 19 at 7 p.m. The Broadneck Library has scheduled me for all three books I’ve published–they are so dear. A special thanks to Shirley Lord for always being so kind. And Annapolis was the setting of my first book, Beneath the Mimosa Tree. We had a good turnout for Baseball Girl; hopefully, some of you will come and join the fun in Annapolis.
I’ll have books and giveaways and I’ll be signing copies of all three of my books, including Inn Significant.
Also–BOOK CLUBS–I am happy to visit your book club should you choose any of my books as your book club book. I can also Skype in if you don’t live in the vicinity. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out my Amazon Author Page, or visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/StephanieVerni/ .
I hope to see some of you there. If you haven’t visited Oxford, St. Michaels, or Easton, Maryland, you’re in for a treat. Make a day trip out of it and see the places that inspired my novel.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
I will say that I take great pride in my blog, and I do play around with it quite a bit. I like playing with the aesthetics, photography, and content, and I always try to mix it up. I’ve been consistently blogging since 2011, when I wrote my first post, and I’ve never stopped. I truly enjoy writing, and blogging has become a part of who I am today. It’s a great outlet, and a wonderful way to stay fresh with your writing.
On that note, to anyone who wants to blog, I encourage it. The most challenging parts of blogging remain these two things: (1) coming up with what to blog about, and (2) blogging at least once to twice a week. If you can do that, you’ll get in the swing of things, and when you miss one, you’ll get that itch to get right back at it. It’s a good habit to create.
On the flip side, as a writer myself, I welcome the opportunity to incorporate a place into my stories by offering readers the most accurate description of what that place entails. When I do my research, I take a lot of notes. I also take a lot of photographs to jog my memory when I begin to write and tell my stories. For my latest novel that is set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland—particularly in the towns of Oxford, St. Michaels, and Easton—I spent a lot of time exploring and writing impressions, anecdotes, and talking to people. Getting things right, and using places that actually exist as the storyline unfurls is important to me and offers readers that realistic feel. I take writing about places as seriously as I do developing my characters. In fact, I think of the places as characters in the story.
Additionally, I instruct a Special Topics course at my university in Travel Writing, and I implore students to document their travels as it makes their writing come alive. Taking the time to recount what you’ve learned, seen, and experienced allows you to bring everything to life. Travel journals are awesome, and I love them, but any piece of paper will do.
The year was 1992. I picked up a copy of best-selling author Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison Countyand couldn’t put it down. I knew it was a love story, and I was riveted. Like many other readers, I was intrigued by Francesca and Robert Kincaid’s 4-day, intense love story set among the landscape of rural farmland in Iowa. Kincaid is a photographer, out to shoot the covered bridges in the area; Francesca is an Italian war-bride whose husband and two children go off to the state fair for the weekend. When Kincaid stops to ask Francesca for directions, a whirlwind affair begins that changes forever the lives of these two souls.
While literary snobs panned this novel, claiming, as the New York Times writes, that the characters were “unconvincing, the sentiments sappy and the writing overripe,” I found the novel charming, sad, relatable, and refreshing. It’s a stark reminder of the choices we make in life and why we make them, despite the overwhelming passions we may feel.
Waller’s ability to paint Francesca as a dutiful wife and mother with a deep-seeded passion, along with his depiction of Kincaid’s tough-guy image with a soft and endearing heart, are at the forefront of his writing. The tenderness that ensues makes you both like the characters and feel sorry for them all the way to the end when you understand Francesca’s request she makes to her own children when they learn the truth.
Another reason why I regard this book so fondly is because I was nearing the end of earning my first master’s degree in professional writing and was taking a class in writing short fiction. Waller’s style is one I admired and tried to imitate; he may have written in dramatic fashion, but he knew how to tug at a reader’s emotions. He is definitely someone who influenced me as a writer.
Waller was 52 when he wrote The Bridges of Madison County, yet another reason to admire the man. After years as a business professor, he got the idea of the story after visiting the covered bridges in Iowa and, as a musician who had written a song about a woman named Francesca, brought the two notions together into his novel. The rest, they say, is history.
The Bridges of Madison Countywas a best-seller for three years, outselling Gone with the Wind. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the film version along with Meryl Streep in 1995. Mr. Waller died on March 10 at the age of 77 of multiple myeloma.