“Your stories give me hope,” she said.

 

Writer
Writer.

*

“Your stories give me hope,” the woman said to me when she told me how much she liked Inn Significant. “Where do you get your inspiration?” she asked.

I told her I get my inspiration from people—mostly from people I know or I’ve loved along the way in my life.

“You are an optimist?” she asked me.

“I like to think I am,” I said.

“Well, keep writing. You give me hope for the future. Will there be a sequel to Inn Significant?”

“I’m toying with it,” I said.

“Well, stop toying and get to it. I want to see what becomes of these people.”

I guess to both of us, they are real, and not just characters. And in some way they are.

That’s a conversation I will treasure for a long time.

 

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*

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. Follow her on Twitter at stephverni or on Instagram at stephanie.verni.

What I’m Working On: My Summer Writing Projects

ThePostcardCoverTwo weeks remain until the close of the Spring 2018 semester. It’s been a very hectic, but productive one, and I’m eager to hear some final student presentations, read final papers, and complete the final curriculum of the year.

I may take a few days off afterwards to smell the roses, go for a road trip, see the Blue Angels, and stroll around Annapolis and some Eastern Shore towns with my Nikon in hand—one of my favorite things to do.

But I’m also looking forward to completing the writing and editing of my short story collection, tentatively titled THE POSTCARD and OTHER SHORT STORIES and POEMS. As some of you know who follow me, I’ve been talking about this for a while, but writing textbooks, teaching, and writing novels in between has delayed this project. I’ll be including the original short story I wrote called CONTELLI’S MIMOSA, a sad short story that ended up becoming my first novel, BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE (although the novel turned around and had a much, much happier ending). I’ve also got some of my FICTOGRAPHY pieces that have been turned into longer stories, and three new stories I’m editing for the collection along with one other that’s in the works. I’m hoping to have this collection completed and on the market by August. I’m excited to share these with you.

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Annapolis: On the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ll also be reconnecting with Milly, John, Miles, and the rest of the crew in Oxford as I see where a possible sequel to INN SIGNIFICANT takes me.

Wish me luck, my friends.

All I need is a bit of encouragement and some good, strong coffee to get me through.

🙂

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The Real People Who Have Inspired Some of My Characters

pexels-photo-320266.jpegI was reading a fellow writer’s blog today, and he wrote a post about people who have inspired him along the way: both those who have encouraged him to write and those who have inspired the characters he has written. It was enlightening to read his thoughts, so I decided to share what has inspired some of my own characters in my novels.

We’ll start with three today, one from each book.

VIVI IN BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE

Some of you may know that the character of Vivi in Beneath the Mimosa Tree was inspired by my own grandmother, Eleanor, who passed away when I was in my twenties. I had a great relationship with her and admired her, and I wished she’d been around longer so that I could have developed a more adult relationship with her. Her passing left me with some regrets—that I didn’t do more with her and talk to her more often and that I didn’t capture as much of our family’s history as I would have liked. The character of Vivi is very much like my grandmother: she is wise, has her granddaughter Annabelle’s  best interest at heart, and believes that she may know what’s best for her even though Annabelle may not. They have a close and loving relationship, and I don’t think we can ever underestimate the power of fabulous relationships with our grandparents. Those can be quite influential in our lives.

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My brother and me with Poppy and Nanny, my mom’s parents. Vivi is loosely based on my grandmother.

JOE CLARKSON IN BASEBALL GIRL

When my father (who is alive and well, by the way, unlike Frankie’s father in Baseball Girl) asked me if the character of Joe Clarkson was based on former Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson, I had to chuckle. The truth is, that character was a combination of many baseball players I had met along the way when I worked for the Baltimore Orioles. (Looks wise, I kind of had former ballplayer Paul O’Neil of the New York Yankees pictured in my head when writing Clarkson’s physical description). Having spent time in public relations, community relations, and publishing for the ballclub, I encountered a mix of personalities, and it’s much more fun when writing fiction to create your characters by pulling from traits of many different people. What was most important to me about writing Clarkson’s character was to make him likable, as so many ballplayers can be, especially as they are often seen through more of a public than private lens. Clarkson was charming, funny, romantic, confident, and self-absorbed to a degree. Did he love Frankie? Maybe, but you’ll have to be the judge of that.

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New York Yankee player Paul O’Neil was the inspiration for Joe Clarkson’s looks (not personality). People ask me who Clarkson is most like. I honestly have no idea. He’s kind of a collection of people I met along the way working in professional baseball all rolled into one. Photo credit: New York Daily News.

MILES IN INN SIGNIFICANT

Much like Father John in Baseball Girl, Miles Channing is my favorite character in Inn Significant—I definitely had a lot of fun writing him. My husband always cracks up when I mention this character’s name, telling me he sounds like a cheesy soap opera character from the 1980s. While there may be some truth to that, Miles Channing was always Miles Channing, no matter how many times people told me to reconsider his name. I was not to be deterred in naming that character: I loved that name, and have a perfect mental picture of what Miles Channing looks like in my head. He is absolutely charming, funny, witty, aloof, caring, and smart, and yet there are things Miles keeps hidden from everyone. He has been hurt by a wife who left him, and has become a playboy to keep from being hurt again. The main female character in this novel, Milly, figures him out eventually, but never falls in love with him. They are always good friends, and that’s how I wanted it to be. I have a few good male friends who have never been romantic interests of mine (nor on their part, have I been one of theirs), and yet we have a strong bond. This is what I wanted for Milly. She needed a nice guy in her life—one she was not in danger of falling in love with. Sometimes those relationships can be so wonderfully beneficial and therapeutic.

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Some of my best guy friends are people I worked with at the Orioles. I got good material from working there and from hearing their stories.

That’s it for now. This was fun and sort of cathartic for me to examine post-writing. I may do another post like this soon.

*

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. Follow her on Twitter at stephverni or on Instagram at stephanie.verni.

 

Why I Write ‘feel good’ Novels…A Kid Off to College…and Two Queens

WHY I WRITE ‘FEEL GOOD’ NOVELS

pexels-photo-865844.jpegYesterday, when author and television personality Rick Steves spoke to students about the passion he has for his job, he mentioned the word positivity–that he considers himself a positive person, and his approach to life is that of a positive person.

He and I are alike in that regard.

Despite a small snippet of time during my 52-years of life when I took a little bit of an Eyeore-ish turn, I like to think that I look at the world through a lens that is mostly positive. No one is perfect, however, and I have to catch myself every now and then when I feel I am slipping down a slope that is not going to be productive.

And that brings me to novel writing. I’m working on two things presently: the sequel to Inn Significant and fine-tuning my collection of short stories that I would like to release as a collection. Because there are so many things in life that can get us down and make us angry or hurt or compelled to be negative, I’ve decided that when I write fiction, I don’t want to travel down that path. Most of my stories involved people “rising above” turmoil, tragedy, or mistakes, and it’s something I enjoy sharing with readers. I have no interest in writing something upsetting or overly tragic or maddening.

Why?

Because I believe there is more good in people than there is bad; I believe that mistakes can be overcome; I believe that forgiveness does find its way into life and relationships; and I believe that love does have the power to conquer all.

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I may sound a little naive where this is concerned, but I’ve seen it in people I am close to as well as heard about from acquaintances and strangers.

And that’s why I write books that will make you happy to read during Spring Break, on the beach, or just when you need a little reminder that love is, indeed, a healing spirit.

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ODDS & ENDS

We are in the throes of deciding which university my son will attend in the fall. Let me tell you, I am just in awe of how fast times flies (hence why I am reading Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper.) It’s a great book that forces you to think about time and how it is spent…and how fast it can go…and how if we’re not careful, we can spend our short time on this planet worrying about the most ridiculous things. If you haven’t read this book, you should. Albom is a terrific storyteller, and can tell a story as succinctly and beautifully as possible. I love his style.

Anyway, it’s only a matter of months before my oldest is off to college.

Eighteen years have passed in a flash.

If you have young children, cherish every moment. I was lucky enough to work part-time and stay home with my children, but I still think I missed out on some things I wish I didn’t. You will not regret the time you spend with those you love the most.

WRITE DOWN YOUR FAMILY STORIES

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I’ve blogged about this a lot, but I want to reiterate it again. Be sure to write down your family stories and keep them someplace sacred. You will want to remember the little details and sometimes a photograph doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ve written about some of the funny things my daughter has said over the years here, but I wish I had done more.

Here are a few links to those funny things Ellie has said during the years.

SHENANIGANS – a story

BREAKFAST WITH MICHAEL BUBLE – a story

CONVERSATIONS WITH MY DAUGHTER

THE CROWN & VICTORIA

One final thing for today: if you haven’t watch The Crown on Netflix, you are missing a fantastic series that is based on the life of current Queen Elizabeth. Claire Foy plays Queen Elizabeth, and I adore her acting and portrayal of Elizabeth.

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Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth

Additionally, if you’re not tapped into Victoria on PBS, again, I urge you to watch this well-done show about Queen Victoria and Albert set in the Victorian era. I love Jenna Coleman in the role of Victoria. She is beautiful and perfectly suited for the role. And Rufus Sewell played the perfect Lord Melbourne.

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Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell as Queen Victoria and Lord “M”

Until next time, then…

***

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.

What Makes A Good Story?

Talking with students during this week’s artist’s exhibit at Stevenson University, we chatted about what makes a good story. From students studying film to students who are writers, some of these tips below are my favorites for inspiring beginning writers to focus and start the process and work on their craft. The infographic posted below was part of my exhibit.

Writing Is Hard

Writing is hard, as we have heard time and time again from folks such as William Zinsser to contemporary magazine writer Tom Junod (pictured below), and the one thing that rings true for all writers is that it takes work. However, these tips are some that you can think about as you start your process, especially if you are writing fiction.

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Also, READ a lot and WRITE a lot…anything, anytime. It’s about practice and it’s about bringing things together.

I hope this little tid-bit sheet proves helpful.

Let me know how your writing is coming along.

Stephanie verni

Anniversary

Also, today is the one-year anniversary of seeing my third novel, Inn Significant, in print for the first time. It’s an exciting process to watch your novel come full circle and to see it finally in book form. From all the positive feedback I have received, I’ve decided to publish a sequel, so hang tight. I’m working on it.

One word at a time.

innsignificantanovel

It will never get old for me.

***

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.

 

Tips To Get You Started on Your Novel

When people ask me how to begin writing a novel, this is what I usually tell them, along with “believe in yourself” and “go for it.”

For an upcoming artist collaboration and exhibit scheduled at our university for this Thursday, I drafted a little infographic. This infographic includes tips about writing novels and some of the things that I’ve been taught over the years, along with what I’ve gained from the experience of writing three indie novels.

William Zinsser, in his famous book On Writing Well, says it best about writing:

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

However, that said, there are things we can do to make writing a little less taxing. The most important things you can do as a writer are to write every day, read a lot, and practice.

It’s like everything else in life: the more you do it, the better you become.

writing

 

***

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.

Kind of In Love With the Eastern Shore

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Two weekends ago, my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage with a quick getaway to St. Michaels, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s near the other town I love, Oxford, Maryland, where my novel, Inn Significant, is set. Both those towns have a ton of charm and are surrounded by water. They are quite special.

We stayed at the Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond, a place we had stayed many moons ago. As St. Michaels was celebrating Midnight Madness on the evening of December 2, we thought it would be fun to be a part of the…well…madness. With shops open until midnight, festive decorations lighting up the town, people feeling merry wandering the town (including us), and specials and discounts being offered in the shops, it was the perfect evening. We ate a lovely dinner at 208 Talbot, spent time at the Inn, enjoyed our amazing room and view, and reconnected in a way that all people married for a long time should.

If you’re looking for small town that oozes with charm, you might consider putting St. Michaels on your travel list.

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Proving a Little Point, Sharing Chapter 5 of Inn Significant’s sequel, and Encouraging You to Go For It

Writers write, at least that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

I’m up to over 16,000 words for the Sequel to Inn Significant during #NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing month.

I still have a L-O-N-G way to go, but what I hope I’ve inspired you to do this November is to believe that writing a novel is possible, even with a full time job, a family, extracurricular activities, popping in a workout now and then, and socializing with friends. You have to make the time for it, but I’m proof that it can be done.

Hear me clearly — it can be done, people.

You may not complete a whole novel in the month of NOVEMBER (I certainly won’t), but you can make some great headway on a project.

We shouldn’t expect a project of 50,000 words minimum to be completed the way we want it in four weeks; however, we can guide that project along to help propel it on its way to greatness. I truly believe that anything we write can have meaning and can be great in its own way if we put the time, love and energy into it that it needs. November is a good month to nurture your writing and get it rolling along.

Today, as I’ve been doing since the beginning of  the month, I’m sharing Chapter 5 of the sequel to Inn Significant. I still love the characters and especially the setting. It’s fun to continue to create these characters the way that I see them…and the way I think my readers would want to see them.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving; I’m thankful for your support and kindness with regard to my writing. And so without further delay, here’s what Chapter 5 might sound like.

Thanks you all.

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C H A P T E R   F I V E

of the Sequel to Inn Significant

Sylvia arrived right on time. It was her first day working at the Inn, and Colette was showing her the ropes in the kitchen. When I walked through the kitchen doors at seven-thirty in the morning, the place smelled like bacon and sausage and batter. I knew they had been cooking for at least a half an hour, as breakfast was being served.

Sylvia’s smile could light up a room. She was in her mid-fifties, but looked a lot younger. She was a little taller than I was with olive skin and bright white teeth; her pretty hair had golden highlights that framed her face. This was her first day on the job, but we all had helped her move into her place the week before, so we were able to spend a couple of hours with her then. She had cracked open a cooler full of beer and wine, and threw burgers on the grill for all of us as a thank you. Her welcoming style made us feel right at home with her, and I believe the reverse was true. She and Colette were making jokes and puns behind closed doors, and I placed the remaining food and drinks on the buffet table in the dining room.

In the dining room, tables of guests dined and chatted over food and morning coffee. The Inn was full, and this was the last group of guests before the wedding guests began to arrive in two days. We were in full swing and had tons of work to do over the course of the next seventy-two hours.

“Okay, girls, I’m off to begin the preparations with Eva. We will see you later. Sylvia’s got this and she’s in control. What a great hire, Milly. Love her already,” Colette said, giving my arm a squeeze.

“I know,” I said, winking at Sylvia. “She’s going to fit in here perfectly.”

Colette took off her apron, grabbed a napkin, and dabbed her forehead. It was hot in the kitchen sometimes, even when the air conditioning was blasting. I turned on the stainless steel fan in the corner of the room to provide some circulation. She collected her purse and opened the door.

“I’ll be back at three to help with afternoon tea, although I don’t think she needs any guidance from me,” Colette said.

“Yes, I do need you. I need you to walk me through this and the etiquette of it. I’m not familiar with any of that!”

“Ok, then. See you at three.”

After Colette walked out the door, Sylvia and I began to clean up the kitchen. Colette was one of those chefs that made food and cleaned up along the way. She hated when things would pile in the sink, so there was only a little bit to handle besides the plates and dishes that were in the dining room. I started collecting clearing the tables and bringing them in to be washed.

“I love this place,” Sylvia said.

“Me, too. I love it as well,” I said.

“I mean, I love the Inn—I do—but I love this town, too. I love Oxford.”

“I know. Me, too!”

“I almost can’t believe I’m here. Years ago, I was perusing a magazine, when I came upon an article about Oxford. There were pictures of the town—of the market, the ice cream place, and the Oxford Ferry. Kids were laughing and eating ice cream and I remembered reading the piece and thinking ‘someday I’m going to live there.’ It was always in the back of my mind.”

“The power of reading, I suppose,” I said.

“Speaking of reading, did you ever read the Harry Potter series?” Sylvia asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “I did.”

“You know how in the books the wand chooses the wizard?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I think this town chooses us.”

I leaned back on the counter and crossed my arms looking at Sylvia as she dried the last of the pans. It was a profound statement for someone to make after only being in Oxford for just under two weeks. It had taken me a months to come to this mystical realization myself, but Sylvia had figured it out immediately. I surmised there was a depth to Sylvia that would be good for me, and she inspired me and made me want to know more about her and the journey she took to get here.

*

Sometimes the stars do align, and I meant that literally.

John was standing on a very tall ladder and hanging the silver glitter stars and string lights from the side beams in the barn for Carolanne and Tim’s wedding that was just two days away. I was helping to direct him so they would be at the same level. When my mother and I met with Carolanne and Tim and asked her what she wanted the theme of the wedding to be, she had used the word “magical.” The problem was that magical to one personal could mean a completely different thing to another. When we pressed her, she was more specific. She had read the book The Night Circus and wanted that feeling in her own wedding–twinkling, mystical, magical, and memorable. I got a copy of the book and read it after our discussion to garner an idea what she was talking about, and when I was finished reading it, I sketched out some ideas which Carolanne loved. I knew exactly what she meant.

Now that the chandeliers were hung, they added a sense magic already, but the glitter stars and string lights were going to finish off that feeling. Additionally, we needed to hang the backdrop that I’d been working on for weeks—it was a silver, sequined backdrop with a multitude of lights hanging vertically from the top in front of the backdrop. It reminded me of a fairy tale. That particular showpiece would illuminate the head table, and John was going to install it later today.

Carolanne and Tim had decided that, provided the weather was good, they would have their stand-up cocktail hour outside on the lawn, and then move into the barn when it was time for dinner and dancing. John had built two rustic looking portable bars that had wheels that would be placed on either side of the patio where the doors opened. Additionally, we had purchased ten high-top wood tables that we would arrange around the lawn. John and I had gone shopping one rainy afternoon and bought and restored a collection of various antique chairs and settees in all shapes and sizes that we would arrange on the lawn for those who couldn’t stand for the entire hour.

The forecast called for sunshine and temperatures in the low eighties through Monday. We were in luck.

For all intents and purposes, the stars had aligned for our first wedding reception to take place, and I for one, was thrilled about that.

When John hung the final star, we stood back to admire our work. It was lunchtime, and the sun was beating down on us and the barn. It was difficult to see just how much those stars would twinkle at night.

“We’re going to have to come back later and see what it looks like—maybe after I hang the backdrop.”

“That sounds good. I’m going to set the tables in the meantime so that all we’ll need are the centerpieces which are coming from the florist.”

“Good. I’m hungry,” John said. “Let’s get something to eat.”

We decided to take a quick break and walk to the Oxford Market for some deli sandwiches. One of the things John and I had talked about was that it’s important to step away from our work now and then, clear our heads, and then get back to work. Hence the kayak, relaxing on John’s boat Plane to Sea, taking quick walks in town or quick spins on our bikes, or grabbing a book and sitting in the harbor or at the park. We had started creating our own space away from the premises because it helped us stay fresh.

We took our sandwiches to the park, and ate in the shade under the trees, looking at the water.

“Every time I come here, I think about what Nana wrote in her journal,” I said. It had become even easier to talk to John about anything—Nana, Ferio, our family, my tentative nature, and even Gil sometimes.

“What in particular?” he asked.

“This is where she and my grandfather went on their first date a couple of years after Ferio’s death when they were fixed up by their friends,” I said. “They came to the park, and I guess, the rest, they say, is history. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for that date, I suppose. Set the whole chain of events in motion for our family.”

“Lucky for us,” he said.

“I like to think so,” I replied.

*

Since Gil’s death, I’d only seen his parents twice: once at his funeral and once when I was clearing out the house to move to Oxford and had invited them to come to Washington. I thought they might want some of his personal belongings. They lived in Bath, a quirky small town on the water in North Carolina, where Gil had grown up, and they both worked as teachers at Beaufort County Community College. Gil’s dad was also a member of the town’s board, and worked to promote a sense of spirit there. They had checked on me weekly after Gil’s death, and as he was their only child, I sensed two broken hearts that might never recover, just as I was concerned that my own never might never come back to life. I think they found it difficult to talk to me because I just reminded them of Gil, which I totally understood because everything reminded me of him. Ever since Gil and I first started dating in college, we were a package deal, and rarely did Gil visit his parents without me. They were sweet people, but tragedy has a way of either bringing people together fully or putting distance between them. I think we were on the latter side of that equation.

That was until I got the letter from the Post Office on our walk back from the park. Oxford residents have to pick up their mail at the Post Office; there is no mail delivery, so John and I made it a point to pick up today’s batch. I was sorting through the stack of bills when I noticed a pink envelope addressed to me: Ms. Emilia Foster from Ms. Gretchen Foster.

“What’s that?” John asked.

“It’s a card from Gil’s mom,” I said.

I ripped it open, my heart beating a little stronger than it had moments ago. On the front there was a little bluebird sitting on a perch, and it said: Just a note to keep in touch and say you’re thought about so much. I opened to read what she had written inside the blank card and read it aloud to John.

Dearest Emilia,

I hope this letter finds you well. Dale and I think of you often, though you wouldn’t know it by our lack of effort to keep in touch. We are writing today because we wanted to express how sorry we are for not staying connected to you. As you are well aware, Gil’s death was a shock to all of us, and I suppose some people cope with loss better than others. Since it happened, we still deal with sadness, and some days are better than others. However, we fear that we neglected you in our grieving process. Please accept our apologies.

You are so dear to us, and losing Gil was the worst thing imaginable for a mother (and father), as I’m sure you feel the same way as a spouse.

I’ve had your address tucked away since I last saw you, and am sorry it’s been a year since I’ve called to chat. I hope you are still enjoying being at the Inn and are finding a new life for yourself.

There is a possibility Dale and I will be in the area in September, as we are planning on attending the wedding of my husband’s best friend’s daughter in Ocean City, Maryland. If it is convenient for you, we were thinking we might stop by for a night and catch up.

Gil loved you very much. I hope you know that and will always keep that in your heart.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Gretchen

I looked up at John to see his reaction. “Well, that was very nice,” he said. “Sounds like they cared about you a lot.”

“I think so,” I said. “But she’s right, we have lost touch, though it’s not entirely their fault. I sort of let it slip away, too.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it just made me sad. All we did was talk about Gil and the pain we all felt. It’s like we ran out of things to talk about after a while that weren’t depressing.”

“I get it,” he said. “But it probably would be nice to see them, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” I said. “Although how will I tell them about us?”

“We’ll figure it out,” John said. “I’m pretty confident they didn’t expect you to be single for the rest of your life.”

“It’s still awkward,” I said.

—END CHAPTER FIVE, AND I’M STILL GOING…HOPE TO BRING YOU A FULL NOVEL SOON—

Copyright / Stephanie Verni / 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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

 

READ THE PREVIOUS TWO CHAPTERS HERE.

“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.

Now.

—END CHAPTER THREE—

COPYRIGHT 2017 | STEPHANIE VERNI | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

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…

—END CHAPTER TWO—

–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.

The Truth About Burnout, Steps to Rejuvenation, and A Cup of Candor

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.07.11 AMI know this post is coming sooner than you or I expected it to come, so let me explain.

Earlier this week, I experienced something unfamiliar. It came out of nowhere and yet came from everywhere. I imagined myself in the image of an old wind-up toy that had hit a wall; I was marching along, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was swimming in “noise,” as we communication folks like to call it. It was filling up my head and causing me not to think clearly.

Some people might call it burnout.

Burn•out (noun) /ˈbərnˌout/  def. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. “high levels of professionalism that may result in burnout”

It was an emotional reaction that, quite frankly, had my friend Elizabeth puzzled when we talked on Tuesday.

“What happened?” she asked. “What happened after our lovely visit to Oxford?”

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 1.19.54 PMShe had sweetly volunteered to come with me and my daughter to the Plein Air event in Oxford where I was signing my latest book, Inn Significant, at the bookstore, Mystery Loves Company. I had been excited to go for weeks as my novel happens to be set in that sweet, picturesque and welcoming town.

“Nothing happened because of Oxford,” I told her. “It just happened after Oxford. I woke up in the morning the next day and didn’t know if I could write one more post about the book. I was becoming exhausted by the idea of book promotion.”

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When I told her more about it, she completely understood. So let me try to articulate it here. Forgive me if I don’t do it perfectly, but here are my thoughts on last Monday’s meltdown.

If you are not an independent author or an author with a small press, you may not understand fully the trials and tribulations of book promotion, but I know that these folks will get it — completely — so here’s the way it goes. Every morning you wake up with the thought, “How can I sell some books today?” For the last six years, that has been my relentless task, in addition to being a full-time professor, wife, mother, writer, blogger, and member of society who also likes to spend time with family and friends. That one, singular thought became an obsession for me, and here’s why: we care about our work, the stories we are producing as authors, but what good are they if no one reads them? The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to chip away at book promotion little by little, day after day. We write press releases. We enter book contests. We attend book talks, festivals, and signings. We are omnipresent on social media. We take photographs and come up with tidbits about our books to share on social media sites. We check our blog stats and our Amazon and Barnes & Noble pages to see how many books we have sold daily. We follow other people who are doing the same and see if we can learn from them. We see where we need to improve. We examine peak points on social media and try to post at those times that yield the biggest results. Then, we wake up each day and start over. And over. And over.

We drink a helluva lot of coffee.

And then we hit a wall.

Just like that.

Boom.

And the worst part is, I LOVE creativity. I love it so much, you guys. I love to talk about it, research it, read books about it, and just be creative through my writing and blogging and teaching, and yet, guess what was being zapped?

My friggin’ creativity.

Sucked away like Potter’s Dementors.

And so I had a knee-jerk reaction.

Stop writing. Stop blogging. Stop book promotion.

The problem came two days later when I realized that I didn’t want to stop blogging or writing, I just needed a sabbatical from book promotion.

I also realized that I needed to change my blog. It has been on my mind for a couple of years to rebrand it a bit, while still keeping the Steph’s Scribe flavor. As anyone in business knows, things can’t always stay the same, and change is good.  I’m one of the top Entertainment bloggers on Paperblog, and I have over 10,000 blog followers, so the last thing I wanted to do was start over.

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So you can see I’ve compromised. It’s got a new title, with Steph’s Scribe as a subtitle so I don’t lose my followers; it has topics that I would like to cover regularly; and my goal is for it to have a little more spirit and candor.

Not everything in life is roses and caviar, and I believe I didn’t always allow myself to be as candid as I would like. So, we’ve got a new approach and a new focus.

And now to you, my dear readers: I would love to hear from you about what you would like to see in the new revamping of the blog. I need some input. Creativity takes brainstorming and often can’t be done alone, so if you have some ideas for me, I am open and in need of them.

To those of you who wrote to me, people like Danielle, Jack F. and Jack G., Deborah, Elizabeth, Whitney, Heather, Linda, Leeanne, Chip, Laurie, and so many others, your words made me examine this much more quickly than I thought was possible. So thank you. Thank you so very much.

And while the “noise” may not be completely cleared and sent to Mars, it’s getting better. And while I cannot fully stop book promotion if I want my books to be read, I can still take a breather from it and perhaps manage the chaos in a different way. And while I may not be ready to write another novel, at some point, I will probably do it again.

And if I love blogging, well then, damn it, I’m just going to keep on blogging.

Was this candid enough for you? If so, I look forward to a cup of candor each week with you as we progress.

Love to you all.  Have a wonderful weekend…

Stephanie

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.

 

The Town of Oxford Awaits You

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Plein Air Day, Oxford, Maryland

***

On Sunday, July 16, the Town of Oxford in Maryland will host Plein Air Day, whereby artists come to town to paint scenes of Oxford and its waterways. Artists set up in various locations in the town, and it’s a great way to watch artists in action and see their works. The day will be filled with other festivities as well, including tours of the town, rides on the historic ferry, free coffee with the purchase of muffin at Oxford Market, music, and lots of activities for everyone.

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If you’ve read my novel, Inn Significant, you may remember the bookstore in town, which is real. It’s called Mystery Loves Company, and the store has arranged for me to sign books in the park next to the bookstore from 1 – 3 p.m. Local artist and former Oxford resident Linda Luke will be on hand as well. Come visit us!

Plus, if you liked the novel, you’ll be able to retrace Milly’s steps and find your way to the Scottish Highland Creamery or dine on the water and crack crabs as she did with Miles. You can even try to guess which home she might have purchased on S. Morris Street.

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Oxford is a truly special little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It is the setting of my novel and a place that seems to call me to come visit quite often. If you do visit, don’t forget to take a peek at the Sandaway Inn on the Tred Avon River adjacent to the Oxford Ferry. That particular Inn was the inspiration for the novel, and I can’t wait to stop by and say hello.

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To read a full article from the Talbot Spy about the event, click here. It has more about this exciting day in Oxford.

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Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.13.35 PMHope to see you in Oxford!

 

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.