Wednesday Wardrobe – The Floral Maxi Dress

AdamireI’m getting spring fever, you guys.

I want to wear pretty things that feel like summertime. I’m ready to be in flip flops, flouncy dresses, big hats, and sunglasses.

So today, I’m featuring a dress from Express that I got at a consignment store–in perfect condition. There’s a lot to be said for quality consignment stores. I pop into our local shop a couple of times a month just to see what great finds may be waiting just for me.

I shop everywhere, though. Nordstrom. Ann Taylor Loft. Kohl’s. Target. Macy’s. Boden. Sundance. I’m all over the place, because I like to try different things.

So here’s one of two maxi dresses I’ve picked up so far this season–I’ll be wearing them both all summer and on our two vacations.

The hat is from Marshall’s.

Orange mules are from DSW by Kelly & Katie.

Sunglasses are Foster Grant.

Summer. We are waiting.


Book Club Visits Benefit Authors – Truly.

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The lovely women of last week’s Book Club in Chartwell, Severna Park.

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a local book club meeting, and I had the opportunity to mingle with readers of my novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, the first of three novels I have written and published.

From the book club side, the benefits of having an author attend your book talk is that you get some “behind the scenes” information about the book, its inception, back story, and inspirations from the author. Authors are typically willing to answer questions and provide additional insight into their books.

I enjoyed meeting the women in last week’s book club, and had a great time interacting with them. They asked great questions and were interested in learning about the writing process.

From an author’s perspective, book clubs offer us the chance to pick our readers’ brains a little, too, because hearing directly from readers is the best way to do research, think about adjustments for the future, and hear ideas for potential novels. If you can get your pulse on what they like to read, it can be most beneficial. I tell my own writing students that when I write something—especially a novel—I picture my readers in my head, I know what they are looking for in a book, and I try not to disappoint them.

I’d love to be a part of your book club — just reach out, and I’ll do my best to be there either in person or virtually. It means a lot to us as writers—we LOVE to meet our readers.
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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.

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.

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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.

 

7 Tips to Improve Your Business Writing

pexels-photo-948888.jpegWriting well is vitally important in any field you consider for your profession. Some people claim they are not good writers, but in order to be successful, you must be able to write well, and so it is something that you should continually work to improve. As writing is a craft, it’s an incredibly important communication skill.

For 18 years, I’ve been a faculty member in the Department of Business Communication at Stevenson University where writing is one of our core fields of study. Writing meaningful, well-written material shows care, knowledge, and the capacity to put thoughts into words. Being able to clearly articulate ourselves is an asset to any company. Anything poorly written reflects on you. Carelessly proofed work, grammatical and punctuation errors, and weakly built sentences and paragraphs can lead to a lack of clarity and show a lack of pride in one’s work.

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In order to help you better prepare written documents, here are a few things to keep in mind while you develop and fine-tune your business writing.

  1. Always proof your emails and work CAREFULLY before you send them. Careless typos, mistakes, and ill-crafted verbiage will not reflect well on you as an employee and/or someone who wishes to grow with the company or in his career. Be sure to take the time to review what you’ve written. One suggestion for beginning writers is to craft the prose in a Word document to proof it and then paste it into the email when it has been fully checked. You should also print it and read it NOT on a screen, where editing copy can be easier. Additionally, add the recipients of the email last to avoid sending it to the wrong people or sending it too soon.
  2. Know your audience. For every single piece of writing you do, you must know your intended audience. Know as much about them as possible, thereby writing information that pertains specifically to that audience. Imagine yourself as the reader of what is received and ask yourself questions that could best be answered in that email, document, proposal, or whatever piece of collateral you are writing.
  3. Organize your work. One thing that distracts readers from good comprehension of materials is when work is all over the place. Organize your writing by topics, time, situations, suggestions—whatever—and stick with it. Don’t make your audience have to work to understand what you have written by bouncing from one topic to another. Stay organized and focused on each aspect of the content.
  4. An informal, inviting tone is always helpful to writing, but always remember this is writing created for business. You can certainly adjust the tone, but be cognizant of who will eventually read it, and write for that audience. If the situation calls for a more casual style of writing, feel free to implement it, but don’t go too far. Stick with language that is pertinent to the subject and audience at hand.
  5. Try not to use too much jargon and leave the trite expressions behind. Write with facts, statistics, and strong information to keep the writing pertinent and viable. Leave behind the flowery language for novels and creative fiction and nonfiction, advertising, and other creative outlets, and write strong content using minimal adjectives and adverbs.
  6. Keep your audience’s time in mind and edit your work—people do not have a lot of time to sift through business documents. If you keep your audience in mind with all documents you produce, you will write in a concise way so that you do not waste their precious time searching for clues within your documents. Instead, you will eliminate unnecessary information. As Strunk & White recommend, “Omit needless words.”
  7. Conclude well, and know what you are asking the audience to do. Whether you are asking your audience to take action, consider a proposal, become involved in the company, stay informed, attend a function, understand a new process or program, or approve a new budget, whatever it is, conclude with the proposed action in mind. Don’t leave your audience guessing. It is your job to tell them what you want to tell them and ask for what you need.

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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.

Friday Fiction: Dr. DeCarlo’s Patient

pexels-photo-263402.jpegHappy Friday, readers!

I’ve been working on some additional short stories that I’ll be adding to my collection I’m putting together for a summer release.

For years, I’ve been envious of Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the novel Twilight. Apparently, the story goes that she dreamed it and turned it into a novel. How does she get so lucky to have a story come into her subconscious like that, I’ve wondered. What a stroke of brilliance.

Well, it finally happened to me the other night. This story was a dream, as if I were watching it on the big screen. I woke up the next morning and wrote it, sent it off to my friend Elizabeth who gave it a blessing, spruced it up a little, and I’m sharing it today.

It’s a WIP (work in progress), so there is still more to be done, but as I am never too afraid to show my writing or talk about the process of writing, I thought I’d post it today for Friday Fiction.

Here’s my newest short story, Dr. DeCarlo’s Patient (and yes, his name was actually in my dream).

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DR. DeCARLO’S PATIENT (copyright April 6, 2018 | Stephanie Verni

Dr. DeCarlo checks into the hospital at four o’clock in the afternoon. By seven that night, he has seen numerous patients with injuries and ailments ranging from an elderly woman who has fallen and broken her hip to a child with an asthmatic reaction to a teenager who has been hit in the face with a baseball by a batter during a local high school game. On any given day, Dr. DeCarlo sees to patients, caring for them all the same way: with a direct, warm approach and comprehensive analysis to try to heal their traumas that have brought them to the emergency room at all hours of the day or night.

At exactly ten thirty-five, Dr. DeCarlo runs his fingers through his dark hair and scratches his chin. His skin is tanned from playing golf, a benefit of living in the south, his one recreational activity he plays frequently that relaxes and revives him. It’s by far his favorite de-stressor from work, and he squeezes in a round or two of at least 9-holes a couple of days a week. A car accident victim is arriving in the ambulance and his associate gives him a head’s up having heard the ambulance call. He finishes up with the woman who has broken her hip as she is being prepped for surgery with another doctor—the poor lady, scared to death and worried—and begins his walk to where he will meet the accident victim. He needs a cup of coffee, but it must wait. His back is tired from bending over for the majority of the afternoon, and he is burdened by the fact that he must return Sophia’s call, which popped up on his cellphone over three hours ago. Dialing her number doesn’t interest him at all, but he knows it’s something he will eventually have to do.

The woman being wheeled out of the ambulance is semi-conscious, and he sees her face is bruised, her nose bleeding. There’s a gash over her left eye. Her hand is wrapped in gauze to stop the bleeding and she’s moaning slightly; a little wet tear slides down her unaffected cheek. He reads the quick report—she was hit on the driver’s side by what appears to have been an intoxicated driver. Glass shattered. The car was totaled. The paramedics report that she may have broken ribs and other parts, and they found her fainted in the vehicle upon their arrival. Dr. DeCarlo looks at his patient and begins to examine her in a hurried manner, the nurses quickly dulling her pain at his order. He reads the name on her chart so that he can call her by name, a habit some of his other colleagues do not do so well. He remembers the tip his father, a doctor himself, had given him years ago: patients are people, not numbers. They are people with emotions and pain, sadness and worry. They are often scared. Dr. DeCarlo prides himself that he regards his patients as individuals, and it’s been one of his long-standing doctor goals: to remember their names. It is something he regularly works to do with each face he meets.

As the patient begins to feel the effects of the pain medication, he reaches for her hand—the one not bandaged—and speaks gently to her. “You will be okay, Emelie. We’re going to take care of you.”

Her eyes close, and she drifts off. Dr. DeCarlo begins to get to work.

*

Emelie awakens hours later to a nurse telling her to drink some Ginger Ale. The nurse is trying to bring her to full consciousness, and she slowly begins to focus her eyes to see her surroundings. She is not dead. At least she doesn’t think so. She is alive and surrounded by people in hospital garbs, the smell of formaldehyde taking over her senses. She sees her bandaged left arm and looks down to see her left leg in a cast. Her chest hurts; it aches to breathe. The thought of drinking anything at this very moment is not appealing.

“Let’s see if we can begin to get you hydrated,” the nurse with the big breasts says as she leans over her. “We want to get you off the IV if we can.” It takes a few minutes for her to come around, and at the nurse’s urging, she takes some sips from a straw.

“Which hospital am I in?” she asks.

Just then, a man walks through the door in a white coat. He looks familiar. The nurse greets him, and he says hello back to her. They seem to know each other. The doctor’s face is friendly, and he looks at Emelie and begins to speak.

“Good morning, Emelie,” he says kindly. “I’m Dr. DeCarlo, and I worked to stabilize you last night. How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been hit by a car,” Emelie says, knowing full well what she is saying, the corners of her mouth turning into a little bit of a smile.

The doctor is pleased by her response and smiles at her. “I see you have a good sense of humor,” he replies. “I don’t often get that after an accident, but you seem to know what happened.”

She nods. His presence is comforting.

“Then, you can probably guess by the looks of things that your your arm is broken and that your leg is fractured. Your face was scratched by the shattered glass, with one cut above the left eye, and you have a couple of broken ribs. You fainted in the car and went into a bit of shock, but we’ve taken good care of you since you arrived, and you’re getting stabilized. The good news is there’s no broken nose despite that it was bleeding a little when you arrived. You’re actually looking very well despite it all. The nurses have done their jobs.”

“And you, I would guess,” Emelie says. She offers a slight grin, giving him the best she can under the circumstances. There is something about his demeanor and the sound of his voice that is so pleasing. She is grateful for him and to him—and she feels the need to express it.

“I cannot thank you enough, Doctor. I appreciate all the great care you all have given me. Thank you for what you did.”

The nurse excuses herself from the room to get some additional supplies while Dr. DeCarlo continues to stand next to Emelie.

“Is there anything we can get you to make you more comfortable? Is there someone we can contact for you?”

Emelie shakes her head from side to side. “No,” she says, “I will just wait to get discharged. How many days will I be here?”

“Probably just overnight again. Most likely, you will be released tomorrow in the afternoon, but someone will need to take you home.”

“Right,” Emelie says.

*

It’s six in the morning, and Dr. DeCarlo’s shift ended at midnight, but things were hectic, and he stayed on to help the overflow. It’s one of the perks of being an unwed doctor—no one is waiting for him to come home. His hours are his own.

The nurse re-enters the room with some food and a few supplies. She will need to help Emelie to the bathroom once the catheter comes out. Not to embarrass the patient, the nurse speaks gently to Dr. DeCarlo.

“I’ll just need to help her out in a minute. You have been here far longer than you ought to have been, Dr. DeCarlo. How sweet of you. You should have punched out hours ago.”

The doctor’s face brightens a little, showcasing a little bit of redness on the cheeks. “Of course, of course. I just wanted to make sure our patient was okay,” he says, looking at Emelie.

“A little broken physically,” Emelie says, “but I think my spirit will be fine. I’m sorry for passing out. I don’t have a high level of tolerance for pain or blood. Do the police know who hit me?”

“They do. She was identified and charged, and walked away from it amazingly unharmed. Apparently, she had a little too much fun at the local bar, it would seem,” the nurse says. Dr. DeCarlo continues to look at Emelie. There is something about her that compels him to be standing here talking to her. There’s something about her face—those eyes—the cheekbones that are scratched up a bit. The sense of humor and humility. The nurse begins to shoo him away and he feels the phone vibrate in his pocket. He still hasn’t called Sophia back.

“I guess I must be on my way to let Nurse Shay take care of you. I’ll check back to check on you later.”

Nurse Shay shoots him a look of surprise, for in her five years working with Dr. DeCarlo, she has never seen him go the extra mile for patients as he has with this one. To be sure, he is a kind and caring emergency doctor, but there’s something different about the way he’s treating this case, and she furrows her brow with puzzlement.

Meanwhile, he can hear Emelie say sweetly as he exits the door to her room, “Thank you.”

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*

Dr. DeCarlo heads to the locker room to collect his things. He is not due back until later tonight. As he places his coat on the hook of his locker and closes the door to it, he feels his phone vibrate again in his pocket. He grabs it and looks at the screen, sees her name again, and realizes that he really should clean his screen that’s full of fingerprints.

He exits the locker room, thinks about Emelie and wonders how she’s doing and why he’s thinking about her so much, and runs into Dr. Hickson, who is on call at the emergency room during the day. They share a passing greeting, and Dr. DeCarlo says he will see her later when he returns.

He walks outside into the warm morning sunshine, the blue sky cloudless, and sees her standing on the curb. He gingerly walks over to her.

“Hello, Sophia,” he says. At eight in the morning, she is coiffed and poised for action, and looks more like she is ready to go to a club than to go to her law office. Her severely highlighted blonde hair is piled on top of her head, her red lipstick never out of place.

“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve called you?” she demands.

“Yes,” he says. “I believe it was 12.”

“That sounds about right. So why haven’t you called me back?” she says indignantly.

“I was working.”

“In the past, you’ve found time to call me while you’re working. What’s going on, Hugh?”

“This isn’t the place to have this discussion, Sophia. I’m on hospital grounds.”

“I know that. So am I.”

“Yes, but you don’t work here. I don’t discuss personal matters at work.”

“What matters?”

He places his sunglasses on his face, the sun’s brightness blinding his eyes as it rises over the hospital’s facade. He looks at her. It is safer to have this uncomfortable and inevitable conversation from behind dark shades.

“This isn’t working for me, Sophia. I don’t want to be in this relationship, especially when it doesn’t feel right.”

“Doesn’t feel right? What’s not right about it? I’m a professional. You’re a professional. We have the same circle of friends. We both want the same things out of life. How does this not feel right?”

“Call me crazy, but I just think there should be something more than a convenient group of friends and ambition as the factors that would bind us together. I’m sorry, Sophia. I just don’t want to be in this relationship any longer.”

“It was hardly a relationship to begin with,” she snips. “I’ve been the one driving the thing from the beginning. Your heart was never in it.”

“And perhaps that’s been the problem all along,” he says. “This hasn’t been a two-way street. You deserve better.”

“You’re absolutely right I deserve better! Look at me! I’m a catch! And you’re just too ignorant to see it,” she says, turning on her heels as she begins to take long strides toward her silver, convertible BMW, her shoes clicking on the asphalt. Dr. DeCarlo can’t help but chuckle at her silly antics, as he’s witnessed them before, and whispers a soft ‘bye-bye’ as she climbs into her car. He hears his mother’s voice in his head, the one that always offered reasoning during times when decisions must be made—you will know when you’ve found the right person, Hugh. You will feel it in here, she would say, patting the area on his chest where his heart is. He should have known better than to waste his time on something that never felt right. He certainly has never experienced anything like what his mother refers to as a “magical feeling” when meeting the person who may be a potential companion for life. It’s not that he didn’t want a life-long partner, he did, it’s just that no one had ever felt right before. He should never have allowed Eddie to set him up with Sophia in the first place. Set-ups never worked for him. Not in all of his thirty-eight years.

*

At eleven-thirty that night, Emelie is wide awake. She slept most of the day, as she tried to remember how the accident happened. Could she have prevented being hit by that woman? Could five more seconds of acceleration have avoided the crash? She’s beaten herself up all day about it, and now she stares at the television from her hospital bed as she watches The Jimmy Fallon Show, the volume turned down low.

Nurse Shay left hours ago, and Nurse Jones who is on duty now helped her clean herself up, offered her a brush, and helped her put her long, dark hair in a long ponytail. Nurse Jones also refreshed her water and helped her get to the bathroom about an hour ago, and is now making her way along the corridor to visit patients. The thought of returning to her apartment without any help is giving Emelie anxiety. The thought of being without a car is doubling that anxiety. There will be calls to the insurance company to sort out in addition to needing a car to get to work. She’s learned to become much more independent since Evan left, but she is worried about dealing with the effects of the car accident alone and contemplates calling her mother to see if she can come and stay with her for a while. What an inconvenience to her mother who lives all the way across the country. She hated the idea of doing that to her.

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When Emelie first came to Atlanta last year, she came because of Evan. They met after graduate school—he working in sales, she finding employment as a teacher—and lived together for many years in Washington state. When Evan’s company transferred him back to his home state of Georgia, he jumped at the opportunity, and Emelie followed at his urging. Emelie found a teaching job locally, and Evan loved his new surroundings and environment, and especially loved his new assistant, Shannon. In a matter of months, he loved her more than he loved Emelie. So when the good doctor asked her earlier if there was anyone to call, the answer was an emphatic “no,” as there was no family or good friends local for her, only her teacher acquaintances from school that she hadn’t known for very long.

In her dreamlike state, half paying attention to Jimmy Fallon and half thinking about her present, unfortunate situation, she hears a knock on the door, and the door pushes open.

“Emelie?” the pleasant male voice says. She recognizes it right away as the Doctor’s.

“Hi,” she says. He is wearing his white coat again, and it shows off his deep tan and dark eyes. He walks closer and looks at her. “I wanted to see how you are doing before I begin my shift.”

“That’s very sweet of you,” she says. “I’m okay. Unable to sleep.”

“We can help you with that if you need some rest,” he says.

“No, thank you,” she says. “I slept most of the day. I’m just thinking and mindlessly watching the television.”

“That’s a good word for it–mindless,” he smirks, taking a peek at the television. “If I didn’t have to work, I would challenge you to game of Scrabble or cards.”

“It might be kind of a challenge to hold cards in my hands or shuffle,” she said.

He grinned.

“What can we get you?”

“I’m good, thank you. Honestly, the care here has been top-notch. Thank you for checking up on me.”

They both look at each other for a second, and the doctor slides over the guest chair to sit beside her.

“I hope you don’t think this is too forward of me, because trust me, what I’m about to say is completely out of character for me, especially when it comes to my patients, but I was wondering, seeing as how you seem to be without a car, if you need a ride home when you are discharged, it’s my day off and I’d be happy to help you get home.” Dr. DeCarlo has officially surprised himself by saying these words. She must think he’s weird … or worse, creepy. He hasn’t been able to shake her from his mind ever since he cared for her last night, but truly, what is he thinking? Does he have some sort of fever? Emelie is a patient, for God’s sake.

And then he hears his mother’s words echo in his head—you will feel it in here. There is something undeniable going on, at least from his perspective. Something extraordinary is happening to him, and he feels awkward, as it takes what seems like an eternity before Emelie responds to his offer.

“Do you cook, too?” she replies, smiling.

*

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.

 

The Completed Draft of A Short Story: Sophie’s Ladybug

pexels-photo-193035.jpegAs I promised, I finished the short story I was working on for the past month. This is the first completed full draft, and I’m sure I’ll be making many tweaks to it until it is published in my collection in the Fall. I’ve read so many books in my book club over the last few years that are set during World War II, and I’m presently watching some British movies about Winston Churchill, so I thought I’d try my hand at writing something from that time period. My son is looking at Lynchburg College, so I decided to set this one in Lynchburg since we have visited that part of Virginia for college visits.

I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to leave me a comment or recommendation. I love getting feedback from readers, and since I am not presently in a writer’s group, I’d welcome any constructive criticism you may have.

Thanks an awful lot (as they would say in the 1940s).

Stephanie

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Sophie’s Ladybug

The day her father left, Sophie cried. She stood at the end of the dirt path, her mother inside the house refusing to see him off, too resentful of what it was doing to her family to say goodbye. As the car destined for town that would have all the men board a bus that would take them to Fort Bragg arrived, her father gave a short wave and nod to her, and she waved back, fighting back the tears as hard as she could as he hoisted his sack into the vehicle and leaned inside. That’s when the tears began to flow. At twelve, Sophie was well aware of the dangers her father could face and the possibility that he may never return home safely. Plenty of her friends back home had lost their own fathers months earlier. Because of the stories she had heard and the sadness she had seen on the faces of people she knew well, she could understand her mother’s apprehension, worry, and desperation at the thought of being left to fend for herself and her child in this world.

The other end of the dirt path sat at the stone walkway to Sophie’s grandmother’s house, a grand white home with a sprawling front porch and wooden front steps perched in the lower mountains of Lynchburg. Her grandmother had taken them in while her father fought for the liberties of others. They had given up their own home four hours away up north, the one where they had lived for years, the one Sophie had called home, and the one where she had first believed in Lady Luck.

When her father had told her the news that he was headed to Fort Bragg, he relayed the news that Sophie and her mother would be moving and living with Grandma. They sat on their porch together back in Maryland, as he tried desperately to comfort her.

“It’s my duty,” he had said, trying to rationalize the idea of war and tighting to a young girl. “We have to protect what we believe is right.”

Sophie looked at him with her big blue eyes, her hair knotted from playing outside, her freckles more apparent because she was in the sun so often. She swallowed hard, knowing the decision was already made and there was no turning back.

As she reached to give her father a hug, a ladybug landed on Sophie’s shoulder, then another one on her thigh. Her dad looked at them and smiled.

“Well, Sophie-Belle, looks like you just brought us some luck. Those things are lucky, you know.”

“There are so many more this year,” Sophie said, looking at the small red and black beetle her dad had collected into the palm of his hand.

“Perhaps I won’t be gone for long after all,” her father said.

She remembered that day now, listening to the happy sounds of birds chirping in early spring, as she walked back up to the house remembering how she said goodbye to her father right here, the dirt flying off the tires of the car, as her dad disappeared down the road, off to protect his family in a different way.

She also remembered opening the door to the house and seeing her mother standing near the window staring straight ahead, a handkerchief in her hand. It was then that Sophie began to worry, and had subsequently remained worried for two full years.

*

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Sophie played with Casper, her uncle’s dog, and ate brunch every Sunday on the wraparound porch of her grandmother’s house. They tried desperately not to pay too much attention to news from the war. They knew her father was in Europe—in France somewhere—and that things were not going as well as they had hoped. Only three letters had arrived so far. Her uncle, Timothy, would read the letters aloud as they would gather to hear her father’s words on paper. Timothy would not be joining the fight, as he had polio, walked with a severe limp—sometimes even with a cane—despite being only twenty-one years old himself. Polio did not discriminate, and although he had a positive outlook on life most of the time, Sophie had only seen him become bitter because of his fate once or twice. For the most part, he was cheerful and supportive. Timothy and her mother, although she was years older, had a strong bond. In the heat of the summer, her uncle would take her swimming, and they would all wade in the James River, and occasionally get a ride in friend’s rowboat, where she watched fish jump and attempted to catch something with a measly stick, string, and foul piece of a chicken wing. Sophie loved listening to the sounds of the crickets as she attempted to count stars while her uncle would play his guitar and her mother would sing, her lilting, soft voice echoing in the night air. At times, Sophie found herself listening to her mother’s voice as she sang, for it sounded hollow and melancholy.

Her grandmother did her best to keep them all from dwelling on what was happening in Europe. In fact, it was her grandmother who turned off the WLVA radio broadcast one night, they’d listen to report after report and become more depressed for doing so. It had become increasingly more difficult to listen to reports about the war and Hitler and lives lost. Her hands were poised on her hips, and she uttered the words, “No more.” They all looked at her standing there in her apron, her hair tied tightly in a bun on the top of her head, the lines on her face looking just a bit deeper than they did months ago.

“I have an idea,” she said.

She told Sophie, Timothy, and Sophie’s mother to all pile into the car and snatched the keys to her vehicle. The smell of autumn was in the air, despite that it was only September. The smell of the outdoors awakened Sophie’s senses. It was dusk, and her Grandmother put the keys into the ignition and began the drive down the roads lit only by the headlights and the early moonlight.

“Where are we going, Grandma?” Sophie asked, still unsure as to what her grandmother’s great idea might be.

“You will see soon,” she said.

After several minutes, Sophie could see buildings take form in front of her, and she knew they had reached downtown Lynchburg. What was going on this evening, she wondered. Where was her grandmother taking them at this hour?

When they rounded the corner, Sophie could see a building rising up in front of them. Her grandmother—very much in control of her red Packard station wagon, a veritable renegade whom Sophie always admired for her positive attitude and spunk—pulled right in front of the Jones Memorial Library.

“We are going to the Library, Mother?” Sophie’s mother said aloud in an incredulous tone.

“We are.”

“But what on Earth for?”

“To take our minds off the news…the war. Let me show you what’s inside.”

Sophie’s grandmother had been working for many years at the library. She was one of three main librarians there.

After struggling to get the key in the door as the library had been closed for a couple of hours, her grandmother finally gained entrance. Sophie loved the smell of the place—the smell of hardback covers and a mustiness that she couldn’t quite describe. Sophie’s grandmother turned on the dim lights, and the four of them stood in the middle and looked around. Libraries are typically a quiet place, but tonight, this one felt cathartic. There was something peaceful about it.

“Come to the back storage room,” her grandmother said, not in a whisper voice, but rather a regular talking voice. “I want to show you something.”

She opened the door to the storage room, Sophie right behind her, and they looked. There were hundreds of books scattered all over the place—on the floor, on the tables, and stacked up on chairs.

“What is all this?” Sophie asked.

“These are the books that we can no longer use,” her grandmother said. “They are either too old, falling apart, or we have so many extra copies we don’t know what to do with them. The head librarian gave us permission to get what we want first, and then we will have a little library sale and make a little extra money. So, as you can see, there are many. I will make a donation to the library, and we will have first choice, as I was approved to do so. I suggest we all pick three or four books to take home. I even cleared off a couple of shelves so we can have a begin to create our own home library. Or, we can just borrow from this library. But I want us reading and sharing—I’ve always wanted to do that. Does that sound like fun? Does it sound like something we could do to take our minds off the news reports?”

Sophie watched her mother intently, waiting to see her reply. Her mother was one to keep everything locked down deep inside and not share anything—not her feelings, her concerns, her worry, or her desire to be distracted by something. Sophie kept a keen eye on her to see how she would respond to her mother’s idea.

“I think it’s an ingenious idea, Mother,” Sophie’s mother said aloud to all of them. “I like it very much. I’d like to get lost in a good book and escape. And I’d like to get Sophie reading more.”

“Then it’s settled. If you want to purchase a few books, let’s do it. If you want to borrow some books, let’s do it. So here are the rules: we each pick three or four books we like to begin and that will make 12 books for our initial run at this thing. We can share what we are reading and how we like the books when we have dinner at night. Then, if we like the stories, we can exchange them and talk about them. But let’s sink our teeth into something other than these war stories that leave us depressed.”

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And so they began to shuffle through the abundance of books in the back room. Sophie likened it to Christmas morning when they would open their presents, although there had been few gifts the last few years. Books made a wonderful companion to the long winter’s nights that would lay before them as the weather would soon be changing, and so Sophie plowed right in, searching for just the right ones to start off with on this new reading adventure. Sophie found a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries and The Hundred Dresses; her mother decided upon Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; her grandmother scooped up The Portable Dorothy Parker and Agatha Christie’s Death Comes As The End; and her uncle spotted The Fountainhead and The Ministry of Fear.

Sophie could feel her spirits lifting as she perused the books. She liked reading, but she did not read enough, despite that her grandmother worked at the library. She was intrigued by the idea of reading and sharing; it gave her something to look forward to. Maybe she would read them all. She was turning into a young lady now, and perhaps she could attempt to read more sophisticated literature.

As they finished selecting their books, Sophie heard her mother say, “Do you think I could work here, too? Do they need any extra help?”

Sophie could not hear her grandmother’s reply, but she understood why her mother was asking. The library was certainly a place where one could get lost and forget all her problems.

They made their ride home in silence, each one of them pensive, thinking of their books, each one doing his or her best not to mention the word ‘war.’

*

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When Sophie’s father’s letter finally arrived, it looked worn and beaten, as if it had been through a few tough passages itself. It was a Saturday morning, and the sun was rising high in the crisp November air. Sophie had read two books so far in addition to managing her own schoolwork and chores around the house. Her grandmother’s property needed a lot of upkeep, and with her grandmother working at the Library, in addition to her mother taking on a job at a factory in town, it was more important than ever for Sophie to do her part at home while others did their part elsewhere. And her uncle helped as he could, and had taken on the role of writing to soldiers as he could.

“Grandma,” Sophie said, as she ran into the kitchen, “it’s a letter from Dad.”

“Well, then you must open it and read it to me,” Grandma said, relieved that there was at least a letter in their hands.

Dearest Sophie, Addie, Mom, and Timothy,

I am writing to you from a small town in France, though I don’t think we’ll be here long enough for it to amount to anything firm and I’m not supposed to disclose our whereabouts. As you are probably getting reports from the radio, it’s not good here. We have lost a lot of men, and the fighting continues, although something inside of me is hopeful that it will not last much longer. I have heard the men talk of things happening, though I’m not sure when or where or how. Please know that I keep all of you in my heart and when I’m feeling particularly low or sad or overwhelmed by fear, I picture your faces in my head. I’m sorry that this is only the third letter you have received from me, but pen and paper are rare, and when we do find it, we all scribble things and try to get something sent back home because we know you are probably worried sick. It won’t be a long letter, but know that I love you all more than life itself, and that I will fight for us, and that I long to be home to see your smiling faces again. I will dream of hugging you all tightly,

Until then, much love,

John (or Dad)

Sophie sat and scratched her head as she looked out the window, her eyes becoming misty.

“He sounds so sad,” Sophie said.

“He just misses us tremendously,” her grandmother said.

“When he returns, we will have to lift his spirits and get him to join our reading club,” Sophie said.

“I think he’d like that very much,” Grandma said, as she turned her back to Sophie and sniffled. “He always was a good reader.”

*

Sophie’s mother stood in front of the crowd that had gathered inside the town’s library.

“Well, y’all, it’s the first Friday of the month, and I call this meeting to order,” her mother said, as she stood, trying to get the group that had assembled in order.

“As we have done for the last two months, we will take turns giving a two-minute overview of the book we have each read over the last few weeks. I hope everyone has finished their books.”

As word spread about Sophie’s family’s reading club, it had quickly grown to a group of twenty. People wanted to join. The library had offered to remain open late one evening every month, as the meeting was to begin promptly at 7 p.m. after the last factory shift had ended.

“Let’s start with you, Mrs. Bates,” Sophie’s mother said, and turned the program over to Mrs. Bates, who stood nervously, her book in her hand, and removed the kerchief from her head.

“Good evening, fellow readers,” Mrs. Bates said. “I’m here to tell you about the book I read, which I liked very much indeed and would recommend to you all. It is called Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and it’s about a woman who falls in love with a widower who owns a tremendous country estate called Manderlay, but his recent dead wife seems to haunt the place. And then there’s a woman, Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, who doesn’t much like the second wife and raised Rebecca and protects her memory. It’s a mystery, and I couldn’t stop reading it. And it’s set in Monte Carlo.” Sophie’s mother wrote the name of the book on the adjacent blackboard and gave it a check, which meant Mrs. Bates liked it.

When Mrs. Bates finished, everyone clapped. And that’s how it went for the better part of forty-five minutes as thirteen of the folks assembled shared what they were reading. Some were new members and this was their first time. Afterwards there was punch served, and Mrs. Conway brought her savory chocolate chip oatmeal cookies; Sophie talked with her friend, Beatrice, as the rest of the bunch mingled. Then, she and Beatrice began their hunt to gather information about the books they would put on their lists for their dads. Unfamiliar titles that men, perhaps, would like to read.

*

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Sophie’s mother was wearing a powder blue dress with her work shoes and was off to her job the factory that day. Her face seemed brighter than it had been months ago. Working at the  factory had helped her mood, that much Sophie could see. She had told Sophie that she needed “to help in any way she could” and it seemed to be making her feel better while they both waited for Sophie’s father to return. Her sense of humor had returned as well, and she said funny things to Sophie all the time.

It was May, and horrible, rainy, wet April was done. Sophie longed for the flowers to bloom and to feel the sunshine on her face, to wade in the river and to be done with school, and to stretch out on the grass on her favorite blanket and read a book.

Sophie’s mother kissed her on the forehead.

“Have a pleasant day today at school, and don’t let that boy pull your hair anymore, or I will have to speak to his mother.”

She winked at her daughter because she knew Johnny Doyle liked Sophie, which was why he was trying to get her attention. But Sophie wanted none of it. She was not interested in boys—well, at least not that one.

Her grandmother saw her off to school after her mother left. Johnny Doyle did pull her hair as they walked into the school, and Sophie kicked him in the shin. Johnny was shocked that she did this, his eyes opened wide in disbelief, and she stared at him, wondering if he would reciprocate. He did not. He simply walked away. She worried that he would tell the teacher she did this and she would get in trouble, but then she realized otherwise. He would not want to tell anyone that a girl kicked and hurt him. It would damage his pride. Truthfully, Sophie had had enough of it. This game of his had been going on for weeks.

At early recess, Sophie sat by herself under the tree in the schoolyard, and removed her latest book from her pile. She was thankful that reading kept her engrossed in other people’s stories and problems, so she could be less focused on her own. Less focused on missing her dad.

Within minutes, some cars started pulling up to the school and people were running toward it on foot. Principal Coates came running out of the school, which was an unusual sight, because Principal Coates was a bit rotund with a cherub face and Sophie had never seen him run before. His face looked more red than normal, and there was a smile that went from ear to ear. Sophie didn’t know what all the commotion was about, and then Principal Coates called the students into the main room, all of them gathered along with their teachers and the parents that had arrived.

“Children! There is great news today! Germany has surrendered, and the War in Europe is over. President Truman announced this today, but stated that we still have to win the war with Japan. It is halfway done!”

Sophie’s eyes filled with tears. Her first thoughts were of her father. Would he be coming home soon? Then, she thought of her mother. She couldn’t wait to see her her—to find out what she knew. But Germany had surrendered! She was so happy. She was so happy to hear some good news. She hugged Beatrice. Everyone. All around her, people hugged and celebrated. She didn’t know quite what it all meant or what the details would be, but she could tell from seeing the hugging and joy that this was fantastic news.

Johnny Doyle did not pull her hair on the walk home. In fact, he stayed ten steps behind her and didn’t come anywhere near her. His retreating made her feel a little badly about what she had done to him. He wasn’t so bad, really. She knew she shouldn’t have kicked him, and she probably shouldn’t have kicked him as hard as she did.

As they got near the forked road where Sophie’s house was down the road to the left and Johnny’s house was down the road to the right, she turned around to face him and stopped.

“Hey, Johnny,” she began, timidly, “I shouldn’t have kicked you. I’m sorry I did that.”

His face brightened and he looked at her. He knew he needed to be a man and apologize as well.

“I’m sorry I pulled your pigtails. I shouldn’t do that. Sorry.”

Sophie stuck out her hand to him. She was so happy about the news about Germany that she wanted to shake Johnny’s hand a make up. This was no time to be at war with anyone. Even a boy who constantly pulled your pigtails.

“Friends?” she asked.

“Friends,” he said, placing his hand in hers for the handshake. “So you think your dad will be home soon?”

“I think so,” she said. “At least that’s what I’m hoping for.”

When she opened the door to the house, she hear loud music playing from the radio and saw her grandmother was dancing around the kitchen. Sophie smiled when their eyes met, and she knew that she knew.

“You heard the wonderful news, Sophie?” her grandmother asked, approaching her to give her a big, smothering hug, kissing her on the top of her head.

“Yes.”

“We are going to town to celebrate. Everyone’s celebrating. Your mother must be beside herself by now.”

Sophie’s face hurt from smiling, as her grin felt permanently plastered and stretched across her petite, freckled face.

*

The celebration outside the factory lasted for hours and hours. People hugged and cried and laughed. Music played. They guessed when their loved ones would come home.

Sophie had never seen so much hope and love in one place.

She sat on the grass with Beatrice and watched the celebration.

“Oh,” Beatrice said, “there’s a ladybug on your shoulder. Want me to get it?”

Sophie stopped Beatrice from reaching for it.

“I’ll get it,” she said, and gingerly held the Ladybug in the palm of her hand.

The End.

copyright Stephanie Verni | 2018

From The Postcard & Other Short Stories & Poetry coming Fall 2018

 

Don’t Have Money To Spend This Valentine’s Day? Take A Cue From St. Valentine and Write A Letter

First, a little historical perspective…

St. Valentine lived during the time of Claudius the Cruel in Rome. Under his rule, Claudius was not fond of men who would not join his military leagues due to their devotion to their wives and families. Therefore, Claudius banned marriages and engagements in Rome. However, Valentine defied the emperor and continued to perform marriage rituals for people in love in secret.

When Claudius discovered what Valentine was doing, he ordered him put to death. The sentence was carried out on February 14.

While in jail and prior to his death, Valentine wrote a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become a friend. At the end of the letter, he wrote, “From Your Valentine.”

Hence, why we call love notes and letters during this time Valentines.

After his death, Valentine was named a saint, and we celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Second, get out your pen and paper if your wallet is dry…

There is nothing more sentimental, sweet, and loving than writing a heartfelt love letter to your Valentine or someone you love or someone who has changed your life or helped you along the way.

It’s not difficult to write a letter, it just takes a few moments of your time.

LetterHere are some ideas for writing that letter:

  • Share what they mean to you
  • Recount a meaningful, funny, or sentimental story you’ve shared
  • Tell them what you’re looking forward to in the future
  • Write from the heart, in your language, using your words
  • Pick pretty stationery or a card that suits your relationship
  • Plan to do something together that doesn’t cost anything and put it in writing. Some examples could include the following: taking a walk, strolling a museum, going on a hike, sitting by the river together with a book, watching a movie or your favorite show on television, attending a poetry reading at a local bookstore–anything that the two of you can do that does not cost money

Remember, your Valentine loves YOU not your money (or lack thereof), so do what you can do, and put your heartfelt words on paper.

They will love you even more for it.

***

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.

 

How My READING BOOKS Poll Stacks Up Against (pun intended) Official Polls

Let’s Talk About Books & Reading

We just completed the third week of the spring semester, and as is typical as I begin to talk about writing and reading in classes and asking students questions, I can get a little depressed when I realize how few students are reading books for pleasure these days. With so many distractions such as television, video games, socializing with friends, sports, and other commitments and activities, I decided to conduct my own informal poll on Facebook, something I had never done before.

The question I posed was this: HOW MANY BOOKS DID YOU READ IN 2017?

0-10 OR MORE THAN 11?

I received 143 responses, and the percentages are reflected in the infographic below.

Survey Findings (1)

While my poll didn’t have the same questions as the Pew Research Polls, which are broken out and are much more in-depth, I wanted to give it a try anyway. What I didn’t take into account was how many people had read zero books and kept that as a separate question. Perhaps the next poll will reflect reading zero books in a year.

My findings, however, relay some good news, at least, I think so. It shows that people are reading—some more than others for various reasons—but they seem to be reading some books throughout the year.

What made me conduct this poll?

I had read an article from The Atlantic from 2014 called The Decline of the American Book Lover about books and reading, and it prompted me to do my own informal research for this post. As someone who is a strong advocate of reading—and reading a lot of anything that interests you—I became somewhat engrossed in finding out more. Through several sites, I was able to compile the information below about books and reading from the Pew Research Institute, and I have put it together for you in an easy-to-read infographic below.

The Bad News & Good News

The bad news in the Pew Research findings was that 19% of people haven’t visited a Library (such a great resource, you guys!), and 26% of Americans are not reading at all. There was also a decline in e-reading.

The good news from my pols and their polls is that people ARE reading still…and in 2016, they preferred a physical book to reading books electronically. There’s been a 16% surge in children’s books, and on average, people are reading four books in a six-month period. The average number of books read in a year is 12.

At least, that’s what the research is trending toward today.

Books

***

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.

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

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Want to enter to win a copy of INN SIGNIFICANT?

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

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/1363f40b123b3f2a

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.

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

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

***

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

 

 

Book Marketing & An Infographic

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

THIS IS THE HARDEST PART OF THIS PROCESS — TRUST ME.

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

I’d love to hear from you.

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

Giving Thanks To You

Yes, it’s that time of the year.

Time to be thankful for people and blessings.

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

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

I’m very thankful to know you here.

Thank you, readers!

* * *

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

 

 

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