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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Flash Fiction from a Writing Prompt

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In the classes I teach at Stevenson University, students know that I have the propensity to use writing prompts in class to get them writing creatively and telling little stories. Their purpose? Simply to practice writing.

Often, when I have the inclination to write something but am in-between novels, I use writing prompts a lot. There are three main reasons to use a writing prompt:

  1. It gets you writing (as stated above) and thinking creatively.
  2. It gets you thinking in way you may not have been thinking when you started staring at the blinking cursor and allows you to take a writing journey.
  3. It can turn into something wonderful.

Years ago, I wrote a prompt that I loved so much, I used portions of it in my first novel. You can click here to see that particular piece writing if you would like.

I like the idea of someone giving me an idea to write about because it pushes me, just as those I give the students push them. It’s also fun to see where students take the prompts. For example, Student X might take the story one way, Student Y might take it another way, and Student Z might take it in an entirely different direction. That’s the beauty of prompts and of writing: we imagine things differently, and sharing that journey is exciting.

A website I use to garner writing prompts comes from Writing Exercises UK.

Today, I got the first line for the prompt from that site, and I’m going to share what I did with it. It’s totally rough, because that’s what writing prompts should be. They are a launching pad to see if you want to explore it further when you are done.

I hope you take the time utilize writing prompts to see where your creativity may take you.

Enjoy the writing journey.

***
The first line generator gave me this first line:

There was a legend about the well in the garden…

Here’s the story.
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There was a legend about the well in the garden. Groundskeepers said the well held a secret to the old home and its matron, Cynthia LaMontagne, who lived on the property for all 100 years of her life. Born on the second floor to her own mother, Cynthia inherited the home upon her parents’ deaths and raised all eight of her own children on the property. The secret of the well was not a pretty one, and it reflected a haunting tale that left me searching for answers after spending time on the grounds of the old estate, set in the hills of France.
You see, I was not personally acquainted with Cynthia LaMontagne until she was eighty, and I was a college graduate back in 1998, the youngest of three children of Cynthia’s son, Martin, who had met an American woman, my mother, and moved to the United States in his early thirties. My father and his mother spoke only rarely and upon occasions when it was mandatory. However, it had been promised to me for ten years that upon my college graduation and at my grandmother’s urging that I would get to spend a month with her on the large estate in France so that I could see a little bit of Europe before I began a career in advertising in New York City.
I did not speak French, which would make conversations with Cynthia challenging, but my father had very nicely hired a local French woman who was bilingual as a translator to help with that. Despite turning eighty the summer I visited, she didn’t look much like eighty at all. She was a thin woman, with a strong nose and inset blue eyes. Her hair was white, but long, and she wore it in a bun on the top of her hair.
When I first arrived to Vue Sur Le Jardin, I was in awe of the expansive balcony on the second floor with vistas of the gardens—wildflowers everywhere—and of course, a small vineyard on the left side of the property. The house itself was not massive, but the grounds were. New York City has its skyscrapers and glittery skyline, but the view from that balcony was one to be envied.
“Bien?” my grandmother asked, smiling, seeing me taking in the scenery. It was an awkward initial greeting, hugging each other gently, the two of us having never met in person.
“Oui.”
On that first day, the translator had not yet arrived, and so Cynthia and I were content with lots of smiling and gesturing. Thankfully, the next morning, Helen arrived to take over on day two and to help me communicate with Cynthia. We sipped our coffees on the veranda, and she seemed like a nice person.
“Aimeriez-vous vous promener dans les jardins pour que je puisse vous connaître?” Helen asked. I looked at her squarely.
“I’m sorry, Madamoiselle. Would you like to stroll that gardens so that I may get to know you?” she asked in very broken English.
“Yes,” I said.
We began our descent to the main lawn, a rolling hill, with trees atop blowing in the wind. We came upon the wishing well, covered in ivy, wildflowers growing in all directions around it.
“C’est charmant,” I said, trying to practice my French so as to not disappoint.
“Yes,” Helen said. “It is charming, but there is a story, you see. One we don’t speak of.”
I looked at her puzzled. It always felt like something had been missing from my father’s stories, and there were not many. When I asked about his youth, he always dismissed them as good, with little elaboration. It was apparent standing among these gardens that I knew nothing about my father’s younger days. How could he not have told me all about the estate of Vue Sur Le Jardin?
“But you have to tell me. I’ve come all this way to understand my father’s upbringing and get to know my own grandmother who I’ve only just met in person yesterday.”
“I cannot speak it,” Helen said.
“But you must now,” I said.
Helen looked away with fear. Something had rattled her very core, as we stood among the beauty, a picturesque paradise annointed with flowers and stone paths highlighted by an abundance of sunlight.
“Your father’s sister, you see,” Helen said pointing to the well.
“My father’s sister is in the well?”
“I’m afraid the sad story is that your father’s sister was pushed and died in the well…”
***
To be continued…maybe.purple-grapes-vineyard-napa-valley-napa-vineyard-39351.jpeg

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.

 

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.

 

An Updated Trailer for Beneath the Mimosa Tree

As I’ve worked hard over the last month to unify the look of the covers of my previously published novels, I decided to tackle another form of unification, and that’s creating trailers that are a little better than the old ones I produced years ago and have a similar feel.

With a little more insight into video production from some of my students, I decided to give my trailers another go. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve researched other writers’ trailers, and there were things I liked and wanted to incorporate into my own.

After reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek, I’ve had to reevaluate everything I do with regard to being an indie author. I’ve come up with different strategies and tactics, and I’m seeing how this new plan goes because with each new step, I ask myself “why” I should do it.

I think it’s fun to play around and be creative with trailers. I’d love to work with some video footage instead of still photography for some upcoming trailers, and I’m pretty thankful for my time in Orioles Productions years ago when I interned with my friend Charles Steinberg and had to make videos for the ballpark. It was a lot of fun learning that side of storytelling. Plus, I’m a big movie fan, and always find it interesting to see what happens when a book makes it to the big screen—what stays, what goes, what changes, and how it goes from the page to being set in motion.

Anyway, I ramble. Here’s the new trailer for my first “baby,” Beneath the Mimosa Tree.

*

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

 

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.

 

 

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.

Image result for tom junod

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.

 

When An Idea Hits You, You Jump [for joy]

Hi You All,

I’m glad you’re still here reading my blogs. I’m so thankful and happy about that.

As you’ve been with me for a while, you know that this summer I experienced what we might call burnout, or the feelings of being a little tired from all that has occurred over the last several years with my writing and the promotion of my writing. Since 2012, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, and I’m not complaining at all. It’s all been wonderful and crazy and fun. It’s been non-stop high energy as I’ve turned out three fiction books and a textbook all within the span of five years while still working as a full-time professor, teaching and advising, raising my kids, and trying to have some sort of meaningful friendships and relationships with my family.

In other words, I needed to decompress and become inspired again.

Whew.

I did that. And it was awesome. I completely turned my brain off for a while.

Daily-Affirmation-for-positive-attitude-I-look-at-the-sunny-side-of-everythingSince I’ve bounced back, and my creativity is returning, I’ve been toying with the sequel to Inn Significant, seeing if it’s really what I want to be writing. While it’s been something that I’ve been doing progressively, but at a snail’s pace, I’m still not sure if I will ever publish this “thing.”

But then, out of the blue, a story idea came to me. It happened during a peaceful moment when my mind was clear and I was completely relaxed. I let the idea sit there for a while and start to take hold without moving too much on it. It kept coming back and getting bigger. I was starting to “see” my main character, what her situation is, and where the story might be set. I called my mother—my biggest supporter in the world—and we hashed it out.

I think I may have my next book idea.

I just may have it.

And it makes me want to jump with joy.

So hang tight…thanks for the support…and please don’t count me out.

Something may be brewing.

iris-gumption
Feeling a little bit like Iris today.

***

cropped-image1-19.jpgStephanie 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.

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

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 11.04.36 AM
This setting is an inspiration for the sequel to Inn Significant. Such a beautiful barn.
In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here’s yet another chapter of what may end up being the sequel to Inn Significant. I’ve passed 10,000 words, but this chapter brings me to 9,385 for this endeavor.

Here’s what I’m working on presently:

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

Anyway, those are my goals for now.

Here’s Chapter 4.

C H A P T E R   F O U R  O F  T H E   S E Q U E L   T O

I N N   S I G N I F I C A N T

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

“It’s so fancy!” Colette said.

“And feminine,” Eva said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

“I can understand,” John said sympathetically.

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

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

“Nicely, but not quickly.”

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Dear Milly,

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

Ciao—

Marco

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Have you lost your mind?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long have you known this?”

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

“Both,” I said.

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

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

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

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

“Gracie?” I said.

“Yes, Mills—”

“Do Mom and Dad know?”

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

“This feels like a dream.”

“For me, too, Milly.”

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you, you know,” I said.

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

—END CHAPTER FOUR—

COPYRIGHT STEPHANIE VERNI / NOVEMBER 2017

 

TODAY’S WRITING PROMPT

#nanowrimo | Write 500 words

For Fiction

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

For Nonfiction

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

 

Kicking Off National Novel Writing Month with an Exercise for You

W e l c o m e !

If you haven’t stopped by and visited my blog before, I’m so glad to see you here. I’m a professor, author, and blogger, and I have a passion for all things writing. Today is exciting, because on my campus, the Library and I have teamed up to launch National Novel Writing Month, with a kick-off today at 2 p.m. in the School of Business Library. We’ll be getting you ready to write at our event entitled STEVENSON WRITE NOW.

I’ve written three novels that I’ve self-published, mostly because I like to have a hand in every aspect of the process. I publish through Amazon, and it’s a great way to share your work without going through an agent of publisher. I have also published one academic textbook with my colleagues—an altogether different type of writing—on Event Planning through Kendall-Hunt Publishers. And now, I’m your writing cheerleader.

At Steph’s Scribe, I’ll be posting every day throughout the month of November as we tackle National Novel Writing Month. Whether I share a prompt as an exercise, offer writing tips, or share some of my own work, I’ll be writing alongside you every step of the way this month.

National Novel Writing Month has spawned many published books, but perhaps my favorite that came out of the endeavor is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. But whether you want to begin writing a novel, or you want to just practice writing, this month is for WRITERS and FUTURE WRITERS.

OUR FIRST WRITING CHALLENGE: Daily Prompt #1

As this is DAY ONE of November, I am challenging all writers out there, whether you are a…

fiction writer

non-fiction writer

poet

blogger

essayist

memoirist

dabbler in various genres

travel writer

or a new writer

…this prompt is for all of us.

TODAY’S CHALLENGE

Today’s challenge is to write 300-400 words whereby you tell a short story. Tell us anything—from fiction to non-fiction—that you would like to share.

Here are today’s rules:

  • Be creative.
  • The story should have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Write like you, not like anyone else.

If you would like to share your work, feel free to post in the comments. If not, keep your writings in a file. You never know what one of these prompts could turn into (in fact, one prompt I wrote became an integral part of my first novel; it’s so much fun to see it come to fruition).

Good luck today and KEEP WRITING.

__________________________

cropped-image1-19.jpgStephanie 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.