I believe everything we write comes from a place of experience or another person’s experience. We take what we know and we allow it to form our fictional writing.
The most frequently asked question I get besides “When do you find time to write?” is this one: “How much of you is in your character(s)?”
The honest answer would be a lot. There’s a lot of me in everything I write. And if it’s not me, it’s someone I know or it’s from a story I’ve read or heard about. Or, it could be a storyline that makes me wonder or wish I’d done something differently. When this happens, I work that changed decision into a story with characters and plot. We take what we know and what we’ve experienced—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and we turn it into fiction.
Which is why I can’t understand why fiction is sometimes criticized. There are reasons why writers turn these “real” stories into fiction—we have more leeway when we write that way, but it doesn’t mean we’re missing the theme or point of the story. We also can protect people by using fictional names and places or settings. We learn so much from fiction, and we can take those stories and lessons and apply them to our own lives.
Embedded within the book of 22 short stories I’m about to release is a lot of truth and life lessons either gleaned from others or myself. Each story has a point it reveals, and the plus of writing fiction is the freedom to make that point relevant in a chosen setting with creatively crafted characters.
As writers, we write about what we know, so naturally, we also take elements of people we know and build them into our characters. Quite often, the characters I write are a collection of people I have met or know; in most instances, it’s rarely one particular person, although some stories lend themselves to being about one particular person or instance. But I won’t tell you which ones. (wink, wink)
All this to say, while it’s called fiction, so much of it is truth. So much of it is based on feelings, emotions, decisions, choices, outlook, and a willingness to simply “live.” I love the freedom that comes from writing fiction, and if you’re someone who focuses only on nonfiction, I’d urge you to give fiction a try.
A Little Milestone: I finished editing the short stories today for The Postcard and Other Short Stories and Poetry. It is almost done being formatted. This project–a couple of years in the making–contains 22 short stories I’ve written over a span of time. I have so much love for this collection for these particular reasons: they remind me of fragments of people I’ve met along the way in my life; they remind me to take the time to tell a story the way you think it should be told; and they remind me to never stop going for your dreams even when it takes baby steps and months or years to get there.
Thanks for keeping up with me as I tackled another writing journey. I got so much love for you all.
As I did a few weeks ago, I thought I’d continue this series which was inspired by a fellow writer’s blog whereby he wrote a post about people who have inspired his characters along the way. I loved reading his insights and what informed his writing, so I’m going to continue doing so with people who have inspired some of my own characters in my novels.
Again, I’ll pick three, one from each book.
MICHAEL CONTELLI from BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE
When I was little and my grandmother and grandfather (Nanny and Poppy) lived in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, on Myrtle Avenue, I would regularly visit. We didn’t move from New Jersey to Maryland until I was five, and I played with my grandmother’s next-door-neighbor’s child, named Michael, quite often. We would ride our trikes on the driveway and were little playmates.
When my grandmother passed away years later when I was in my mid-twenties and we were at her viewing, a lovely family came up to my mother to pay their respects. When I asked who they were, my mother told me they were Nanny’s neighbors, and that I used to play with their son, Michael. I asked them to show me a picture of grown-up Michael, and they did. He was big and muscular–a grown man now.
As I drove home from the funeral, I was stressing because I had to write a short story for the graduate class I was taking with Dr. Friedman at Towson University. The idea of a short story popped into my head as I thought about Michael and our days together as five-year-old kids. At the time, it begged the question: What would happen if you grew up next door to the person you fell in love with? And what if it didn’t work out?
The resulting short story is called Contelli’s Mimosa (Contelli was not Michael’s last name, I just pulled that one out of the air), and the story caused Dr. Friedman to tell me, as he handed back the story with a grade on it, that I might have a novel somewhere within the pages of that short story and that he hoped that someday I would write it. I trusted this professor more than any other, and he happened to also teach a course called Writing the Novel, which I was never able to take. My loss.
Furthermore, of all the leading men in my novels, Michael is most like my husband, Anthony.
JACK THOMPSON from BASEBALL GIRL
When you work in baseball for a while, you are surrounded by a lot of men, either in uniform or those who work in and around the sport. Jack Thompson’s character is that of a sports reporter with a bit of sadness to his storyline (I won’t tell you and spoil it).
I was friends with a lot of reporters when I worked at the Orioles, as it was part of my job to work with the media. Therefore, you come in contact with journalists on a regular basis. Jack, like many of my characters, is made up of characteristics of many people I know. And, if truth be told, in my younger days, I did go out a couple of times with someone who was a reporter and covered the Orioles, though no romance ever resulted from those interactions.
Therefore, Jack isn’t entirely based on that reporter, but more on what a relationship could be for Frankie with someone who was a really decent guy. That was most important to me overall; Jack had to be someone who had some commonalities with Frankie, which meant he had to be sharp, funny, vulnerable, and somewhat sentimental. I also didn’t want the romance to be only linked up with a ballplayer. I wanted readers to have someone grounded for Frankie, although many people have told me they wish there had been more with Joe Clarkson. 🙂
JOHN SALVIE from INN SIGNIFICANT
I know a couple of people who have served in the military and who have suffered from PTSD. One particular person even allowed me to pick his brain prior to writing Inn Significant to learn a little more about serving our country and being in the military.
John was a tough character to write (similar to Michael Contelli) because John had to be both macho and have his own thing to deal with as he fell madly in love with Milly. He is reserved and ridiculously patient, and I am neither of those two things in real life, so I had to find a way to write this male character who was believable. It’s not always easy writing the male lead because you want him to be realistic and so likable, and yet not be YOU at all.
John is based on a few people I have known over the years, however, his kindness was the one constant quality I wanted to hone in on with him. He may be fighting his own internal battle, but his love for Milly gives him strength and makes him that steady-Eddie she may just need.
I 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 Treewas 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday, when author and television personality Rick Steves spoke to students about the passion he has for his job, he mentioned the word positivity–that he considers himself a positive person, and his approach to life is that of a positive person.
He and I are alike in that regard.
Despite a small snippet of time during my 52-years of life when I took a little bit of an Eyeore-ish turn, I like to think that I look at the world through a lens that is mostly positive. No one is perfect, however, and I have to catch myself every now and then when I feel I am slipping down a slope that is not going to be productive.
Because I believe there is more good in people than there is bad; I believe that mistakes can be overcome; I believe that forgiveness does find its way into life and relationships; and I believe that love does have the power to conquer all.
I may sound a little naive where this is concerned, but I’ve seen it in people I am close to as well as heard about from acquaintances and strangers.
And that’s why I write books that will make you happy to read during Spring Break, on the beach, or just when you need a little reminder that love is, indeed, a healing spirit.
ODDS & ENDS
We are in the throes of deciding which university my son will attend in the fall. Let me tell you, I am just in awe of how fast times flies (hence why I am reading Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper.) It’s a great book that forces you to think about time and how it is spent…and how fast it can go…and how if we’re not careful, we can spend our short time on this planet worrying about the most ridiculous things. If you haven’t read this book, you should. Albom is a terrific storyteller, and can tell a story as succinctly and beautifully as possible. I love his style.
Anyway, it’s only a matter of months before my oldest is off to college.
Eighteen years have passed in a flash.
If you have young children, cherish every moment. I was lucky enough to work part-time and stay home with my children, but I still think I missed out on some things I wish I didn’t. You will not regret the time you spend with those you love the most.
WRITE DOWN YOUR FAMILY STORIES
I’ve blogged about this a lot, but I want to reiterate it again. Be sure to write down your family stories and keep them someplace sacred. You will want to remember the little details and sometimes a photograph doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ve written about some of the funny things my daughter has said over the years here, but I wish I had done more.
Here are a few links to those funny things Ellie has said during the years.
One final thing for today: if you haven’t watch The Crown on Netflix, you are missing a fantastic series that is based on the life of current Queen Elizabeth. Claire Foy plays Queen Elizabeth, and I adore her acting and portrayal of Elizabeth.
Additionally, if you’re not tapped into Victoria on PBS, again, I urge you to watch this well-done show about Queen Victoria and Albert set in the Victorian era. I love Jenna Coleman in the role of Victoria. She is beautiful and perfectly suited for the role. And Rufus Sewell played the perfect Lord Melbourne.
For people who say they don’t have time to read books, Mitch Albom is for you.
The sports journalist and columnist whose career took off at the Detroit Free Press became a best-selling author with Tuesdays with Morrie over 20 years ago, and continues to write touching stories for mass audiences. His novels and nonfiction are compact and easy to read, with deep messages of love, hope, loss, and recovery.
On average, his books are roughly 250 pages and are economically written. His journalistic writing style melds perfectly into the stories he concisely weaves whereby Mark Twain would be proud (“When you catch an adjective, kill it! ~ Twain). Albom’s ability to sweep us quickly into his stories the way journalists do by writing a clear and strong lead (including the who, what, where, when, why, and how of newswriting) translates into his ability to tell intriguing stories through fiction or nonfiction narrative storytelling. As an author and former magazine writer myself, I’ve identified Albom’s three main gifts that others can learn from him. They are as follows:
You don’t need to tell long stories to tell a good story. All of Albom’s stories are poignant, but compact, from Tuesdays with Morrie to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, to the one I’m finally getting around to reading now, The Time Keeper.
Stories can unravel quickly if you know how to get to the point. Albom’s larger stories are made up of numerous anecdotes that help us “see” the characters. Rarely, does Albom tell us anything. Good writers show readers things as opposed to telling readers things so that readers can make up their own minds. Instead, he delves into his portraits of his characters so that we understand them straightaway.
Word choice and sentence composition are everything.Albom whittles down his sentences masterfully; he doesn’t mince words, and he chooses only the best ones to make up his strong sentences. In one short sentence or paragraph or scene of dialogue, he tells readers all we need to know, almost to the point where any additional information would just be fluff. Take this beautiful example into consideration from The Time Keeper:
“I made such a fool of myself,” she lamented.
“Love does not make you a fool.”
“He didn’t love me back.”
“That does not make you a fool, either.”
“Just tell me …” Her voice cracked. “When does it stop hurting?”
― Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper
If you haven’t read any of Albom’s works and are striving to be a fiction or nonfiction writer, I encourage you to read some of his books. While they may not be categorized as “great literary fiction,” there are certainly benefits to reading all different types of writers. People who started as journalists have a way of being able to get to the core of storytelling well. For example, legendary writers such as Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck started out as journalists. Elizabeth Gilbert and Anna Quindlan were journalists before they were best-selling authors. The list is a long one, and we can learn from them all.
But watch Albom’s magic unravel as you read one of his books. There are techniques there worth investing your time.
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.
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.
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.
You’re tired and worked to the bone, and you’re not sure what your next move will be when a bottle washes up on shore with a message in it. The message is for you.
Stay strong, the message reads. Keep doing what you’re doing. You are doing great.
(You realize that as I’m writing this, I’m hearing The Police singing Message in a Bottle in my head.)
We tend to get a lot of inspiration from others — from those we know to those we have never met — who encourage us to persevere, to continue, to not give up. We may evaluate and reassess and figure out a way to make things work. And these little messages that can be sent via a bottle, a letter, an email, a text message, a phone call, or through face-to-face interaction remind us to not give up on the things we are passionate about, because they are worth our time.
If you’re somebody who writes books and tells stories, either as your full-time job or your part-time job, it’s a heck of an investment of both your time and brain power. You pour your whole heart and soul into writing it. As someone who has done it three times and is heading for a fourth and fifth time, I have the highest admiration for my fellow writers I’m connected with on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook who dive in and get the job done. We do it because it’s a part of who we are, but we also do it because we are simply compelled to do it.
That’s why it’s so special when we hear someone comment on our writing and storytelling.
While my message didn’t come in a bottle (although, seriously, how cool would that be?), it came in my inbox on Tuesday. I was touched beyond belief, and the reader wrote to me about how she connected with my second book, Baseball Girl.
I loved writing that book so much. The story is centered around a woman who works for a professional baseball team, and was loosely based on my life working in the sport. I got to make up characters who were a combination of people I’d met in the world or sports; the setting, which was very similar to that of Baltimore and Camden Yards; scenarios that my friends or I had been through (disguising the names to protect the innocent, of course!); and a love triangle that may have had you rooting for the underdog…or big dog. All of it was fun for me.
As for what that letter in the inbox said, it’s below, though I edited out the end of what she wrote because she discussed the resolution, and I don’t want to give anything away with regard to the plot and the outcome…
“I have always tried to find baseball books that follow girls who love baseball, but could never really find one to relate to…I was so shocked at how much I could relate to Francesca’s story. My father also gave me my passion for baseball, so it was pretty touching how many things I had in common with Francesca. Overall, I just wanted to tell you that your novel was phenomenal. I enjoyed reading it so much! I thought every twist and turn of the book was so interesting and it kept me on my toes. So thank you for creating such an amazing book, one that is not very common!”
Receiving this sweet message from this reader also made me realize that I need to reach out to authors more often when I enjoy their work. It’s important to let people know that what they write moves you or inspires you or makes you feel connected. Or you just outright enjoyed it and it was entertaining. While I have reached out to some writers over the years, and have heard back from a few, I certainly don’t do it enough, and I promise to do better. And I thank anyone who has reached out over the years.
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.
I did that. And it was awesome. I completely turned my brain off for a while.
Since 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.
Do you ever hop on a treadmill or drive your car and realize you have a lot of time to think? That happened to me over the weekend, and I was thinking about National Novel Writing Month and how different aspects of my life influence my storytelling. I’m sure the same is true for many of you fellow writers out there, but today I thought I’d share the Top 10 Factors That Influence My Storytelling.
No matter where I go, live, work, play, or visit, the people I know, love, or meet for the first time influence my stories. As writers, we take qualities from people we know and love, as well as interesting tidbits from folks we meet along the way. People who share their stories are the best—for it offers a glimpse into someone else’s life.
As you can probably surmise if you’ve read two of my novels, one set in Annapolis, Maryland, and the other set in Oxford, Maryland on the Eastern Shore, I like to write about places. Being able to work on describing that place so well that your readers can “see, hear, smell, taste, and touch aspects of it,” evoking all of your readers’ senses, is imperative to good writing about places. This is one of my favorite things to do. I welcome the challenge of putting someone somewhere and having readers live vicariously through the characters in their setting.
As most people have experienced some type of heartbreak (or many types of heartbreak), I am no different, and I use those emotional experiences to my advantage when writing. Sometimes writing requires you to go to those dark places when things weren’t so pleasant or grief was painful. Being able to tap into those times when life wasn’t so much fun helps inform my writing and make it realistic. But I—and other writers alike—have to be willing to remember how it felt to be heartbroken.
Whether we have actually experienced loss of any kind or can just imagine loss, writing about it means we have to dig deep and feel it. And it doesn’t just have to be death. I’ve experienced loss in my life that wasn’t my choosing—from friendships to breakups—and being able to recall and craft those types of instances helps mold characters and influence storytelling.
There is no doubt that I tap into relationships that matter to me, have influenced me, or have touched me in some way. They always say people come in and out of your life for a reason; sometimes we know why and other times we are left scratching our heads wondering why that person was in our life in the first place. Nevertheless, using relationships as touchstones in our own writing will help bring it to life. I like to use aspects of my real, nonfiction relationships in all the stories I write.
6] OTHER BOOKS I’VE READ
Other books can be tremendously influential. We glean ideas from other writers, ideas about style and cadence or our storytelling, and ideas and techniques from those who do what we do. Reading all types of works helps us determine how we want to set up our stories. Many books have influenced my style of storytelling, from Rosamunde Pilcher to Charles Dickens to JoJo Moyes.
7] WHERE I WRITE
I’ve blogged about and done a PODCAST about this so many times that you are probably sick of hearing me or seeing me write about this subject. I absolutely must be inspired by the space in which I write. If I am not “feeling” my surroundings, I will not be motivated to write anything. And the worst thing that can happen is to be uninspired, sit there, and not write a thing.
8] PAST EXPERIENCES
Every past experience influences my writing. I’ve made some stupid choices in my life; likewise, I’ve also made some really good decisions as well. Being able to give your characters realistic experiences helps them seem real, so draw from your own life, experiences, and mistakes. This is a great way to write realistic characters. As no one is perfect, neither should your characters be.
9] MY IMAGINATION
When I wrote Baseball Girl, a friend of mine called me afterwards and asked me which player I dated on the Orioles. I laughed. I explained that I didn’t date any player on the team. She said, “Come on!” “No!” I told her. “I just have a really good imagination.” I had worked in baseball for a long time, and my eyes and ears had seen and heard a lot. So, I tapped into my imagination. That’s when you know you’ve got something good—when your imagination is working overtime. That’s when you’re in your groove.
Finally, what would any of my books be without LOVE? I write about love, in all its forms, from family to friendships to deep romantic love. The definition of a hopeless romantic is “someone who is in love with love.” Yep. That’s me. So I write about it. It’s what makes the world turn, and it absolutely influences everything I do. I’ve loved a lot of people in my life, so why not turn that love for people into some memorable fictional characters and stories. That’s what I intend to keep doing for a very long time to come.
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.”
I am ecstatic! I have booked my flights and am looking forward to seeing you in late June. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I feel as if I have found some very dear, new friends. I will be in touch as the date approaches. In the meantime, best of luck with the Inn, your new venue, and with your writing. I look forward to each week’s new post from Inn Significant.
I stared at the email and thought for a moment about the wonder of connections. Since I’d been in Oxford working at the Inn, so much had changed for me. It was overwhelming to recount the abundance of love I felt in this town among these people. And it all started because my parents knew better than I. They understood exactly what I needed most. And then came John and his kindness and the fact that he found Nana’s journal, which had been a stroke of pure providence. And now, to sit here, reading an email from Nana’s first husband’s nephew? It was almost too much coincidence for me to understand, and yet, all I wanted to do was appreciate it.
My curiosity was piqued. What would Marco be like? What stories might he have to tell? How would my mother react to meeting this relation to her mother by marriage? I often wondered how my mother felt about her mother keeping this secret; we had spoken of it often, but I always felt as if my mother felt slightly betrayed by a woman she loved so much, so unconditionally, and whether or not she wondered what her own father had known and thought about Ferio?
As for me, I would always be thankful for my grandmother’s love for Ferio and for her journal and words and love. Life is ironic and sad and twisted at times, but at the heart of every loving family is a sense of belonging and forgiveness and love beyond compare.
The phone rang and startled me out of my deep thoughts.
“Inn Significant, may I help you?” I asked.
“What the hell would you say to the fact that we’re buying a second home in Oxford?”
“What? Have you lost your mind?”
“Nope. You’re going to get to see me all summer now. I’m going to spend summers with you.”
“This has to be a joke,” I said. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Go check it out. Number Seventeen High Street.”
“Number Seventeen High Street? I don’t have to check it out, Gracie. I know the house. I ride my bike around this place almost every other day. It’s adorable. Tell me you’re not pulling my leg.”
“I’m not pulling your leg. I want to be closer to you guys, and I want Abbie to have a sense of family. It’s lonely here, and since I don’t work in the summer and it’s a short drive from Pennsylvania, I will live there during the week and Cal will come down on weekends. We’re using some of the inheritance money from Cal’s aunt to do this.”
“Remarkable,” I said. “I was just thinking about coincidences, and then the phone rings and it’s you…with crazy-ass news!”
“Aw, I love you, too, Mills,” she said.
“How long have you known this?”
“What? That I wanted a place in Oxford or that we’re buying a home?”
“Both,” I said.
“Well, after I visited that first time when we set up the website and then after I knew you were going to be permanently living there and seeing your own adorable house, it all came together. Cal was on board right away because he’s not sure what’s in store at his company and he’s been looking at virtual jobs. We’re just not that attached to the townhome here. We were excited, too, that Abbie could make summer memories. And I hope Abbie can do that kids camp thing now that we’ll be residents. John better take us out on his boat, because we won’t have one of those.”
“He would love to. He always loves going out on the boat. In fact, I’m supposed to meet him and go kayaking in a bit.”
“And you wonder why I want to move there,” she said.
I could feel myself getting choked up. What was happening? Were these tears in my eyes not tears of sorrow but rather tears of joy? I felt wholly unsteady.
“Gracie?” I said.
“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
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.
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.