“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”
Let’s begin with John Updike’s quote. How great is that one? When writers read that quote, it should make them realize what’s important in writing—a strong voice, good dialogue, realistic characters, and a nice plot that keeps readers going.
We are not reinventing the wheel, we are merely storytellers, here to entertain.
Sometimes, when I find I’m being too hard on myself and I reread something I’ve written, I go back and ask these questions: “Was it entertaining? Did the characters in the story come to life? Is it moving forward? Am I relaying a message or an idea to ponder?”
If the answer is yes to this question, I fix whatever needs fixing, and then I move along. There is no need to beat yourself up habitually. There’s a time to let a piece of writing go.
Which brings me to this one by Hemingway…
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
We are always learning. Always working hard. Always trying new techniques and style. That’s what makes it fun to be a writer, right?
And while I’m not a HUGE Jack Kerouac fan (I like him, he’s just not one of my all-time faves), I LOVE this quote by him:
“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
Themes and plots of stories have been similar for eons…the test is to tell the story your way in your manner. That’s the point. Whatever story you are trying to tell has never been told from your vantage point before. So tell it, and write it that way. It’s the way YOU write it that counts.
Now find your writing mojo, and get to work. There are a lot of words ahead of you and blank pages to fill.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.