Creatively Thinking: Why I blog my novels as I write them

I don’t think a lot of people are worrying about this, but I thought I’d share today why I blog my novels as I write them (or shortly after).

It’s probably not the best marketing move to put my novels on my blog, chapter by chapter, but, well, I’ve never been good at that marketing stuff, for one, but also, I like the interaction I receive when I share my novels on my blog. The interaction is worth more me to than the money, although you might have to remind me of that when we are pinching pennies to get groceries some weeks.

I like that my handful of blog readers interact with each chapter and share with me their impressions or their ideas for how the story should unfold. Based on those impressions, and impressions of friends or family, I adjust and rewrite the story before the final publication. Or sometimes I rewrite it because I like it better. Putting the story up on my blog also forces me to finish it and to edit it chapter by chapter because one, I have “fans” waiting to read the rest of the story (okay, I have maybe 20 people reading and four that comment, but I don’t mind writing it for just those people. I’m not even kidding.) and two, it also forces me to focus on each chapter individually, write before I copy it to the blog to publish it.

I am sure some authors (am I really one of those? I don’t know. . .but it sounds good, right?) wouldn’t want to share their books on their blogs. They’d rather write them, leave them on their computer and then one day get their nerve up and send it to a literary agent, hope the agent picks them up and pitches their book to a publisher and that publisher signs them and their book is marketed to millions and then they become a millionaire. Sharing the book on their blog could mean no one will ever pay them for the book because the readers can simply read the book for free on the blog, right?

Not necessarily.

In my case, I only have about 360 blog subscribers and of those 360, only about 5 interact with me on a regular basis and only about 20 actually follow the stories I share on the blog. Not only that, but of those who might find my blog, how many of them will really want to scroll from chapter to chapter for free, versus buying the book later on Amazon in it’s completed form, or at least “borrowing it” through Kindle Unlimited?

Probably not that many.  In addition, once I’ve shared the chapters on my blog, I take down the page that links to each chapter and replace it with an excerpt and a link to my book on Amazon, or wherever else I might choose to sell them in the future. In the end, sharing the novel on my blog is a motivator for me, but also a nice distraction from other stresses in life (like the news) and from what I’ve heard from those who read it, it’s also a nice distraction from them.

I don’t expect that my novels will ever win awards, but they’re already winning me something else – a little bit of sanity and a whole lot of distraction.

And while I’m on the subject of sharing my novel on here, I have two new chapters scheduled this week: one tomorrow and one Friday.

I am in the midst of writing a new novel called The Farmer’s Daughter, but I haven’t yet decided if I will share it here as part of Fiction Friday or not. I have a feeling, though, it’s a story some of my regulars will really like. I’ve shared a little of it on here before.

It’s the story of Molly Tanner, who still lives on her parents farm at the age of 25 and wonders if there is a life for her beyond the farm. At the same time she’s pondering this, she notices that farmhand Alex Stone is paying more attention to her, but she’s not sure why. Five years older than her and her brother’s best friend, Alex is battling some demons of his own, mainly that he’s falling for Molly but he doesn’t feel like he’s good enough for her. He covers his pain from his low self-esteem and his lack of attentative parents growing up by drinking a lot and dating women.

Other characters are Molly’s brother, Jason, her parents Robert and Annie, her grandmother, Franny, and her best friend, Liz. Robert and Annie are facing their own concerns throughout the book as Robert fights to keep the family farm, which he and his brother have now turned into a farming enterprise, running.

This will be the first book in a series, but I’m not going to overwhelm you with the other characters and their backstories. At least not yet!

 

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 25

If you missedChapter 24, I posted it yesterday for Fiction Thursday.

As always, this is a first draft of the story and as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow A New Beginning.

Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page. This book will be published in full later this spring on Kindle and other sites.

Let me know what you think should happen next and what you think of the story so far in the comments.


Photo with Text Overlay Autobiography Book Cover (2)Chapter 25

A few days after my night out with Thomas, I kicked off my shoes inside the door and flopped on the couch, my eyes heavy with exhaustion. Despite months of trying to avoid Stanley and Thomas about the freelance featuring writing job, I’d finally taken my first assignment: interviewing Sam about how he was adjusting to work after being shot eight months before.

After a long week of starting a dress for Ellie Tanner for her sweet 16, hemming three sets of pants for Mrs. Jefferies five boys, and interviewing Sam for the newspaper, I wanted to eat some dinner and curl up with a good book on the couch.

“Hey, Mama!”

Jackson skipped out of the kitchen with the phone receiver in one hand, the base in the other, the cord trailing behind him.

“Guess who’s on the phone?!”

I yawned. “I don’t know, bud, who is it?”

“Judson! And he called to talk to me! But now he wants to talk to you! I’m not done telling my story yet, though. Hold on.” He put the receiver back to his ear. “And then Grandpa and I went fishing after school because Mama went to dinner with that guy from the newspaper. Not the old one who is going to be my grandpa, but the younger one with the Flash Gordon hair. And when they came home, he smelled like beer and I told him that Mama doesn’t like people to drink beer and he said he understood but someone had just poured beer on him so that’s why he smelled like it. Okay. You can talk to Mama now! Bye, Judson!”

I stared at my son in horror as pushed the receiver into my hand and ran up the stairs toward his room. I wasn’t ready for a conversation with anyone after such a long day, but I definitely wasn’t ready for one with Judson now that my son had blabbed to him about my night out with Thomas. How was I going to explain that to Judson? What would I say, ‘Well, yes, Judson I did kiss you by the lake that night and then a few weeks later went out with another man. Apparently, I’m breaking out of my shell at a high rate of speed now.’

I held my hand over the mouthpiece, rolled my eyes, and then cleared my throat before speaking.

“Hey, Judson.”

“Hey.” I was surprised by the pleasure I felt at surge through me as I heard his voice. “Just the person I wanted to talk to.”

I had this sinking feeling he might want to talk to me about that night at the lake, the kiss, the outburst, all of it.

I pulled the phone into the kitchen and sat on the floor, away from Mama in the laundry room and Daddy in his office working on paperwork he’d brought home.

“How are things going?” I asked. “How’s your Dad?”

“Dad came through the surgery okay. He’s still at the hospital recovering.”

“I’m glad to hear. Do they know how long he’ll be in?”

“Probably a few more days.”

I picked at a piece of dirt under my fingernail, unsure what to ask next, but knowing I needed to ask something to avoid any other, more uncomfortable topics. “How’s your mom?”

“Tired but hanging in there. My brother called from college to check in. He’ll be up this weekend to visit.”

A silence fell over us and I knew there was so much unsaid between us that neither of us knew where to start.

“So . . .” Judson’s voice trailed off.

Oh, God, help me, he’s going to talk about it.

“You went out with Thomas, huh?”

Oh, he’s going to talk about Thomas. Well, that’s awkward too.

“Oh, well . . yes, but just to hear a band at a place up in Nichols. One of his friends was playing with the band and he asked if I would like to ride along.” I knew if I rambled much more, I would sound even more guilty, but then why did it matter if I sounded guilty. It wasn’t as if Judson and I were in a relationship.

“Was it fun?” Judson asked in a tone of voice I couldn’t exactly recognize. It bordered somewhere between mocking and polite.

“Actually, yes,” I said. “The band was great and it was nice to go somewhere different, get out of the area. I met some new people. They seemed nice.” I cleared my throat. “Listen, I heard Jackson talking to you. I can explain about Thomas smelling like beer. . .”

“You don’t have to. It’s not really my business  . .. just because you kissed me a couple of weeks ago.”

I twirled the phone cord tight around my finger until it turned red and slightly purple. I took a deep breath. “Yeah, so anyhow, Thomas’ friend, girlfriend, whatever, was trying to get her brother home and her brother threw beer on Thomas when he thought he was someone else.

“Ah. I see.”

An awkward silence settled over us and I bit my lower lip, trying to think what else to say to avoid the topic I knew we should be discussing.

“So we’re just not going to talk about what happened at the lake that night?” he asked abruptly.

I drew in a sharp breath. “Judson . . .”

“You kissed me.”

I chewed on my thumbnail as I tried to figure out how to answer.

“Yes, I know I did, Judson, but . . .”

“You admit you kissed me then, right?”

“Yes, but. . .”

“Because I was going to kiss you but I thought I was being too forward. Imagine my surprise when you kissed me instead.”

“Judson, I know I kissed you, but listen, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that.”

He laughed. “It was the nicest mistake I’ve ever been a part of.”

“It’s just … I shouldn’t have …” I let my voice trail off. I didn’t know how to explain why I shouldn’t have kissed him that night.

“You shouldn’t have kissed me or shouldn’t have enjoyed it?”

I nearly chewed my nail off trying to figure out how to answer. I let out a long breath, deciding I’d try changing the subject.

“Is the weather nice down there?”

Judson cleared his throat. “Okay. Have it your way. But we’re going to have to talk about it sometime, Blanche. So…Yeah. It is. Warm.”

There was another long gap in the conversation as my mind raced. I could hear voices in the background on Judson’s end, laughing, sharing stories. Restlessness hung heavy in the silence between us.

“Cool down up there yet?” he asked finally. I could hear a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Yeah. Maybe we will actually have autumn here soon.”

“Maybe we can take a walk together in the leaves when we get home.”

“Sure, that would be nice.”

I twisted the phone cord around my finger again, listening to the faint hum of conversations on his end, Jackson in his room upstairs playing with his cars on my end, reading frustration behind Judson’s silence.

“I miss you, Blanche.”

His words revealed an ache in the middle of my chest that I began to recognize as a sense of loss at no longer seeing Judson in town or in our backyard helping Daddy or throwing the ball with Jackson. I was missing him too, even if the rest of my feelings about Judson were complex and mixed up inside.

“I miss you too,” I said softly.

“Is it okay if I call again?”

“Yes. Please do.”

After a ‘goodbye’ we both hung up and I sat alone in the dimly lit living room, in the confines of a suffocating loneliness I hadn’t expected to feel. I leaned my head back against the wall, my hand on the receiver, and started a mental list of all the reasons I shouldn’t feel so lost with Judson gone. I knew I had a long, sleepless night ahead of me.

Creatively Thinking Guest Post: How to Find Creative Inspiration from Journaling in 2020

This is a guest post from Thao Nguyen at Reedsy.com. I was not compensated for this post and any opinions within are the writers and not my own (though I also believe in the power of journaling). I have not used Reedsy much and can not claim to be an expert on the site, but from what I’ve seen, I really like it! So feel free to check it out. I know I will be checking it out more. 


Journaling has been making a spectacular comeback. In an age of fast-everything — from food to fashion to even social interaction — the tranquility of sitting down and expressing yourself the old-fashioned way, with a pen and on paper, sounds soothing to many.

Beyond its surprising mental and physical health benefits, journaling is also a great way to find, nurture, and connect with your creativity. And this creative impetus is not something that only creators — writers, designers, artists — have. Think back to your childhood, to the unpredictable whims and the odd logic that may have been dismissed as being childish as you grow older; they’re all still there for you to tap into! Creativity doesn’t have to mean splattering paint and brandishing words — it can also be looking at situations differently, better organizing your life and goals, and finding new solutions to your problems.

So how can you reconnect to that imaginative part of your brain? Let’s see how keeping a journal can help you get there!

What is journaling?

Journaling can be anything — writing, doodling, structuring your days, etc. — so long as it involves getting things down, often with a pen and notebook, on a regular basis. The last bit is the important thing: journaling is all about routine. Some people do it every day, others make time for it once a week. You can tailor it to your schedule and habits, as long as you do it consistently.

Revisit, reflect, refine

A consistently maintained journal is an album of your life. It can help you see how you’ve changed, what you can improve on, or where things might have gone wrong if you’re having trouble. From there, you can gain new perspectives and find fresh ways to overcome challenges, or strengthen the things that make your life good.

For writers and artists, it’s a great way to jot down ideas, some of which may come to you in one moment and disappear in the next. You can revisit these little notes and sketches and develop them further, even if it’s been weeks after you’ve had those little revelations. It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow.

Moreover, journaling is also a great way to be organized. If you’re a writer, you may wish to record and reflect on your process, whether you’re learning to structure your book, develop a writing style, or hoping to take your project to the next stage and publishing it. Here’s where a journal can really come in handy. Staying organized not only helps you succeed in your endeavors, but keeps your head clear, so you don’t end up accidentally stifling your creativity under confusion and chaos.

How to journal for creativity

There is no correct way to journal because it’s a deeply personal activity. It’s merely a visualization of your thoughts, and it’s only for you to peruse, so be true to yourself and do it the way you feel like doing it. That said, here are some wonderful journaling methods to consider that will help your creativity flourish.

  1. Freewriting

Freewriting is just what it sounds like — where you take a seat and write freely! For 10-15 minutes every day, perhaps at the start or end of your day, just scribble down anything that comes to mind. There’s no restriction on what you can write about — it can be an emotional reaction, something interesting you’ve observed that day, or your gratitude for life (which is a very popular topic for journaling).

These uncensored and unvarnished writings will let your thoughts and creativity flow, with nothing to silence them. Without the distraction of other people (or, more likely, your phone and laptop), freewriting leaves you in the sole company of your imagination.

  1. Responding to prompts

On the other hand, if you’d rather have more structure to your journaling, consider responding to writing prompts. As this is more demanding than freewriting, choose prompts that speak to you and create a short story once every week or month. And since we’re being creative here, why not write a poem, or sketch a comic, if you feel like it? No matter which medium you choose, there are few better ways to be creative than bringing stories to life.

  1. The bullet journal method

Finally, we have the bullet journal method. Its creator, designer Ryder Caroll, described it as a “mindfulness practice” in which you map out your life on blank pages. In such a journal, you’ll have calendars, weekly plans, and monthly reflections. In addition to that, you can have pages reserved for anything you want to do — whether that is doodling, recording mantras, or, if you’re a writer, mind-mapping your next project.

For those who are more artistic, this is a chance to use your skills and create a book that really reflects your mind. This method requires you to take time once a month to go through what’s happened recently and draw out a plan for the next 30 days. It’s a beautiful way to declutter your thoughts, pick up on forgotten ideas, and momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of life.

From uninhibited scribblings to methodically planning your months, these are some suggestions for you to nourish and cultivate your creativity. It’s sometimes hard to manage this in a world so full of noise, but if journaling tells you anything, it is that inspiration really comes from within, and it’ll come to you if you give yourself the time to discover it.


Thao Nguyen is a writer at Reedsy, a platform that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She enjoys writing non-fiction, especially the historical kind, and is delighted by the prospects that self-publishing provides for aspiring authors nowadays.

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning Chapter 22

Here we are at another Fiction Thursday.  I can’t believe I’m already at Chapter 22 for A New Beginning.  I love to know what you think of the story or what direction you think it should take, so please feel free to share it in the comments.

As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle, but you don’t need to read it to understand what is happening in A New Beginning. Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page.


“Blanche.”

When I heard my name and felt the hand against my arm, I was back in that dimly lit apartment with Hank, adrenaline rushing through me like a lightening bolt, Jackson screaming in my ear. I closed my eyes tight against the terror raging inside me, balled my hand into a fist and without thinking swung at Hank, making solid contact with his face.

Only it wasn’t Hank holding his face when I opened my eyes. It was Thomas. My hand throbbed from the impact and I rubbed the knuckles with my other hand.

“What was that for?!” Thomas shouted, a hand against his cheek, red spreading across the skin.

“Oh, Thomas! I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else.”

“Is this how you greet people?! By punching them?!”

The door to the hardware store was opening, the bell on the front at the top of the it ringing, but I couldn’t see who was coming out. I grabbed Thomas’ hand, pulling him with me down the sidewalk.

“Please…,” I pleaded. “Don’t be so loud. Just follow me.”

“Don’t be so loud? You just slugged me! I’m going to be loud! What is going on?”

I yanked at his hand and he followed me down the street to my shop, still holding his hand against his cheek and grumbling. Once inside I pulled the shades, turned the open sign to closed and locked the door.

“Blanche… what is going on?”

Thomas was touching his cheek and wincing, moving his jaw side to side. “I don’t think you broke anything at least, but I bet I’ll get a shiner.”

He looked at me with confusion and concern.

“You’re trembling like a leaf. Who are we hiding from? Is someone stalking you?”

I peeked through the blind across the front window. Hank was walking out of the hardware store now, toward D’s Diner. A chill shivered through me and I hugged my arms across my chest. I had no idea why he was in town or if he would even look for me but the thought of him being so close by after all this time left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Thomas stood behind me and I knew he was watching Hank too.

“Is that . . .?”

“Yes,” I said quickly so he wouldn’t say his name. “It is.”

“What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want to see him.”

We both stood in silence for a few moments as Hank walked into the diner.

“So… what exactly happened between you two anyhow?” Thomas asked when I turned away from the door and sat in the chair next to my sewing machine.

“Nothing pleasant,” I mumbled, leaning back in the chair, arms folded across my chest.

“Derek said he heard Hank tried to come see you one time and your daddy shot him in the foot.”

I rolled my eyes. “Derek likes to tell stories. I’ve known him since second grade and he was always in trouble for making up whoppers. But, he’s close. Daddy shot at him to warn him off.”

Thomas turned a chair around and straddled it, leaning his arms on the back of it. “Derek said he thought your dad should have shot him. He said you came back to the area with two black eyes, a crooked nose and a baby.”

I patted the bun on top of my head and pushed a stray hair back off my forehead, remembering the day Daddy had driven me into town to sign the divorce papers. I hadn’t wanted to leave the house, to let anyone see the bruises and the scars.

“I won’t allow that boy to have his name,” Daddy had said as I signed my name on the bottom of the divorce intent papers, my hand trembling. I couldn’t focus on what Daddy was saying. I had been thinking about Hank, wondering if he’d even sign the papers and make the divorce quick and easy, worrying about my son growing up without a father. I didn’t care what last name my son had, as long as he was safe from Hank and able to move past the fact his mother had been foolish enough to run away with a man who had become abusive and unrecognizable to the man her mother thought he was.

“I was an idiot,” I said, looking up at Thomas. “I didn’t see the warning signs, or maybe I just didn’t want to see them. When I did it was too late and I was trapped in the never ending circle of thinking I could somehow change a man who didn’t want to be changed. It took him punching me in the face, breaking my nose, a couple ribs and almost my skull for me to wake up and get away from him.”

Thomas’ eyebrows shot up. “He broke your nose and your ribs? What kind of man does something like that?”

“A drunk one.”

Thomas stood and peered through the blinds again. His voice was cold when he spoke. “He better not show his face here today. That son of a -”

“I don’t think he will,” I said quickly, even though I wasn’t sure.

Thomas sat back on the chair, facing me, his arms folded across the top of the chair. He propped his chin on his arm, his blond hair falling across his forehead. “You’ve been through a lot, huh?”

I shrugged, sliding a piece of fabric through the sowing machine to try to distract myself. “Yeah, but a lot of people have.”

“You’re a strong lady, Blanche. No joke about it. Now I understand why you built that wall around you.”

I held the pants up to inspect the hem. “What wall?” I said with a wink, looking around the pants at him. “I’m a perfectly open person.”

Thomas laughed, grinning at me, still leaning his chin on his arm. “Yeah, that’s why it has taken us almost four years to have a real conversation. And why you won’t go out with me.”

I sighed. “Thomas. . .”

“I know. It’s not me, it’s you.” He grinned.

“It’s not that. It’s just . . .”

“You don’t have feelings like that for me.”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“It’s that guy with more muscles in his pinky than I have in my whole body isn’t it?”

I laughed. “What?”

“That J.T. who works with Stanton Construction. He’s a beast of a sexy man the ladies in the office say and I’ve seen him talking to you.”

I knew the laughing fit I was having might make Thomas feel worse, but I couldn’t help it. “Beast of a sexy man? Who even talks like that?”

“Minnie for one,” Thomas said.

“Yeah, she would talk like that,” I said through the laughter. “But, Thomas, I’m not in a relationship with Judson, I–”

“You definitely want to be in one with the way you look at him, according to Minnie.”

“Thomas, Minnie is a little dramatic. And listen, you’re a nice guy . . .”

Thomas sighed and shrugged. “But. There is always a ‘but.’ Listen, it’s okay.” He held up his hand, turned his head, and let out a dramatic sigh. “I’ve been pushed into the role of the friend before.”

He grinned and pushed his hair off his forehead. “I’m sure I’ll survive. Somehow.”

The pounding on the door startled us both and we jumped to our feet.

Thomas held his hand up to me, signaling me to wait behind the sewing table. He moved the blinds slightly and his expression relaxed.

“It’s Emmy,” he said, unlocking the door.

Emmy was a wall of sound. “Oh my gosh, Blanche! Hank is at D’s Diner. Did you know he is in town? I couldn’t believe it. He walked right in and sat at the front counter and ordered a black coffee and a full breakfast. I panicked and tried to run out of there, but he saw me and nodded at me. He said ‘Hey, Emmy,’ all calm and confident like and tipped his head in a nod. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared at him and took off, but then I didn’t want him to see where I was going so I shot down the alley by Mary’s Florist and came here the back way, but I hope he didn’t see me and figure out where you are and. . .”

“Emmy! Calm down!” I took my friend’s hands and gently pulled her toward a chair.

“You’re going to pass out,” Thomas laughed as Emmy sat down.

Emmy was breathing hard. “I just couldn’t believe it. I never expected to see him here again. Not after – you know – I just thought he’d stay away forever. Or at least I hoped he would.”

My heart was racing as I thought about Jackson at school. What if Hank was here to try to see Jackson? Did the staff at the school know they couldn’t let Hank see Jackson? I’d never told Jackson about his father and who he really was.

“Jackson . . .” I whispered.

“He’s at school,” Thomas said. “He’s fine. Don’t let your mind even go there.”

Emmy leaned back in the chair and shook her head. “Look at us. Cowering here in the dark over someone who doesn’t even matter anymore. Like he’s some kind of mass murderer or something.”

“He isn’t quite that, no, but I still don’t want to see him,” I said.

“Looks like you won’t have to,” Thomas said peering through the blind again. Looking over his shoulder, we watched Hank climb into his pick-up, slamming the door behind him, revving the engine and driving down the street, away from the shop.

Emmy sighed with relief. “Thank God he’s gone. At least for now.”

She turned to look at us, her eyebrows furrowed.

“What were you two doing in here with all the blinds pulled anyhow?”

Thomas tipped his head toward the floor, but I could see a smirk pulling at his mouth.

“I saw Hank through the window of the hardware store,” I said quickly. “And . . . uh . . . ran into Thomas while I was trying to get here to hide so he came with me.”

“Yeah. She ran into me all right,” Thomas said, touching his hand to the red spot on his cheek.

Emmy’s gaze traveled between us. “Uh-huh. Okay. That all sounds a little fishy, but I’ll just leave it – for now anyhow.” She turned slightly so her back was to Thomas and tipped her head, looking down her nose at me. She lowered her voice. “I’ve got to get back to the office, but we’ll talk more about this later. If you know what I mean.”

She pointed two fingers at her eyes first and then at mine, one eyebrow raised.

“You’d better go,” I said, ushering her toward the door.

I smiled as the door closed behind Emmy and then sat in the chair she’d vacated, my heart still pounding fast and hard in my chest.

“You okay?” Thomas asked.

I nodded, but my limbs felt weak as the adrenaline began to fade.

“I should get back to work,” I said softly. “I have a dress I need to finish for a lady from Spencer and that pair of pants for Pastor Frank.”

Thomas pushed himself off the counter and slid his hands in his jean pockets.

“Okay. Well, I need to get back to the paper anyhow. Of course, I don’t like the idea of leaving now – in case you need me.”

I laughed. “I’ll be fine. Daddy’s not far away if I need someone to rescue me.”

Thomas turned toward me, his hand on the doorknob. “Hey, have you talked to your mother-in-law about how things are going with Uncle Stan?”

Marion. I needed to call her and tell her about Hank.

“A little. I think it’s going well. Have you asked Stan?”

Thomas grimaced. “Ew. No. Why? Men don’t talk about that stuff.” He opened the door and leaned against the door frame. “Let me know if you need anything okay? Will I see you tomorrow?”

I’d forgotten about the weekly editorial meeting scheduled for the next morning. Stanley had asked me a couple of weeks ago to attend the first meeting of the month so he could give me assignments for feature stories. It looked like I’d be taking that job whether I wanted to or not.

“Yep,” I said. “I’ll see you there.”

Thomas rubbed his cheek. “Just make sure you don’t punch me in a greeting when we see each other.”

I stepped through the doorway and watched Thomas walk back toward the newspaper office. I knew most women would consider him attractive — more than attractive — with his blond hair, blue eyes, masculine jawline, a small dimple in his chin and an amazing smile. Even I found him physically attractive, despite his frequent cocky attitude. It was probably that attitude holding me back, but I knew it was also something else – someone else, no matter how much I tried to deny it.

***

When I closed the door to the shop, I reached for the phone to make sure Marion knew about Hank.

“I was getting ready to call you actually,” she said after I told her why I had called. “He came last night but I didn’t want to alarm you. He told me this morning he was going up to New York state to visit some friends, so I hoped he’d leave the area before you saw him. The more I thought about it, the more nervous I got, though, so I’d just picked up the phone to call you when you called.”

“Did he say why he was here?”

“He said he hadn’t seen me for a long time and wanted to check in. He needed a place to crash before he headed up to see his friends. He slept on the couch because his old room has been transformed into my sewing room.”

“Where has he been all this time?”

“He says Ohio. We didn’t talk much. He came late and fell asleep after I fixed him some food. I was so nervous, Blanche. I wanted to call you last night, but I didn’t want him to hear me talking to you and give him ideas. He did see my photo of Jackson, asked how he was. I told him he was a wonderful boy and doing well and that was the end of it. I think he’d been drinking. He was a little glazed over . . .if you know what I mean.”

I certainly did.

“Blanche, have you told your parents he’s here?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Make sure you do, okay? I really don’t think he’ll try to see you, but  . . .”

“Thank you, Marion. I know you’re worried, but I’ll be fine. I can handle myself. Hey, I’m going to go and get some projects done before I pick Jackson up at school. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”

We said our goodbyes, but I knew Marion was still concerned and she wasn’t the only one. I laid my hand on the phone several times, preparing to call Daddy and let him know what was going on, each time shaking my head and going back to the pants I was hemming for Pastor Frank, determined not to get Daddy into one of his riled states.

I snatched the phone off the receiver and dialed the school.

“No. No one has stopped in asking to see Jackson,” Mrs. Ellery, the school secretary, said, sounding slightly confused when I asked. “Should someone have?”

“No, not at all. Can you just make sure you call if someone does stop in to see him?”

“Of course, Blanche.” There was a moment of silence and then, “We’d never let him go with anyone but you. Don’t you worry, okay?”

I hung up, guessing Mrs. Ellery had started to put two and two together. We lived in a small county and I knew there were more than a few people who knew my history with Hank and why Jackson never had two parents at parent-teacher conferences or school shows.

I started walking to the school a half an hour before dismissal, looking over my shoulder as I walked, wishing I had told Daddy about Hank being in town, and praying Hank didn’t show up to try to see Jackson.

“Hi, Mama!”

Jackson flung his arms around my middle and pushed his face against me as he ran from the school.

“Hey, buddy! Did you have a good day?”

“Yes! Kenny Frasier said he had a bullfrog at home and says I can come see it one day. Can I?”

“Sure, you can. We’ll find time to go over sometime soon.”

“Did you know bullfrogs eat flies?”

“I did.”

“Do you think flies taste good?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t try one to see.”

“Me either.”

Jackson skipped as he walked, talking away, stopping to look at bugs every few skips.

A block from the office I looked up from the bug we had stopped to watch crawl across the sidewalk and saw Daddy walking briskly toward me, his face flushed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he puffed at me before he even reached me.

“Well, I…wait, what are we talking about?” I asked as Jackson and I started walking again.

Daddy fell in step with me and whispered, “You know what I’m talking about. That he was in town.”

“I was going to tell you on the way home. He didn’t come to see me and I didn’t want to upset you. Marion said he’s on his way to see friends in New York. How did you even find out? Did Emmy tell you?”

“Emmy knew? No, she didn’t tell me. Sam Baker came to the office a few moments ago and told me he’d seen him at D’s this morning. He thought I knew and asked if I had my shotgun ready. How does everyone know about that shotgun story anyhow?”

I laughed. “I have no idea. I didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

Daddy cleared his throat as we slowed down to wait for Jackson to study another bug. “Well, maybe one or two people. At the diner. A couple months afterwards.”

I shook my head and laughed. “Daddy. . .”

“Well, he deserved it and everyone knew it,” he said, looking at the ground sheepishly, rubbing his hand through his hair. “You came home with a baby and a black eye and people put two and two together and I wanted to make sure they knew I didn’t let him get away with it.”

I stopped and hugged Daddy. “Thank you for standing up for me, Daddy.”

Daddy hugged me back and then we continued to walk toward the shop. “I think we should leave early today,” he said as Jackson skipped into the shop. “You know . . . just in case.”

“I’m not about to change my routine for him, Daddy. Go on back to work and I will see you at five. I’ll call you if I need you.”

My hand trembled as I closed the door, watching Daddy walk back to his office, listening to Jackson play with his trucks behind me, hoping Marion had been right and Hank had actually left town.

Creatively Thinking: What to do when you hit a wall in your novel writing

It’s happening.

I’ve hit a wall in my novel.

My second novel, A New Beginning, the sequel to A Story to Tell, is much more of a challenge than the first.

My husband keeps saying I need to take a break from it and walk away but he doesn’t understand that in my head these are real people and I need to find out the ending to this chapter of their lives! How can I do that if I don’t sit down and let them talk to me? Only they won’t talk to me! Why won’t they talk to me?!

The main two challenges with this sequel are that I am writing in first person again and the second is that I’ve gone off-script in that my first novel was based on a true story and the second is completely going beyond my knowledge of the original story.

Some writers, who are plotters, would say I’ve hit a wall because I don’t plot down to the last period, but I don’t like to plot that extensively. Plotting in such a detailed way takes the fun out of writing for me. To me, once the details are on the page, fully written out or not, I’ve lost interest because the story has already been told. In other words, I’m a panster because I feel like the characters are telling me the story and I’m just transcribing it as I got along.

Despite the fact I’m not a seasoned novel writer, I’ve learned and discovered some tips to help me through this bog or over this wall and thought I’d share it here for others who might be writing a novel or any other kind of book.

Green Photo Women's Fashion Tips Pinterest Graphic1. Do what my husband said (eye roll) and take a break from your current Work In Progress (WIP)

Go work on another writing project or no project at all. Put your current project aside for a couple weeks or, if you aren’t on a deadline, a couple of months.

This week I’ve put A New Beginning aside for a couple of days and continued working on my third novel The Farmer’s Daughter, which is spawning ideas for a series (The Spencer Valley Chronicles). The Farmer’s Daughter is written in the third person, versus first-person like A Story to Tell and A New Beginning and it’s about a young woman named Molly Tanner who wonders if the world has anything to offer for a 26-year old with little life experience beyond her family’s farm and her small Pennsylvania town. Farmhand Alex Stone, drama with her best friend, and her father’s struggle to keep the farm running will distract Molly from wondering about life beyond the farm.

2. Develop your supporting characters. This was a suggestion from Jess Zafarris in an article on Writer’s Digest. Zafarris, drawing from author and podcast host Gabriela Pereira’s book DIY MFA, suggests telling more about the side characters in the book who support your protagonist.  You should make sure these characters enhance the journey of your main character and help bring you closer to the ending you hope for your novel to have.

For me, this has meant writing about how Blanche relates to others in her life – from her sister Edith to her parents (especially her dad) and her best friend Emmy. Of course, I’ll also have to write a little about Hank, her son Jackson, and certain other individuals who might pop up as any type of love interest in her story. Ahem.

3. Define who your character(s) is/are. If you haven’t already, write down a paragraph about your protagonist and his/her characteristics that will help push you through the middle. For me this is close to plotting, but not quite. I ask myself “what would Main Character (MC) do? What does MC like? What issues does MC have in this book that we can address in this middle section.” So far, it’s working and it helped me push through a couple plot points that had me stuck.

4. Use the midpoint of the story to focus the story. Another suggestion from Zafarris is to use the midpoint of the story to focus your story. You can do this by reaching a climax of sorts in the story that will continue to propel you toward your conclusion. One way to craft this high point in a story is to make it seem your MC has reached their goal or has completely failed at it, Zafarris says. To me, this seems a bit cliche, but at the same time, I see what she’s getting at.

“Though they might seem opposite, the temporary triumph and the false failure share a common thread: In both cases, the external events lead to an internal moment where the protagonist must decide how she feels about the person she has become,” Pereira writes. “This introspection may be a complete turning point where the protagonist reconsiders every aspect of her personality … [or] a slight shift. … As with any aspect of a good story, the external events need to reflect and contribute to the internal journey that eventually makes the protagonist grow and change.”

5. Daydream. This one is the simplest for me since a lot of my scenes play out like movies in my head. I try to give myself time to daydream, which usually happens at night. Daydreaming isn’t hard for me because I seemed to always float through life while living in my head when I was a kid and that’s been something that has translated into adulthood as well.

I think about my characters and what situation I need them to work through and then from there, my brain will jump to a conversation they might have with another character, which spurs an entire scene playing out in my mind. The only problem with this process is that the daydreams often come late at night for me so there I am at 1 a.m., sitting up in bed, grabbing my phone and jotting down the scene I started creating in my mind. As I’ve mentioned before, this way of writing a novel can make some days hard to get through, but it’s simply how and when my creative brain works.

6. Review parts of your novel that are working and you like. This suggestion came from Writers Relief.com,  which suggests waking up your creative mind for that hard middle section by re-reading the parts of the novel that work for you. By reading those sections again you may find a way to write the middle of the novel, needed to help build up to or around those moments you find complete already. After all, the idea of a novel is to build a story. This is something I keep reminding myself. When I write a scene I really enjoy, I tell myself that I can’t simply rush to the next scene I like because there needs to be some story building, some pulling in of the reader that makes them feel like they are on an enjoyable walk and not a high-speed roller coaster ride to the end. Of course, if you’re writing a thriller or a mystery, you might want the high-speed aspect, but for me, with my slower paced, clean romances, I prefer a leisurely, yet still interesting stroll.

7. Read the works of others you enjoy and even some you don’t. When you read a story you enjoy this can help give you ideas for your own story, not by stealing ideas but by inspiring you through your own character and their situations. Reading a good book is also a nice distraction from your struggles with your novel. The story in the book you choose to read can help clear your mind and show you what you can and should do with your story.

Reading stories you don’t like can also help show you what you do not want to do in your own novel. If there is a plot twist or a weak character development, you will see it as something to steer clear of in your own writing. Or maybe the book is a popular and well-received one but you know it’s still not how you want to write your own book. Either way, it can help define how you get through the rough spot of your novel.

8. Write a synopsis of your story. As novel writers know, a synopsis is a summary of what your book is about. Writing this can help you to hone what scenes you still need or may need to eliminate from the book to make it more concise and carry your story forward. You’re going to need this later anyhow, whether you go the traditional route and send the synopsis to a literary agent or go the indie publishing route, like I did, and toss your book up on Kindle.

9. Try writing prompts related to your WIP and your MC. 

Instead of using a writing prompt to kick start a flash fiction piece or a novel, use the prompts to ask yourself things like “What would happen if my MC did this instead of this?” or “What if this person said this or that to my main character?” Imagining other scenarios for the outcome of your novel could help to pull you out of the writing rut as well.

10. Do something physical, completely unrelated to writing. This is similar to get up and walk away from your project for a while. Go for a walk, a run, a swim, anything to get your body moving, your endorphins flowing, and your brain off your story. Or, maybe your brain will be on your story as you walk and something will break loose and help you carry forward.

For extra information on overcoming writer’s block, I’ve included this link to best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins talking about how to overcome it. Please try to ignore how the camera is focused on the books behind him for most of this video. The advice is very good, despite that odd recording blip.

 


Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at Alamy.com and Lightstock.com.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 6 & 7

If you want to catch the beginning of Blanche’s story, you can read it on Kindle and Kindle Unlimted.  However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.

If you want to read A New Beginning’s chapters that have been posted so far, you can find themhere (or at the top of the page). 

As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.


As the nights get colder and we snuggle under covers, warm cups of tea and a book in our hands, let us embrace how life slows down to give us time to experience life around us in a simpler way. Don’t look at winter as just a time for dreary weather, cold winds, or snow to shovel this year. Instead, see it as what it can be – a time to pause, reflect and reconnect with those in your family as you wait for the warmth to come again.

I finished the last paragraph of my column, pulled the page from the typewriter and slid it into the envelope so I could drop it off at the newspaper office the next day. I pulled my sweater close around me as I stood and looked out my bedroom window at the leaves falling from the maple tree in our backyard. The colors weren’t as brilliant this autumn as they had been in previous years but mixed among the dark oranges and browns were a few bright yellow and red bursts of foliage across the hills that surrounded our small valley.

Jackson had been in school a little over a month now and while he had cried the first day I took him, he seemed to love it now. I missed him terribly during the day and I anxiously watched the clock, walking to the school every day to meet him outside. My heart melted at how his face lit up when he saw me, leaving behind the friends he’d been talking to so he could run to me and throw his arms around me. I walked with him back to the shop each day and we waited there for Daddy to finish at the office, pick us up and take us home.

I was happy to see him growing but struggling with it at the same time. He was growing so fast. His childhood seemed to be rushing by and I wanted to stop time and just enjoy it all a little more. I’d never thought I’d be a mother and now I could barely remember life before Jackson.

“Hey, Mama.”

I turned to see Jackson looking up at me, one of his toy trucks clutched in his hands.

“Hey, squirt. What are you doing?”

“I’m pretending I’m a truck driver and I’m gonna dig a hole in the backyard.”

“That sounds fun.”

I sat on the edge of my bed and lifted him into my lap, pressing my face into his soft brown hair.

“How are you liking school?”

Jackson scrunched up his nose, spinning the wheels on his truck. “It’s okay, I guess. ‘cept for all that writing and numbers. That stuff’s borin’. But I like when we get to do that recess thing. And lunch is good, unless we have meatloaf. They don’t know how to make it like Grandma.”

I knew recess was his favorite part of the day by how hard I’d had to scrub his pants clean lately.

“Mama, how come I don’t have no brother or sister?”

The way children could change a topic so abruptly amazed me. I knew questions like this one would come one day and while I dreaded them, I knew being honest was important. Still, I wondered how honest I should be with a 6-year old.

“Well, honey, because right now Mommy and you live with Grandpa and Grandma and there really isn’t room for a brother or sister.”

I felt confident that while my answer didn’t address the lack of a husband to help provide a sibling, it still wasn’t a lie.

“Oh.” Jackson furrowed his little eyebrows and scrunched his nose again. “Well, if we move away, can I have a brother or sister?”

“Do you really want to move away from Grandpa and Grandma?”

“No. I like living here, but I want a brother too.”

“What if you had a sister one day instead?”

“No. That won’t happen. I’d have a brother.”

“Are you sure about that? You know you don’t get to choose, right?”

“What would I do with a sister? I don’t wanna play with no dolls or dresses.”

“Honey, some girls like to climb trees and play with trucks too, you know. I always did.”

Jackson scrunched up his face like he was deep in thought.

“Well, then, maybe I can have a sister, I guess.”

I kissed his cheek and hugged him close. “For right now, you don’t need to worry about that, though. Why don’t you and I bake some cookies after dinner?”

“Chocolate chip?”

“What other kind is there?”

“Cool.”

I watched as he slid from my lap and ran from the room, his toy tightly clutched in his hand. There were some days I liked that it was just Jackson and me, but other days I found myself aching for a father for Jackson and a man to love me. I didn’t like, however, that my family, and apparently even Emmy, thought any gaps in my life could be filled with a man.  I knew for a fact that a man wasn’t the answer to all the problems in a woman’s life and, if anything, a man seemed to complicate it more.

Hank had certainly complicated my life, first with his attention and then with how he’d treated me not long after we were married. The arrival of Judson was threatening to complicate things too, but I was determined not to let it – at least not in a romantic way. I had a feeling even a friendship with him would throw a wrench in the regularly scheduled program that was my current life.

***

“What made you leave with Hank that day, Blanche?”

Six months after I’d returned home with Jackson and Edith had apparently decided it was time I share my thoughts behind leaving my family. I focused on the apples I was peeling for the apple pie and tried to decide how to answer without sounding like a silly schoolgirl. But there wasn’t any way I wouldn’t sound silly or trite. I had been a schoolgirl and I had been silly. My thoughts were immature; my idea of what life should be skewed by romance novels and Ava Gardner movies.

“I thought I loved him,” I said finally, still not making eye contact with Edith. “I was very stupid and naïve. I know that now.”

“I didn’t ask you to make you feel bad, Blanche. I just really wanted to know. I never really asked you. I guess I figured it was none of my business, even though I was dying to know since I never expected you to do that.”

I laid the knife down and gnawed gently at my nails, a habit I’d picked up on the days I wasn’t sure which Hank was coming home from work.

“I think,” I started, with a shrug. “That’s partly why I did it. No one expected me to. Everyone seemed to always know what I was going to do, what I was supposed to do, who I was supposed to be. Mama and Daddy seemed to have my life planned out for me. Everyone saw me as boring and predictable and you – well, you weren’t. In the back of my mind I guess I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I wanted to write my own story and I wanted Hank to be in it. I did love him, or the version of him I imagined in my mind. I didn’t know . . .” I starred out the window at a car driving by the house. “Well, who he really was underneath the charm and handsome façade.”

Edith picked an apple from the bowl and started peeling it. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way. It was never my intention. Honestly, I had no idea.”

I laughed softly. “Edith, I’m not blaming you. It was how I felt at the time. Feelings are not always facts, as we know.”

“True,” Edith said. “And what we think are facts are sometimes simply facades – like the idea I was always spontaneous or fun, or whatever you thought I was. You must know by now that I was simply a lost girl who never accepted my parents’ or God’s love as being enough. I thought I had to have a bunch of boys love me too.”

She shook her head as she tossed the slices into the pie crust. “I was so foolish back then. I guess you and I were foolish together. Thankfully God protected us from doing any worse harm to ourselves or anyone else and brought us back to our senses.”

“I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to come back to mine,” I said, feeling tears in my eyes. “And I wish it hadn’t taken Hank beating me to wake me up. I did bring harm to at least one person – Jackson.”

Edith reached across the table and cupped her hand against my cheek.

“What’s done is done and it’s time to move forward. For both of us.”

Over the years, I did my best to move forward, as Edith had said, rebuild the relationships I’d damaged when I left but I was still stuck, especially when it came to building new relationships. I wasn’t only disinterested in navigating the world of romance; I wasn’t even interested in meeting new people. My experience with Hank had left me with a healthy dose of mistrust, not only in others, but also in myself. When I was younger, I had trusted myself to make the right decisions, to know by how a situation felt whether it was right or not. Leaving with Hank had felt right at the inexperienced age of 17 had moved forward with a confidence I no longer possessed.

Edith poured hot water over my tea bag and set the milk and sugar next to me. “Part of that moving forward means reaching for those dreams you had for your future before you left. So, what did you imagine you’d do with your life one day, before you met Hank Hakes?”

I stirred milk into my tea and shook my head. “Those were just childish thoughts, Edith. Like a lot of the thoughts I had back then.”

“You wanted to be a writer. I remember that. Why don’t you start writing? Even if it’s just for yourself. You still keep a journal right? Oh! Why don’t you submit a column to the local paper? You could write about small-town life, the weather, whatever. People around here really love those types of columns and our paper needs that. Take a sample column over to the editor and see what happens.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Why not? What do you have to lose?”

I laughed. “Certainly not my pride. I lost that a long time ago.”

“Oh, stop it, Blanche. Just go for it. You never know what will happen and there is no use living in the past. We’re moving forward, remember? This is just one more step you can take to do that.”


Check out the latest chapters for this story every Friday here on the blog and also follow me on Wattpad.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 3

If you want to catch the beginning of Blanche’s story, you can read it on Kindle and Kindle Unlimted.  However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.
As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.


Chapter 3

“Why do you keep blaming yourself for what Hank did to you?”

Emmy’s question a year after I left Hank still echoed in my mind. I hadn’t known how to answer it then but later I questioned why I shouldn’t blame myself.

I was the one who had allowed Hank to treat me the way he had. I was the one who had left my family to be with him. I had been the one who had been too stupid, too trusting, to see who he really was. I was the one who had to learn the hard way that I couldn’t trust anyone, not even myself.  I couldn’t protect my child or my own heart so how could I ever trust myself to judge if another man was or wasn’t the same as Hank?

Even now I wondered what Hank had ever seen in me.  I’d never looked like my voluptuous older sister, was never outgoing, and never sought attention from boys. Sometimes I wondered if he thought I was someone he could control, instead of someone he wanted to love. It was obvious the night I saw him kissing that other woman at the bar that I’d never been enough for him and if I wasn’t good enough for him maybe I’d never be good enough for any man.

Hank and I met at a dance Daddy almost didn’t let me go to. Hank had leaned next to me, smashing his cigarette into the ashtray behind me, whispering that he’d save the next dance for me. That night I’d felt a rush of excitement I’d never felt before.

Secret meetings in our backyard in the middle of the night transformed into stolen kisses, intimate touches and eventually Hank begging me to run away with him. And I did run away with him. Two-hundred miles from home to a strange city, lonely and frightened, especially when I became pregnant only six months after we were married. When I told him I was pregnant, Hank changed from caring to detached and angry.

I’d never told anyone except Emmy and Lillian, our pastor’s wife, about the last time I saw Hank before he moved out west. I was in a children’s consignment shop in Dalton, about a year after Daddy chased Hank off, when I saw him through the front window, standing with a group of men outside the hardware store across the street. I stepped back behind a wrack of clothes, hoping he wouldn’t see me.

“Those men are nothing but trouble.”

I jumped at the sound of store owner, Jane Doan’s voice. She was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder at the men and scowling.

“My husband says Billy Martin has been talking about forming a KKK group up just over the state border in Winton. And look at those other idiots. Just toddling along with him like lemmings.”

Emmy walked over to stand next to Joan. “Isn’t that – “

“Yes,” I said curtly. “It is.”

“He looks rough,” Emmy said.

I studied Hanks unshaven face, sunken eyes, crooked nose, where I’d broken it the year before. “He does.”

“You were always too good for that man,” Jane said, all of us still looking out the window. “Still are.”

“What do you think they’re up to?” Emmy asked.

“I don’t know but it can’t be anything good,” Jane said. “Some of the men from church are talking about running them out of town, letting them know their kind isn’t welcome here. I bet you that Hank hasn’t even gone to see his mama. He wouldn’t dare with his daddy around, I guess.”

I thought about the conversation I’d had with Hank that one day in the apartment, how he said he was going to come back to our town and tell Lillian she wasn’t welcome.

“You have to know something, Blanche,” Hank had said, lifting his glass of milk and looking at me. “Those people aren’t as smart as us. They don’t think like we do. We can’t have them coming up here and demanding to be treated the same as us like they’re trying to do down South. They want to take our jobs, our women. Just look at that dumb preacher – I guess they want to take the men too, infiltrate their way into our world and taint our bloodlines.”

My chest tightened at the memory of what he’d said and I found myself clutching the cross necklace around my neck Edith had recently given me as a gift.

Emmy laid her hand against my shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Blanche. We’ll stay right here until he’s gone.”

Hank laughed with the men as they loaded supplies into the back of one of the men’s truck. There were boards and ropes and I hoped I was imagining a can of gasoline behind one of the boxes.

“Emmy…” I said softly, then bit my bottom lip, changing my mind.

I didn’t want to tell her what Hank had said. I didn’t want her to know he had been even worse than I had told her and that I’d stayed with him even after he’d said and done such horrible things. I didn’t want to admit that for so long I thought I could change Hank, or if I couldn’t, God would, and he would be kind again. I wondered how I had ever let myself fall so hard for him. The gentle kisses he had once given me seemed so far away now.

As the truck drove away, Hank and two other men climbing into the back, I closed my eyes briefly and asked God to keep Lillian safe. Then, I felt like I should ask him to keep Hank safe too, even though I still wasn’t sure how to feel about Hank now. I struggled with the idea that I needed to forgive him the way Christ had forgiven me. Knowing I needed to do it and actually doing it were two different things.

Pounding on our front door woke me several hours later. Looking at the clock through bleary eyes I saw it was 2 a.m. Daddy was standing at the front door as I descended the stairs, tying my robe closed at my waist. Over his shoulder I saw John Hatch standing on our front porch.

“Alan, we have a problem at the pastor’s house. Someone’s burned a cross on their front lawn and threw a rock through their front window. Lillian and Frank are terrified, of course, but even worse, Frank is worried about what kind of stress this is putting on Lillian and the baby.”

I sucked in a deep breath and held it as I listened. I regretted not saying anything about seeing Hank in town. Had he been involved? I didn’t know and wondered if I could have stopped what had happened if I had simply told someone what Emmy and I had seen earlier.

“Tell them to come here tonight,” Mama said as I reached the end of the stairs and Daddy reached for his coat behind the door.

Daddy nodded, reaching for his shotgun. “I’ll bring them back with me.”

“What are you going to do with that gun, Alan?”

“Hopefully nothing,” Daddy told Mama, standing in the open doorway. “The worst I plan to do is fire a warning shot. You know I have experience with that.”

Mama kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Just be careful.”

We watched Daddy and John drive into the darkness and fear gripped my heart. My mind was returning to the “what if” questions I had asked so often as a young child and teenager. What if my choice not to say anything about seeing Hank and those men together led to something horrible happening to Daddy or John or Lillian and Pastor Frank?

“I’ll get the guest room ready,” I said, thinking and worrying as I climbed the stairs.

Lillian’s face was swollen from crying when she walked in our front door, Pastor Frank helping to support her. Her dark brown, almost black hair hung around her face and shoulders loose, a change from how I usually saw it pulled tightly into a braid that hung down her back or looped into a bun on top of her head. A red flush highlighted her light brown complexion along her cheek bone and under her red-rimmed eyes.

Mama took her hand and led her to the couch. “I’ve made you some tea. You just relax and take your shoes off and I’ll bring it to you.”

“Thank you, Janie,” Lillian said softly as Pastor Frank and Daddy walked toward the kitchen with Mama.

Lillian slid her coat off and settled into the couch, as I pulled the afghan my grandmother had made my mother when she was a child from the back of the couch and laid it across Lillian’s shoulders.

She pulled the afghan around her and then reached out and took my hand. Her eyebrows were furrowed with concern. “Blanche…. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not, but one of the men – I can’t be sure because they were wearing masks…”

“You think one of the men was Hank.”

Lillian nodded, her expression grim.

“Someone called his name and the voice sounded like his.”

I sat next to her and slid an arm around her shoulder. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. I – I saw him in town today. I should have said something, but I – I didn’t know for sure. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through tonight and I’m so sorry that he may have been involved.”

Lillian leaned against me, patting my shoulder. “You have no need to apologize for his actions. But thank you for your tender heart. It’s the balm I needed after this crazy night.”

“I can’t believe this is happening in our town,” Pastor Frank said as he walked into the living room, his voice breaking. He rubbed his hand across his face, shaking his head.

Daddy put his hand on Frank’s shoulder. “They’ve been having them down South, but here? In Pennsylvania? Our world is upside down, pastor. I think you know this is more than a war against flesh and blood. This is a spiritual war.”

“Yes,” Pastor Frank agreed. “It is. And we know just how to wage that battle.”

He kneeled in the middle of our living room floor and gestured for us to do the same. We reached for each other hands and bowed our heads as Pastor Frank prayer for protection for his family and anyone else who might be targeted by the men. He ended the prayer by asking God to change the hearts of the men.

We weren’t alone in our disbelief over what had happened. The next day the town council called an emergency meeting and asked the county sheriff to attend.

“We need to make it clear we don’t want this kind of hatred in our town,” Mayor Matthew Tanner said, his jaw tight. “Sheriff, is there anything you can do?”

“We’re already working with the state police in both states to round these men up and file charges against them for harassment and anything else we can charge them with,” Sheriff Matthew Evans said, standing from his seat in the front row. “I can assure you we will do all we can to protect the citizens of your town but also the citizens of this county.”

Jason Finley, a local farmer, stood up and cleared his throat, holding his straw hat in his hand. He rarely spoke other than to say “good morning” if someone said it to him and he almost never initiated conversations.

There was a quiver in his voice as he spoke. “I think what’s important about all this, is that we make sure that the pastor and his wife know that we don’t think like those men do in this town. Miss Lillian is the only person of color in our town. We know she was the main one they wanted to scare and we need to let them know we’ll have none of that here. Miss Lillian and the Porters, over in Spencer; shouldn’t have to be afraid because – because of the color of their skin. She’s a good woman and her husband is a good man. They take care of our community and it’s time we took care of them. I’d like to gather a group of you to go over tomorrow morning and clean up the mess that was left. I hope you’ll meet me at their home around 8 a.m.”

Jason sat quickly, looking at the floor as several around him nodded in agreement.

I reached over and took Lillian’s hand, squeezing it. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and managed a smile.

In the morning their front yard was full of people from the town, repairing the front window, sweeping glass from the front porch and digging up the charred ground where the cross had burned. Standing in their front room, glass around me, tears flowed freely. I kneeled by the bucket of soapy water and drenched the sponge, wrung it out, and began to scrub at the racist epitaphs scrawled in red paint across their front fence.

Oh God,” I prayed to myself as I scrubbed.  “Touch the hearts of these men and show them that we are all made in your image.”

I never said anything to Mama and Daddy, or Hank’s mother, about Hank being one of the men and Lillian, Jane, and Emmy didn’t either. A month later Mrs. Hakes told me Hank had moved out west and I prayed to God he stayed there, hopefully for the rest of my life.

 

Oh. So that’s why writing book two has been such a challenge.

I have been having a hard time writing the second part of Blanche’s story and I think it is because I had so much fun sharing the first part on my blog and interacting with some of my readers about it as I went along, and I haven’t been doing that with this book.

A-Story-to-Tell

I was able to go back and make changes before I published the book on Kindle, but sharing it in pieces and receiving feedback as I wrote it, was fun. I’ve heard this is similar to how Wattpad works, but I don’t know if I’m really interested in sharing it with that many people. I don’t mind sharing it with the few people who read my blog, however, because my blog readers are cool people, with similar tastes, who aren’t afraid to give me polite pointers.

I’ve also been struggling with Blanche sharing with me the second part of her story like she did the first part. I’m fairly certain I just heard many of you say to yourselves: ‘I’m sorry what? You think your character is talking to you? How many drugs are you on?” I know. It sounds weird but, yes, sometimes I feel like my characters tell me their stories in bits and pieces and I wake up (because they don’t tell me when I’m awake apparently) and jot down what they’ve shared with me, flushing it out later.

The first part of Blanche’s story came out pretty quickly, but now I’m struggling with what happens since she’s (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST STORY) left Hank and come home to live with her parents. I already have plenty of ideas and a few chapters in rough draft form, though, so it is coming together. The second part of the story will introduce a few new characters but also continue the story of other characters in Blanche’s life.

Will Hank find redemption, like my dad is vying for? Or will he disappear completely from the scene? We will have to wait and see – including this writer who hasn’t totally decided what will happen with Hank yet.

And what about the arrival of Blanche’s friend Emmy’s cousin? What role will Judson “J.T.” Waignwright play, if any? And then there is Edith, Blanche’s older sister. How is married life (and parenthood?) treating her? When we left her she was expecting. Hank’s mom was also on scene, hoping to have a relationship with her grandson, and searching for her own healing from her own abusive marriage.

What will happen to Emmy and who is Stanley Jasper?

We’ll see every Friday, starting this Friday when I start sharing chapters from “A New Beginning,” the sequel toA Story to Tell.”

Fiction Friday: Another excerpt from He Leadeth Me

I’m sharing another excerpt from He Leadeth Me for this week’s Fiction Friday. This story is not yet published but hopefully will be in the summer of 2020. As always, this is a rough draft and there could be typos, missing words and the like. Let me know in the comments if you want but know they’ll probably be fixed on the final draft. 😉

My first novel is also on Kindle.

He’d asked her if she would take a walk with him after dinner and she’d been nervous, but she’d agreed. They walked for half an hour, chatting about the dinner they’d had, the weather in India, the weather in their perspective countries, the work they were each doing in India when suddenly he stopped, turned toward her and held his hand out.

“Have you had the chance to dance in the moonlight in India yet?”

His uniform had been replaced with khakis and a plain white button-up shirt like those commonly worn by the Indian men. His dirty blond hair was combed over to one side and though she couldn’t see his eyes clearly in the moonlight, she knew they were blue because she’d caught herself staring at them before when they were talking.

She looked nervously at her feet, unsure how to react to this pivot in their conversation. “I can’t say I have.”

“Well, come on,” he said with one corner of his mouth turned up. “Let’s be brave and see what happens.”

“There’s no music.”

“I can hum a tune or two.”

His hand was warm, the palms rough from days of working hard to build hangers for the Indian Air Force planes. He gently pulled her closer and placed his other hand lightly against her waist but pulled it back again.

“My apologies. Is it ok if my hand rests there?”

She immediately felt embarrassed and looked down at her feet.

“Um… yes? I guess so.”

She was ashamed to admit she had no idea how to dance and had never had a man ask to dance with her.

His hand barely touched her as he began to sway and gently guide her movements.

“Over in Killarney

Many years ago,

Me Mother sang a song to me

In tones so sweet and low.

Just a simple little ditty,

In her good old Irish way,

And l’d give the world if she could sing

That song to me this day.

“Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, hush now, don’t you cry!

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that’s an Irish lullaby.”

She couldn’t look up as he sang. Her heart was pounding and her head felt light.

What would her father think if he knew she’d come to India to care for orphans and tell others about the love of God but now she was dancing in the moonlight with an Irish airmen? And if Pastor James saw them? What might be said? Thoughts raced fast through her mind but she couldn’t seem to pull away, reveling in the feel of her hand in his and the smell of his cologne. She’d met him only a couple weeks before at the market, looking for vegetables and lamb for the mission and orphanage kitchen, and now here she was letting him lead her in a dance in the heat of the Indian summer.

He stopped singing, leaned back so he could look into her face and she looked up to see his blue eyes staring into hers.

“Tell me Emily Grant, the American girl with the very Scottish name, have you ever thought that God has made you for something more?”

The muscle in his jaw jumped a little as he started talking about what he expected for his future, not waiting for her answer.

“I mean, I grew up with my family, on a farm, thinking ‘There must be more to life than this.’ My brother loved farming, the shoveling of manure, and rounding up cows, but I just knew there was something more for me and I knew when I saw those children at the mission, my something more was here in India or at least in helping others.”

“Does it sound arrogant to say I believe God has a plan for me? A plan to show others His love not by what I say but by what I do? Is that what brought you here to India with your mission group? Did you think God would do something grand? That life could be something more and beautiful; the more you showed love and felt it back?”

Emily didn’t know what to say. She felt her face growing warm.

She knew exactly what Henry meant but she’d never known how to explain it. Her parents couldn’t understand why she had signed her name to the list to travel to India with the missionary who had been visiting their small rural church in Pennsylvania. They were worried for her safety, terrified she’d be killed by people her father called “Devil Worshippers” and “dark skinned heathens.” Emily had read the Bible. She believed God had created all humans and if that was true, then he had also created the Indian people and He loved them as much as he loved a white-skinned American farmer’s daughter.

“It doesn’t sound arrogant,” she said. “It sounds true and real and wonderful. I believe God has a plan for me, but I truly don’t understand it yet. All I knew was something inside me said I needed to follow Pastor James and Margaret here.”

Henry was still looking at her, eyes intensely focused on hers.

When his eyes glanced to her mouth as she spoke she tensed, suddenly self-conscious.

“Maybe God meant us to be here at the same time. For us to experience all this beauty together, ” he said, his voice slipping into a whisper.

He was too close.

Her heart was pounding too fast.

And when his lips touched hers it was too soon.

They’d only known each other two weeks and she hadn’t come to India to fall in love. She’d come to learn more about God’s will for her life.

She pulled away from him quickly and looked quickly at the ground.

“I’m past curfew at the mission. They’ll be concerned about me.”

She walked into the darkness before he could speak.

“Let me at least walk you home,” his voice followed her. “It’s dark and dangerous here at night.”

She paused and nodded an acceptance of his offer.

He fell in step beside her, silent as they walked. When they reached the gate of the mission she placed her hand on the gate and he reached out and wrapped his fingers around her hand.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep. I’ve never been so bold before. Will ya’ forgive me, Emily? I’ve enjoyed our time together. I hope you won’t disapprove of seeing me again.”

“It’s okay. I’m just – it’s – I’m here to be a servant to the mission. I shouldn’t get distracted. I don’t know – I just – wasn’t ready.”

She felt foolish as she spoke.

Wasn’t ready for what? To be loved? To let this young airman who spoke of wanting to serve God love her?

“I have to get to bed. We have open clinic in the morning for the village women. Thank you for the dance Henry.”

She pulled her hand from his and rushed through the gate, closed it and walked down the path toward the mission.

In her room, with the door closed behind her, she touched her fingertips to her lips, closed her eyes and remembered the warmth of his mouth on hers. She breathed deep, shook her head to clear her mind of the memory, and reached for her Bible to take her mind off the distraction she felt God didn’t want her to have.