Hi all! I wanted to give you a glimpse at the first chapter of my current WIP. It’s a story of second chances, love lost and found, and dealing with a new chapter in life. The story’s protagonist is Libby Crenshaw — a 50-something widow whose life is empty when the story begins…
Here is a glimpse at Empty Chairs, Empty Promises
I suppose some of my neighbors would call me crazy or at least odd if they watched me standing in subzero temperatures along the Mississippi River. I wasn’t sure how long I had been standing in the snow. I didn’t wear a watch today. Hell, I don’t even remember what day of the week it is. Don’t even ask me the date.
I think I’ve been frozen in this same spot for more than a few minutes. My fingers start to feel numb inside my thick gloves as I stand on the riverbank searching for the small splotches of white among the bare branches along the river. Slapping my hands together does nothing to relieve the effects of the winter temps. My breath surrounds me with crystalline clouds.
For the last twenty years, I’ve watched the bald eagles soaring over the river and roosting in the bare trees. Today they are absent. The other oddity is the frozen river. For the first time, it froze solid without a trace of open water. Would it hold me if I walked out on it? Could I make it across the wide expanse to the other side without falling through the ice and being swept away by the force of the mighty river that flows beneath it?
Something bumps my leg. I look down — for a moment perplexed — at the yellow lab smiling up at me with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth. Mia. That’s her name. She pulls on her leash encouraging me to move. It wasn’t a bad idea, I guess. We would be much warmer inside.
I pull up the collar of my wool coat and adjust the scarf around my neck. Definitely, time to get away from the river and the cold winds blustering through the valley. I wave at the passing vehicles and stop briefly to exchange a few words of greeting with some of my more adventuresome neighbors who brave the cold as I have to walk the dog or get some exercise.
Mia’s pace increases as we near the large white house I’ve called home for the past 25 years. The house I had shared with my husband, Joshua, for almost as many years. Our children are grown and live far away. They call, but it isn’t the same. I open my back door and stomp my boots to get the snow off. I unhook Mia’s harness hanging it, my coat, and scarf on the hooks next to the door. Toeing off my boots, I kick them into the corner and scurry across the icy cold cement floor in my socks eager for the heated interior of my home.
The warmth of the kitchen is comforting on such a cold morning. The radio is tuned to the morning news and fills the still house with the humming drone of the announcers. I find it soothing. Leaving the radio on during the day is a new habit. The house has been too quiet, too empty. The hypnotic tick, tick, tick of the hall clock just reminds me of time passing me by.
My birthday is just around the corner. I’m going to be fifty years old. I never envisioned my life would take this fateful turn. I pictured vacations to exotic locales with my husband at my side. In my dreams, I watched with pride and pleasure as my husband walked our daughter down the aisle. Our future would involve both of us playing with the grandkids. And on days like today, the two of us sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a hot cup of coffee as we planned our day.
Oh, I’ve heard all of the platitudes. Life isn’t fair. You’re young — you’ll meet someone else. You’re lucky you are financially stable. And my favorite, don’t you think it’s time to get past this and get on with your life. I’m sure most of the advice is well meaning. But I will handle my grief in my own way and in my own time.
I fill Mia’s bowl with kibble adding a tablespoon of coconut oil because I read somewhere it was good for her coat. Grabbing a mug from the dish drainer, I fill it with water and pour it into my coffee machine. The new coffee makers are quick and make a decent cup of coffee, but personally, I really miss the sound and smell of coffee percolating. Inserting a packet into the correct slot, I wait for the machine to produce my hot cup of caffeine. My chilly hands welcome the wonderful warmth radiating from the mug.
The kitchen did have a table and 4 chairs by the bay window overlooking the back yard. After Josh died, I was overwhelmed with the thought of sitting at that table alone with three empty chairs. I replaced it with two chaise lounges with a round table placed between them. The second chaise doesn’t cause any discomfort for me. It provides the promise of one of my children visiting. Nathan is in the Navy stationed in Washington state and Carrie moved to New York City to pursue a banking career. They returned home for the funeral, but their work commitments cut their time at home short. I understood. They are adults with their own lives.
Within the toasty security of my kitchen, I look through the help wanted ads in the local paper. Housekeeper. No thanks. I don’t like cleaning my own house much less anyone else’s. Bartender. Not in my skill set. Milker. I try to picture myself up at 4 am every day hooking suction cups to cow teats. The mental imagery makes me giggle. It could be a backup plan.
The radio news changes to easy listening music. I tune the radio to a station that plays classic rock. It’s the beginning of another long day.
After a morning of repetitive tasks, I’m ready for a break. The sound of the doorbell gives me an excuse to cease and desist from my chores. I wipe my hands off on my jeans and shoot a fast glance in the hall mirror as I pass. I look like crap. At least my hair is combed today.
I open the door and a gust of frosty air intrudes into my home. My body shivers at the sudden decrease in temp. Standing on the stoop is a dark-haired woman who looks to be in her early 20’s. I don’t recognize her and wonder if my mind is failing me again.
“Can I help you with something?” At my query, the young woman squares her shoulders and runs her tongue over her dry lips before answering.
“I am looking for Mr. Joshua Crenshaw.” She gazes past me into the house, her eyes searching.
“He doesn’t live here anymore.” It sounds like a half-truth, but I don’t know this woman and my husband’s death is too personal to share with strangers.
The brunette’s eyes widen. “This is the address I was given. Do you know where he lives now?” she asks. I sense a weariness in her voice as well as her appearance.
“Before I tell you anything else about my husband, could you tell me your name and your business with him?” I have an uneasy feeling. Nausea makes my insides churn as my hands grow clammy.
“My name is Amanda Norton. Joshua Crenshaw is my father.” I gasp. The room spins around me. I detect a distant voice asking if I’m okay. My tongue lies heavy in my mouth. The acrid taste of my coffee coming back up in my throat makes me gag. I lean my forehead against the frigid surface of the front door hoping this is a nightmare and I’m still in my bed.
I croak out the words, “My husband is dead.”
Picture the family gathered around the radio on Friday night to hear the latest episode of “The Lone Ranger” or “Fibber McGee and Molly”. Today’s radio show is the podcast or books on Audible. Combine them both and you have The Stories We Tell.
Check it out from the beginning on April 23rd! The podcast will feature short stories by a diverse group of writers, including yours truly! Join us for something new with a tinge of nostalgia.
The March issue of our Amazon #1 magazine!
In this issue…
• An exclusive interview with Terry Deary, bestselling author of the ‘Horrible Histories’
• Our new series of travel features, Off the Beaten Track
• How to start your own small business
• How to learn a new language
• The difference between psychology and
psychiatry, and so much more…
Every writer I’ve ever communicated with over the past few years will tell me that they want people to like what they’ve written. I do as well, but I also want them to feel something beyond “liking” my story.
I want the reader to feel a multitude of emotions when they read my books — fear, sorrow, anger, indignation, love and happiness. In essence, I want them to feel what the main character is feeling at that time. My goal is to have them step into the story become a part of what is happening by playing it out in their minds.
I read somewhere recently that when we listen to a story various areas in our brain are stimulated. If a passage talks about how something feels or sounds, the sensory cortex becomes active. If we are reading about some type of physical activity, our brain’s motor cortex responds. As storytellers, we can affect our readers deeply.
My characters aren’t perfect, and I don’t want them to be. Real people cannot be assigned labels like “good” or “bad”. People are too complex to be deemed one thing or another. I want my readers to react to the fictional characters inhabiting my story’s world. Whether it’s a negative or positive emotion, I want them to feel something.
Clare Thibodeaux is the main character in my suspense series. Clare can be distant, stubborn, and can make some very bad decisions. She can also be a loyal friend; and at times, she cares about people many readers dislike. Clare resists being told what to do, being overprotected or treated like she’s weak. Throughout the series, she struggles with letting someone else help her. Some of the other characters are overbearing and too protective to the point of being dismissive at times.
Because of these unflattering character traits, some of my readers won’t care for my books. That’s okay, I don’t like every book I read. No matter what, I have elicited an emotion, and that is what art is all about!
I never thought of myself as being particularly fond of winter, but I have noticed as I’ve gotten older I do like many aspects of this frosty season.
I’m not really a snow bunny; although, I was born with large ears to my sincere regret. My favorite Lab isn’t really bunny material, either. Except, I seem to remember watching him hop, hop, hop through the deep snow from time to time.
During the winter, his nose turns from black to pink, a condition aptly called “snow nose”, because he is always sniffing the ground and coming up with a coating of snow on his nose. He loves winter!
I liked cross-country skiing when I was younger, but recently, I discovered I really enjoyed snowshoeing. It is a great workout and gets me outside. Unfortunately, we have snow but the temps are in the double-digit negatives, so being outdoors for extended periods isn’t necessarily a good thing.
This leaves me no other alternative except to turn to another favorite activity — writing. Winter days are perfect for sitting down with my laptop and pounding the keys as I peel back the layers of my characters and create something worth reading. By my side is a piping hot cup of coffee, tea or cocoa assisting in the efforts to keep me warm.
Most of my writing over the past three years has occurred during the winter and springtime and have published most of my work during the summer or fall time frame. Could that be why the winter season figures prominently in the books? The second book in the Clare Thibodeaux Series is aptly named Winter’s Icy Caress.
What impact does environment have on a writer’s creativity? Princeton English Professor Diana Fuss explored the habitats where her favorite writers penned their literary works in her study, “The Sense of an Interior: Four Writers and the Rooms that Shaped Them.”
Professor Fuss researched for eight years and visited the very rooms where the subjects of her study wrote their books. It seems each environment was as different as the subject from Freud’s antiquity-filled Victorian office to the surprise of finding Emily Dickinson’s light and airy cupola with views over the countryside. Dickinson’s writing space was unexpected, because she was widely portrayed as being a helpless agoraphobic, and many envisioned her shut up in a tiny, dark room in her father’s home.
I like to write in my library surrounded by hundreds of books and mementos from past travels. Three large multipaned windows allow the space to be flooded with the morning light, and I can look out and see the snow swirl down or watch the birds play in the fountain outside.
I know my environment plays a fundamental role in my writing. I’m happier on sunny days, morose on rainy ones, and energized by the cold snap of fall and winter weather. I get my best ideas after periods of physical activity particularly those activities that occur outdoors. My mood and my muse tend to go to the dark side after too many days when I’m stuck inside.
Unfortunately, I’m not a snow bunny, but the winter weather does influence my mood and my writing. I like to think I’m attuned to the changing environment around me whether that involves the change of the seasons or a swing in the mood of a room full of people. I strive to put my observations down on paper using them to create the imaginary worlds my characters inhabit.
What influences your writing, your art, and your moods? Does it matter what desk you write on? Do you like to shut out sensory stimuli like Professor Fuss found during her research on Proust? Or doesn’t it matter to you?
It is an interesting subject and I’d love to hear whether your environment affects your creativity.
I’m happy to be a member of this fast growing group, and wanted to introduce to the organization and one of its founders, Hannah Howe.
Hannah Howe writes psychological and historical mysteries. Her books can be found at over 300 outlets worldwide. Her novels have reached number one numerous times on the Amazon charts and her book, Saving Grace, a Victorian mystery was a bestseller in Australia this summer. With all of this activity, Howe found time to co-found the new magazine — Mom’s Favorite Reads.
What is Mom’s Favorite Reads? It’s a community of book lovers which produces a quarterly book catalogue, featuring over 400 books, and a monthly magazine. The magazines, available as eBooks, in print and audiobooks, have topped the Amazon Contemporary Women charts, the Seasonal charts and the Graphic Novel charts in America, Australia, Britain and Canada. Alongside leading independent authors our magazines also feature contributions from high profile mainstream authors. For example, in the new year the magazine will feature exclusive interviews with a Dr Who screenwriter, an expert on Sherlock Holmes and Terry Deary, author of Horrible Histories, one of the most popular series in the history of publishing.
Also, in 2019, the plan is to develop the community to support literacy amongst adults and children. One of the ways we will do this is by offering schools, societies and literacy projects bundles of free books.
If you are an author, you are welcome to join Mom’s Favorite Reads. If you are a reader, please visit our website and check out our video, book catalogue and magazines https://moms-favorite-reads.com
If you would like us to support a literacy project, please email Hannah Howe at email@example.com and we will explore the possibility of supporting your project.
It is those quirky differences which make humans so interesting. Jane Austen had a knack at finding the humorous in her interactions with her neighbors and acquaintances that she later immortalized in print. The outrageous, bizarre and laugh-out-loud hilarious moments are the stuff of writers’ dreams.
I’m an odd duck. Always a bit nerdy, I loved school, reading and history. In elementary school, I read every biography of the founding fathers of the United States. They were my heroes. I loved playing “Landslide” — a board game about U.S. Presidential Elections where you collected Electoral College votes to win the Presidency. How many ten to eleven-year-old girls today would find that game captivating?
I asked for a globe for Christmas one year and on my bedroom wall, I had a poster of the universe. I would force my younger sisters to sit through my rendition of the Catholic mass or would drill them as their teacher using old school books of my mother’s from her youth. (I wonder what happened to them?)
I had a rock collection when I was young and kept it in an empty cardboard egg carton. Way before Indiana Jones had youngsters wanting to be an archeologist, I wanted to explore ancient ruins for artifacts. I also wanted to be a pop singer, Peace Corps volunteer and a nun. I ended up being a nurse, an Army Reserve officer, a bed & breakfast owner, and an indie writer, go figure.
We all have our stories about our youthful fascinations and dreams. They are the very things which mold us into the individuals we are today. What were yours? Did you follow through on your dreams?
OMG! Will this woman ever stay on a topic — like writing? Or living in a small town?
Nope. Sorry to disappoint you, but I am a flitter. I flit from one topic to another in conversation, linking thoughts in my head which no one else sees as being at all related to the discussion at hand. It is also not so out of the norm for me to write about inanimate equipment that I love (remember my love affair with my kitchen faucet or my romance with my commercial-grade floor buffer?) That being said, it does make sense for me to write about my Fitbit, because it has become a part of my daily routine which includes writing tales of mystery, suspense and on occasion — romance.
So, what do I love about my Fitbit? Well, the first thing is that it wakes me up every morning at 6:30 am with its vibrating buzz on my arm. Without it, I would sleep too long and wake up grumpy because I overslept. It gets my butt up out of the chair while I’m writing, so I can take a stroll outside or around the house to keep my blood flowing.
Some of my best story ideas come to me while I’m exercising. It’s a form of meditation for me, and my Fitbit helps keep me on target each day. When I find writing to be difficult, the band on my wrist provides me with the solace of knowing I have accomplished something today, even if it’s only a specific number of steps and active minutes.
It is strange to think how a watch has become such an essential part of my day. In fact, I resisted purchasing one while others were singing praises about theirs. I thought I didn’t really need to count steps because I was already using an application on my phone to track my workouts. Strange to think that something I felt I didn’t need has become such a part of who I am in the past year.
What I love most about this little black band is that it has kept me goal-oriented throughout the year. Exercise helps to keep my mood light so I can smile in all those selfies I post online. LOL! It has helped me drop another size in clothing, and boy, do I love that!
So to celebrate I have ordered some different colored wristbands for my little motivator. I’ve stuck with basic utilitarian black since I got it Christmas of 2017. In 2019, we are going to be styling.