On Writing a Sequel to a Novel

A writer of novels may end up in a quandary if, having announced that a sequel to his or her latest novel is in the works, things don’t pan out as planned.  Suppose you’ve broadcast a title to this promised sequel, one with the main character’s name included; suppose you’ve even included a first chapter within the final pages of the novel it is intended to follow.  Then suppose, while writing this sequel, you hit a road block, a snag, and finally you are just plain stuck and there’s nothing to do but ditch it and start over.

It happened to me after I published my novel, Turn on No-Bridge Road.  Before I finished No-Bridge, not wanting to part with already developed characters, I had written two chapters of what I thought would be a fine sequel to this tale of a Virginia family, an old house brimming with secrets and baffling relationships, and a surprise ending.  Featuring one of the No-Bridge characters, I planned a mystery story.  I titled it Timothy Darling and the Girl in the Sailboat.  It was to revolve around the death of a girl at a local boarding school, a drug ring, a false accusal, a trial—well, you get the idea.  I’ll spare you the details but put simply, I apparently had bitten off more than I could chew.  Following a nudge from my editor, I came to realize the best thing I could do was to start over with a new focus.

Of course, setting aside seven or eight chapters of a novel is not an easy thing to do.  It’s a struggle for any writer to recover from abandoning such a lengthy effort.  It took me about ten months before I was ready to begin again with a new plot and a different focus.  This time rather than writing about Timothy, the son of No-Bridge’s main character, Claire Darling, I have chosen to again feature Claire herself, to follow her life’s struggles after her husband’s sudden death.  The ‘working’ title is currently The Widow Darling, leaving me wiggle room to change that.  No more definitive promises for me on this one.

So, having reached this point, what should an author do about what is currently being printed in the back of each new copy of the original novel—that first chapter of a sequel that is no longer relevant?  It is of course possible to request that it be removed from all future print-on-demand paperbacks; I’m sure it could also be deleted from future Kindle or other ebook orders.  One might also consider replacing that misleading chapter with one from the current sequel in progress.  What would you do?

I’m still thinking about it but, for now, I believe I’ll leave well enough alone.  People continue to ask me when the sequel is coming out, so that’s a good thing.  And I’m now enjoying writing this sequel to a novel.  It’s a first for me.  Maybe by the time The Widow Darling appears on the scene my readers will have forgotten all about Timothy Darling and the Girl in the Sailboat.  I hope some of them will read this post and understand.


On Becoming a Published Writer

Often, when someone learns I published my first novel in 2009, and am now working on my fourth, the first question they ask goes something like this:  “how, when, or why did you start writing?” or “when did you start writing novels?”  The second question almost always has something to do with my age, the fact that I waited until my senior years to become a published writer:  “Why now— so late—at this stage of your life?”  Well, why not? is what I want to answer, but of course I don’t, thinking it may sound rude.  To tell the truth, the answer is too complicated to respond in one or two short sentences.

In this post, I will attempt to outline the path that led me to publication of a first novel. I first realized that writing was fun when I was asked by the teacher of a high school journalism class to be the assistant editor of the school newspaper.  Of course, interviewing someone for a human interest article, or reporting on last week’s basketball win over a rival town was a far cry from writing fiction as I do today, but I think it must have been the beginning of my discovery that putting words to paper, then rearranging or adding to them is an interesting challenge as well as fun.

During the years as a young wife and mother, I experimented with poetry, and wrote a series of pretty terrible short stories—some of which were bravely sent off to various women’s magazines, despite receiving rejection after rejection.  With my husband in the Army and my children growing up, we moved around a lot and I was kept busy with many other things, but I just kept writing short fiction and poetry whenever I had time.  Looking back, it was probably a way to work out frustrations over those little things in life that can annoy us.  Immersing oneself in a made-up story about fictitious people can certainly take your mind off the here and now.

But despite these early attempts at creative writing, it really wasn’t until our children were on their own and my husband retired from the military, that my interest in writing fiction had its true awakening.  We were living full time in Virginia’s Northern Neck by then.  I began to think I’d like to write a novel.  Perhaps it could be about a military family.  I certainly knew enough about that kind of life as the daughter, as well as the wife, of army officers.  I had lived in thirteen states including Alaska, and in Europe as well by that time.  My early education had been in ten schools in nine states across the country;  I had lived on or near at least fifteen army installations.   That’s a lot of memories to draw from.  Before long, intertwining fact with imagination, I had the kernel of a storyline floating around in my head, a generational story, the tale of a 20th century military family.

While working on the early chapters, I took several classes in fiction and short story writing at the local community college, one of them taught by Sloan Wilson (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit).  I also participated in a couple of weekend writers’ seminars in D.C. and elsewhere.  I worked for a year on a National Endowment for the Arts project focused on the life and works of John Dos Passos, and had an article about Dos Passos printed in a Richmond VA magazine.  I also entered a poetry contest, winning first place.  A boost for the ego indeed.  It’s a good poem, no doubt the best I’ll ever write.  By then I was also in the early stages of rewriting the original chapters of what I eventually titled The Sound of Caissons.

Then one day in the mid-1970s curiosity, happenstance, and an historical marker along the roadside I had passed many times, caused me to turn off a county road and drive down a rutted dirt lane, at the end of which I was to come to the ruin of Menokin.  Built circa 1769, according to the roadside sign, it was the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. When large chimneys came into view through a heavy growth of tall trees, I had to leave the car and walk if I was to get any closer.  Through high grasses and weeds I picked my way carefully until I stood before the old house.  Nature had done its best to encase the building.  A dead tree lay across a corner of the roof, the windows were gone, the interior was devastated, littered with debris and so unsafe I dared not enter.  Walking around to the back, I saw tiny violets peeking through the broken stone of the back steps.  A cheerful omen, I thought, amidst the wreckage of what once must have been a beautiful home, the home of a man of considerable prominence.

In the lonely silence, I stood, imagination running wild, a hundred questions bouncing through my mind as the seeds of a second novel began to sprout.  Who were these people?  What had it been like in the 18th century to live way out here in the wilderness, distant from everything human? the horse the only means of transportation over land.  Did they have slaves?  Who was Francis Lee anyway, and what had he done during those revolutionary times?  The ruin of Menokin so fascinated me that soon I was thinking of little else, returning many times over the next months with family, by myself and sometimes with a friend.  Needless to say, this new obsession soon drew me back in time, far away from my story about a 20th century army family.

I began serious research into the life and times of Francis and Rebecca Lee.  Unfamiliar with this type of historical fact-finding, it took me over two years to collect material because this was research the old-fashioned way, before the internet, before Google.  It turned out that Lee letters and papers were scattered far and wide.  I gathered information from libraries and historical societies across the country, spent countless hours behind a microfilm reader, and scoured the local Richmond county court records.  I had hundreds of note cards and a file by date of events significant to Revolutionary times, another file alphabetically listing names of people and places.  My labors, which I thoroughly enjoyed, eventually resulted in my first completed novel—The Lees of Menokin.  Upon reaching the end of it, the final chapter, I felt devastated, lost without Francis and Becky Lee, whose personalities I had brought to life.  I didn’t want to part with them!   I’ve since learned that’s a common thing with authors.  It’s difficult to “give up” our now familiar, comfortable characters.

As you may guess, the creative part is ever so much more fun than the promoting of a book!  And although I sent many query letters, sample chapters when requested (there’s a whole learning curve to this process), and received a few positive responses and suggestions, I could not seem to connect with anyone willing to take a chance on my historical biography of Francis Lee.  Then, on a whim, I entered the Menokin book in a contest at Cornell University, posting all four boxes of the double-spaced manuscript to Ithica, NY.  A response came back with compliments on the fine research, followed by a question: “Why didn’t you write about Richard Henry Lee, Francis’s brother, who was a much more interesting and influential political figure?”  What could I say?—it wasn’t Richard Henry’s ruin of a house I had discovered on that cloudy afternoon!

While continuing to try to market Menokin, I finished the first draft of The Sound of Caissons.  Over time and through several rewritings, I received some very positive responses to queries for this lengthy, five-generational story —whose characters, members of the Crockett/Morgan family, are involved in four of America’s 20th century wars, from WWI to Vietnam.  In fact Bantam Books requested the entire novel — that was in the early 1980s and I had my first computer by that time, a Kaypro, so I was able to print a copy easily.  Once again I mailed off an entire manuscript.  I was assigned a contact person at Bantam who had suggestions for making changes, which I did, twice, more or less rearranging the entire story—but after several phone conversations, I finally realized she was pushing me to turn Caissons into a romance novel.  And I said “NO.  This is my book and I’m not changing it any more.”  On that note, we parted ways.

There’s a side story to the Bantam experience — a year or so later while reading a novel on the beach in Aruba, I came across a character named Harrison Crockett—it jumped off the page at me!   That was the name of the lead-off character in The Sound of Caissons!  Very carefully chosen after much thought was given to the year and the circumstances of his birth.  And guess what?  It turned out, after some inquiry, that the author of that novel, a well-known writer of many books whose name I shall not mention here, had apparently worked at Bantam when my novel was being reviewed!   While we all pick up ideas from each other’s work, sometimes not even realizing we are doing so, I wouldn’t have thought a thing of it, had not the given name Harrison been paired with the surname Crockett.  I did not take that well and came away from the experience feeling somehow betrayed.

Soon thereafter I attended a book festival event in Richmond where Thomas Fleming was launching his new book, a novel titled The Officers Wives.  Dying inside because with this new book about military life already in print, I deduced that mine was burnt toast.  I had yet to read The Officers Wives, but I couldn’t help feeling defeated.  A week or so later, well into the book, I was seething over Fleming’s crass depiction of the group of women to which my mother, my two sisters and I all belonged.

Thoroughly disheartened about the whole business, I packed away my two completed novels and three others, unfinished, in a box where they would remain for 25 years.  I went to work as Publications and Publicity director for a private boarding and day school for girls.  There, for eleven years, I produced and edited the school magazines, newsletters, some admissions material, and sent weekly news releases to area newspapers.  During this period I wrote two articles which were published in the local historical magazine, one about Francis Lee.  There is no doubt these experiences advanced my writing skills.  They certainly boosted my confidence.

I seriously returned to writing after my husband’s death when, following a friend’s advice, I pulled out The Lees of Menokin and began another rewrite in 2008.  When finished, edited, re-edited, and finally satisfied with the results I faced the big challenge again —how to get it published.  Now there was email and the internet, and websites that provided all kinds of help to newbie writers,  But I was wary, not at all certain or trusting, especially of the ones that offered to publish your book.  There was so much to learn and it took time, a lot of time to catch on to the new lingo, the terminology in a constantly developing digital world.

For a while I pursued the query route again, trying to find an agent who would represent me.  I’d already learned how virtually impossible it is to go directly to a publisher.  Even if you’re lucky enough to find one who will look at your work, better be prepared if they show an interest, to make the changes they call for, accept their ideas for the cover, and get ready to travel if they agree to publish.  You will be expected to give talks in bookstores in towns up and down the coast, frequently far from your home turf.  None of this appealed to me.  So, after about six months of querying carefully selected agents, those who exhibited an interest in historical fiction, and following the rule of waiting for response from one agent before making contact with next on the list, I was again discouraged.  The times they were a’changin’ indeed.  It seemed everywhere I looked, everything I read indicated that independent publishing (no longer referred to as self-publishing with a silent sneer) was coming into it’s own.  The Kindle and all those other epub readers, like the iPad, Sony, Nook, Kobo, and a host of others were behind the indie movement.  (see previous 02/2013 post, Beware Newbie ebook Publishers).

I stumbled upon a series of articles by Joel Friedlander, who was a contributor to Amazon’s self-publishing arm, BookSurge, now called Createspace, and found his suggestions very helpful.  I decided to take the plunge and contact Createspace.  And I never looked back.  Signing on, I opted for almost the full list of services for the Menokin book.  The process is lengthy and requires significant effort on the part of an author.  However, the day a proof was delivered to my door and I held that beautiful paperback copy of The Lees of Menokin in my hands and saw my name across the bottom of the cover was something special.  I can tell you there are no words to describe that feeling!

I learned a lot with the publication of that first novel and spent considerable capital doing so.  With this new knowledge, I published Caissons with far less expense.  By the time I finished my third book, Turn on No-Bridge Road, I had learned to format and assemble the  manuscript myself by using a free template offered by a member of the Createspace Community page.  Through this community forum I also found someone who designed my cover at less than half the cost Createspace charged.  And a fine cover it is!

There you have it.  You can see how I have become addicted, addicted to writing, to creating characters and deciding what to do with them —until, if all works out right, after I really get to know them, they begin to take over, telling me what they’re going to do and say!  That’s what’s so exciting about fiction writing.  I’ve spent a whole lifetime getting here, learning not only the skills of writing, but everything I could about how to turn a manuscript into a printed book.  It’s my hobby, a joy, and why, so long as my muse continues ticking away, I’ll be sitting at this computer doing exactly what I’ve been doing today—writing.

This post is based on a talk I gave recently on my lifetime journey from neophyte “wanna-be” writer to published author.  It is my first posting in almost a year.  I’m hoping to blog at least bi-weekly in 2014.  I will soon post some info on my new novel (working title The Widow Darling), a sequel to Turn on No-Bridge Road.

Those interested in the fate of Francis Lee’s Menokin house today, see www.Menokin.org to learn how a foundation is working to save it.  It’s a great website.

Beware Newbie eBook Publishers

I recently self-published my fourth novel.  Does this mean I’ve got it all figured out?   Far from it as a matter of fact.  Yes, sad to say, I’m still a newbie in so many ways.  I’m about to try to explain a situation that occurred when I decided to join BookBaby.  If you are an indie publisher and you publish in the ebook format—listen up.

I formatted and uploaded my novel, Turn on No-Bridge Road, to CreateSpace where it is printed as a paperback on a print-on-demand basis.  So far so good, I remember thinking.  I was feeling very proud of myself for saving money by managing the formatting myself this time, and the book looks beautiful by the way.  My first two books were also formatted for the Kindle by CreateSpace; this is called a mobi file.  This time however, I wanted to make the novel available to all the other ebook devices as well, so that readers could buy it for their iPhone, iPad, Sony, Nook, Kobo, etc.  And that required that it be formatted as an epub file.  CreateSpace does not offer this service; they are affiliated with Amazon’s Kindle Direct (KDP) program.

I turned to the same designer (Bulldog Press) who helped with the cover for No-Bridge Road, and learned he also offered formatting for ebooks.  I accepted his very reasonable price for the two files (mobi and epub).  At this juncture I had to decide whether to send the mobi file to Kindle Direct for publishing and the epub file somewhere else OR was it possible they could both go to the same ebook publisher?  That’s how I came to discover BookBaby, a company that offers many services.  One of the most intriguing things they can do for an author is to manage the sales and keep the records of all the various places that sell copies of your ebook (i.e. Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Baker & Taylor, Kobo, Gardner’s, Copia, and others).  Can you imagine trying to make your file available to all those sellers on your own, and then to have little royalties coming in from 10-12 different places? I can’t!

So I joined BookBaby and uploaded my two ebook files.  It took several weeks for all these places to have the book listed for sale.  I was checking my Amazon page and KDP page frequently and discovered that while the Kindle version of No-Bridge was listed on the Amazon sales page, it was not listed on the KDP page.  I sent an inquiry and here is the answer I got:  ”Please note, when titles are published through publishers like Book Baby in Amazon website, the KDP books will be available in the publisher’s KDP account and not under the author’s KDP account.”

What this means is that although you can buy it there, the title does not show up on my Author Central page on Amazon.  I find this a bit distressing.  But, I learned the choice between ebook publishers was complicated and produced at least one unexpected result.  I’m thinking that with my next book, I’ll send the Kindle file to KDP and the epub file to BookBaby!  So much to learn and so many decisions!  If you write and publish ebooks I’d be interested in your reaction.  If you read on an ebook device I’d appreciate your comments also.


Turn on No-Bridge Road – released on Amazon

My novel, Turn on No-Bridge Road, is now available on Amazon in paperback ($16.95) and Kindle ($4.99); can also be purchased on BarnesandNoble.com and most other online booksellers; as an ebook it is available for iPad, Nook, Sony, Kobo and others.  If you’d like to order an autographed copy directly from me, you can do so by leaving me a comment (include your email address) on this post and I’ll send the address where you can mail your check.  Same price as Amazon plus $3 shipping.

To order this, or one of my other books, please click on “BUY BOOKS” in the menu bar across the top of your screen, or on the image of the book you’d like.  That will take you  to my Amazon sales page where you can read the reviews other readers have posted and order a book.

Indie Marketing — Where to Begin?

It’s time to get serious about marketing my latest novel, and that would be Turn on No-Bridge Road.  By now everyone probably knows that indie publishing is the hip phrase for self-publishing.  When you choose to go the print-on-demand route, having your book printed by a service such as CreateSpace and sold by Amazon, it means, among other things, that you are pretty much on your own when it comes to indie marketing.  No one explains exactly what to do first, although many websites offer plenty of ideas and choices, and even online webinars.  It’s clear that an indie author has to let readers know about his/her book if they expect to sell it, but where do you begin the marketing?  And how?  And when?  It’s really overwhelming.

If you follow my posts, you may have been wondering where I’ve been these last six weeks.  There is no other way to put it but that I’ve been lost and alone wandering through  the indie marketing maze.  I’ve never stopped thinking about selling this novel, although  I’ve taken time off to enjoy the holidays and days between with my family and friends.  But during this period of setting aside my fourth novel, ignoring my blog, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and sending Christmas cards, I’ve managed to begin the chore of indie marketing by accomplishing the following:

1.  Submitted my files to CreateSpace and received a printed proof copy — looks great and paperback copies are ready to go.

2.  Ordered a number of print copies and distributed them to a group of beta readers who have agreed to write a review on Amazon after I give the go-ahead for sales channels to be opened, which I did this morning.  The book will be live on Amazon in a few days but it will be several weeks before the other channels, like Barnes and Noble, will be available.

3.  Sent the book file to R.C. Butler, www.bulldogpress.ca to be formatted for most ereaders (Kindle, iBookstore, Nook, Sony, Kobo, Copia, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, and even eBookPie).

4.  Contacted www.BookBaby.com and set up an account, uploading my newly formatted e-files.  They are now in the process of making ebooks available to the book sellers mentioned above, which takes several weeks depending on the seller.  For an upfront fee of $99, BookBaby will also handle the accounting from all the sellers, sending me royalties monthly as they come in.

5.  Spent a day creating a press release and a sell sheet.  Dana Lynn Smith, www.The SavvyBookMarketer.com has many great marketing suggestions on her website and provided me with all I needed to be able to tweak these marketing tools for a fiction title, including a template for the sell sheet.  I highly recommend her site for anyone seeking info on writing, publishing, or marketing.

6.  Made a list of Virginia weekly newspapers where I’ll send the press release when I’m certain the Amazon sales channels are open.  I also considered the options for free and/or a paid national press release service; I got very little feedback on this when CreateSpace sent a national press release for The Lees of Menokin, so probably will not do this.

7.  Discovered how to use bit.ly, http://bit.ly.com to create shortlinks which can be useful to provide a shortened URL for long website addresses.  This is important when tweeting (only 140 characters allowed) or on your Facebook author page to direct readers to your blog or another site.

8.  Several of the author help websites I follow suggest sending your novel to a professional reviewer; one of them recommended www.bookpleasures.com.  An email to Book Pleasures brought a quick reply.  For a nominal fee my book has now been read, will be reviewed, with the review cross linked to an E-interview for which I’ve answered questions about myself and my writing.  Both the book review and author interview will be posted to the Book Pleasures website, the American Chronicle family of 21 online news magazines, WryteStuff.com,  Examiner.com, and others.

9.  Lastly, realizing how important my own website is to marketing my indie books, I’ve spent considerable time deciding how to improve it.  I have a clear plan regarding what I want to achieve, including making it possible to purchase an autographed copy of any of my books directly from me by making payment through PayPal; this in addition to the link that takes you directly to my Amazon sales page.  My next step is to find the right person to help me achieve the updates I have in mind.  I’ve discovered some things are worth paying for!

10.  Yet to do:  Arrange for a January local book launch/signing.  Send book release emails to everyone on the list I’ve compiled.  Mail those press releases.  Get my website updated and work on my Facebook page.  Investigate (always time consuming) free and paid sites that promote ebooks.

I have amazed myself with this list!  It seems I’ve been indie marketing Turn on No-Bridge Road even while I’ve enjoyed a bit of a rest from my normal days of six or so hours of immersion in fiction writing!  Perhaps this will be a helpful list for some other indie authors out there.  It will surely help me next year when it comes time to do it all again for novel #4, Timothy Darling and the Girl in the Sailboat.

Just took a quick look at my December post a year ago, “Steps in Selling a Book”.  Wow!  I’ve learned a lot this year.  I guess I’m not quite the newbie to all this indie stuff as I was way back then.  Can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring.  I’m sure to learn something else new — becoming more WordPress proficient would be nice!

Happy New Year everyone!

Book Covers — Who Cares About Them?

Readers do.  That’s who cares about book covers.  While the cover doesn’t make the book, a captivating design on a book’s cover helps sell the book.  What a cover says to the potential reader is especially important in a printed version, perhaps not quite so crucial in an ebook, but more about this in a minute.

Picture yourself walking into Barnes and Noble.  As you wander down the aisles past the new best sellers and the latest paperback releases, what catches your eye?  Is it a color?  A photo image?  An unusual title?  Something that indicates your favorite genre?  Or your favorite author’s name?  When you stop and pick up a book, it will definitely be for one of these reasons.   Now picture yourself scrolling through possible titles online, trying to decide what you might like to read—the same reasons will influence which book(s) you select.  A book cover that is non-descript is less likely to be your choice.  Yet, passing it by may be a lost opportunity to read the best novel you’ve read in years!

If you’re an author, you’d be wise to keep this in mind.  In today’s world of indie publishing, many authors have learned to create their own interior files; and many are also designing their own book covers.  I say beware.  The interior format is not too difficult, using a template; I learned by following the steps CreateSpace used to format my first two novels.  But just because you can format your file, unless you’re a graphic artist or designer, you probably don’t have the skills to create a book cover that will call out to readers. Of course there are ways to get help; many websites are vying for your business—all of them oh-so-eager to be of assistance, so be careful.  I recommend CreateSpace or one of the other biggies, or shop around for a more personal approach.  Another cautionary note—a book cover that looks terrific on the front of a printed book may be sadly lacking when uploaded as a thumbnail version on your Amazon or KDP sales page.  Best to make sure the title and image will remain attractive when reduced in size.

For Turn on No-Bridge Road I used the services of a graphic artist I learned about through the CreateSpace community help page.  He was kind enough to spend time helping me (at no charge) find a template for my interior file that would work on Mac’s Pages program.  When I learned he offered cover design, among other services, I decided to take a chance.  The cover image you see in the sidebar is his creation.  His name is R. C. Butler and you can find him at Bulldog Press <info@bulldogpress.ca> or online at www. bulldog press.ca.  The full cover, front and back, is a combination of a painting done by my son, Michael Semsch, and this stock photo image.  It’s a perfect cover for my newest title, Turn on No-Bridge Road, a book cover I can be proud of and that will, hopefully, help with sales of both printed and ebook versions.  For the full image of the book cover click on My Books in menu choices across top of this page; use drop-down to choose Turn on No-Bridge Road.  You can also read the revised book synopsis there.

You know the old adage: You can’t tell a book by its cover.  Well, maybe not, but a book cover can certainly influence whether or not someone will buy and read that book.

Watch for Turn on No-Bridge Road to become available soon.  I hope you’ll read it!


About the Final Edit

Your final edit is the most important one of all.  I hope you’ve read my earlier post about editing and re-editing, as this is a follow-up.  I stressed how important it is for an indie author to have a good editor.  An excellent article on the subject can be found at theworldsgreatestbook.com (bit.lyU8QNDK).

I found a lovely way to accomplish my final edit of Turn on No-Bridge Road.  I took a break from everyday life by leaving my home base to immerse myself in the task.  Together with my friend and editor, we spent a week at Nags Head on the North Carolina coast with two print copies of the novel.  It was partly sunny but very windy the first couple of days so it wasn’t difficult to content ourselves with views of the ocean from our windows.  Later we got in some early morning walks on the beach and spent time on the deck.

7 a.m. sunrise, Nags Head, NC

The first two and a half days were devoted to re-reading my 300+ page novel.  Because we were both there, both doing the same thing at the same time, we could compare thoughts, ask questions, discuss points of difference as we went along.  It was tiring but it worked like a charm.  I don’t remember at what point she gazed at the stacks of pages in front of each of us and said, “How are you going to do this?  You have over 600 pages to search through for corrections!”  I’m usually an optimist about things like that, but I had to admit it looked mighty daunting.  Of course, there were many, many pages with no changes, but I would nonetheless have to check each one as I assumed this would be my final edit. (actually, I gave the entire book one more read after returning home, and changed a few more things!)

Day three.  My laptop on the table, I began to enter corrections.  Very few typos, as spellcheck, desktop dictionary and thesaurus make the process so much easier, but there were sequences of rewrite and I can’t do that without new ideas coming to mind.  And that takes thought and time.  While I was busy with this for two days (and some nighttime hours) my friend did research on marketing resources, edited my author bio and cover copy, and made a list of keywords for me.  Then she was free to work on one of her other projects while I soldiered on slowly page after page.  I must say I gave a huge sigh of relief when I finished.  We then had a day to work together on the back cover text.  Believe me, we spent hours on that, going back and forth, and I’m still fiddling with it.  At any rate, I now have a perfectly formatted and edited novel and I’m ready to tackle cover design, final cover copy, wording of my bio, and what on earth to do about promoting sales!

View from the deck

I’ve given quite a bit of thought to how it would be if I weren’t self-publishing.  I wouldn’t be free to choose my editor and things such as cover art, the fonts, the formatting.  Sometimes even the content is questioned by a publisher.  I don’t think I’d like it at all.  A long time ago I had an opportunity to publish The Sound of Caissons at Bantam Books if I would make certain changes. It was after two attempts, and during our third phone conversation that I finally realized what they really wanted—they wanted me to make my story adhere more closely to their hugely popular line of romance novels.  It only took me a moment before I said something like, “No thanks, this is my book and although it has romance in it, it’s never going to fit into your ‘romance novel’ niche.”  Now that I’ve actually published this story of a mid-twentieth-century Army family, I am very happy I was wise enough to say no, this is my book.  My husband thought I was crazy, but then it wasn’t his book either.

The empty October beach

So perhaps you can understand how pleased I am to be able to work with an editor of my choosing, who also just happens to be my friend.  I’m hoping we can settle on the fee and she agrees to edit and help with my fourth novel, Timothy Darling & The Girl in the Sailboat, a sequel to No-Bridge Road.  We may not be able to go away for a week for the final edit, but I have a plan that will allow us to do almost the same thing right here at home.  That would be to set aside 4-5 afternoons in a row when we will sit across a table from each other and accomplish the final edit, one-on-one, just like we did on those productive lovely October days at Nags Head.

As always, I welcome your comments on this or past blogs.  My next post will cover the process of planning the art, wording, and design of the cover.   Watch for it.


Formatting a Book’s Interior File

Would you believe I actually did this?  Not without a fair amount of difficulty, I might add … well, actually, quite a bit of difficulty … plus trial and error, frustration, anxiety, and even anger.  But I stuck with it.  I now have a perfectly formatted 6 x 9 file of my 300+ page novel.  It’s ready to save as a PDF and upload to Createspace or wherever I decide to have the paperback printed.  All it awaits is a final editorial go-thru which, hopefully, will be accomplished next week.  Kindle and epub format are still in the future but definitely part of the plan.

If you’re an indie writer you may be interested in trying to format your interior file yourself.  Permit me to make a few suggestions.  This will be of special interest to anyone who writes in Mac’s Pages program.  To backtrack, my two previous novels were formatted and printed by Createspace.  The first requirement was that I had to convert my Pages file to a Word Doc before uploading (in my case it’s Word for Mac 2008). This was a concern at first, as I worried about losing paragraph or page breaks, italics, etc.  It went fairly smoothly in both those cases, however.  But this time, with No-Bridge Road, I wanted to save money by formatting the file myself.  Plus I like this kind of challenge—left brain, right brain I guess. Surely, I thought, after all I’d learned I should be able to do this by using a template, and CS now provided templates in various sizes.  When I worked for a private school a few years back I was able to turn out an entire 34-page magazine, including photos, using a desktop publishing program.  So what could be the hangup with such a simple thing as dumping my file into a pre-formatted template?  Read on.

I soon discovered there was more than one hangup.  Something between the CS template and my Pages document didn’t mesh no matter what I tried.  After two days I gave up, discouraged and utterly defeated.  At this point I decided a few hours in the garden was called for while I considered my dilemma and how to solve it.

Back lawn in springtime, before it dried up and was covered in a blanket of acorns.

While raking up thousands of acorns from a dried up lawn in preparation for reseeding, I remembered having gotten help on the CS Community  page on another issue and decided to try that again.  Those folks are amazing.  The responses start coming in almost before you’ve asked the question.  Several suggestions included instructions on designing your own template, but I already knew that was way more complicated than anything I had in mind.  Then, one of the responders mentioned he had been toying with a design for a Pages template.  It didn’t take me but a minute to suggest I’d be delighted to be his guinea pig and try it out.  Well, don’t you know he immediately sent me a link to what he’d done up to that point.  I was excited.  But, opening it, I discovered it lacked some of what I wanted—such as lower case roman numerals on 10 pages of front matter (he had provided only 6 pages), and regular numbers to start on page 1, chapter 1 of the novel.  When I sent a reply about this, he didn’t say “picky-picky” as he might well have done; he updated the template to my specifications, complete with a few instructions, and had it back to me within the hour.  Well, I was off and running. There were a few ups and downs to do with section breaks, but nothing I couldn’t resolve.   I don’t think he would mind my recommending the website where he has just made available these free Pages templates for various sized books:  www.bulldogpress.ca.  This small press also offers a number of paid services, a couple of which I intend to check out.  I highly recommend this software developer, graphic artist, freelance writer, and poet from Alberta, Canada—R.C. Butler.  I’m more than happy to give him a plug.

My next challenge, after the editing and any final changes are made, will be to finalize the cover for Turn on No-Bridge Road.  It’s in the works.  Stay tuned.

Remember, writers can’t create in a vacuum.  Comments and replies welcome

Edit and Re-edit

So, you’ve just finished your novel.  You’ve completed the last sentence of the last paragraph of the final chapter.  But how about the edit?  Not ready to face that yet?

For the moment, you are ecstatic!  Perhaps you print it out and, holding this exciting epic in your hands, you’re certain everyone is going to love it as you do!  The time it takes for this initial euphoria to wear off is different for each of us.  For me, having reached this point in a third novel, it doesn’t take very long.  I know I have climbed only halfway up the mountain.  And the grade gets steeper as one continues.  Somehow that spark of enthusiasm we feel at the completion of each chapter, or the thrill when a character utters exactly the right words, is absent when it comes to the editing process. Yes, I’m talking about the boring, sometimes painful hours we must spend in editing.  Far too many e-books are published today with little or no editing.  I find this demeaning to the growing community of indie authors.  It tarnishes the image of all when we don’t take the time to edit our work.  I feel very strongly about this but, for now, enough grousing.

I believe it’s imperative for me as a self-published author to make sure my precious words are as polished and professional as I can make them, that my story is credible, that it makes the reader want to turn the page.  This takes time and an incredible amount of patience.  And, of course, I can’t do it alone.  I need the assistance of someone else’s thoughts and trained eye.  Although I can correct typos and misspelled words, like any other aspiring author I need someone steeped in the knowledge of the English language, someone who spots errors in plot sequence, poor sentence structure (one of my failings),

Bingo tells me when it’s time to stop and smell the roses

and the occasional use of the wrong word.  I am happy that my  editor jots ‘ww’ in the margin and leaves it up to me to search for a more appropriate way to express myself.  She writes notes adjacent to questionable paragraphs.  Notes such as ‘I don’t get this’ or ‘where’s the emotion?’ or ‘would he really say this?’.  At this moment we are both in the final stages of our second go-thru (as I think of it) and are both understandably tired of the whole thing.  Ahead of us awaits a final read, from beginning to end, and depending on the outcome of that I will, hopefully, be ready to make arrangements to upload Turn on No-Bridge Road to Createspace for both a paperback and a Kindle version.

As an author, I’ve learned that I have to find the best way to put all these pieces together, to know when it’s time to tie it up and say The End or, perhaps, oh, dear, do we need another edit?  What works for me may not work for another author, and vice versa.  I’ve found that sharing a chapter or a novel’s synopsis with a few beta readers is helpful.  This idea came from Joanna Penn, whose website (joanna@thecreativepenn.com) is one I look at frequently.  My beta readers have rewarded me with some very constructive responses by pointing out a confusing sequence or an unnecessarily wordy paragraph.  I’ve chosen these readers, by the way, from a list of people who have responded to my previous novels in positive ways, along with a few friends who are also writers.  I am grateful for their keen eyes and articulate feedback.

But above all, and after the beta readers, we all need someone to edit our work.  As for the choice of that someone, I can only say for sure that it should not be a family member who reads a novel once a year while on vacation at the beach, or the tennis buddy who claims to have read every word Danielle Steel has ever written.  I think I have enough experience

14-year-old Madeline reminds me when it’s time to call it a day

at this stage in my writing career to suggest that If you’re an indie publisher as I am, you probably can’t afford to hire a professional editor, the kind a publishing house would assign as part of your contract.  It’s true enough that while Createspace, Outskirts Press, and many others offer editing services, they too can be expensive and, quite likely, not very personal in their approach.   It could be helpful to post a query on the Createspace community page.  I have frequently had informative responses on other issues from that source.  Also, you might check around your community and local school system; it’s just possible the right person is waiting to edit your book for a reasonable price.  And don’t give up until you find him or her because your novel, like mine, needs someone besides the author to help make it the best it can be.

I would wish for you my own great good fortune—that is to know an English teacher and former editor of non-fictional journals who loves to edit!  I also find that a couple of cats are invaluable when it comes to reminding one of the time of day and that there are other things in life besides writing—such as eating and sleeping.

A final note.  This morning I received in an email a sketch of what the cover for Turn on No-Bridge Road will be.  I am very excited about this, especially so as it is Michael, my artist son, who is creating this.  More about this later.



A Sequel — First Chapter

A while back I promised the first chapter of Timothy Darling & The Girl in the Sailboat.  My hours have been filled by work on what I hope will be the final draft of Turn on No-Bridge Road, but I haven’t for a minute forgotten about sharing the first chapter in the sequel to No-Bridge.  Here it is in first-draft form; my apology for the formatting.  As always, I hope you will take a few minutes to use the please reply box and post a comment.

Chapter One of Timothy Darling & The Girl in the Sailboat

Timothy Darling stood on his porch one day and looked across the hill at Woodbine House.  It was early March and the air was nippy.  He planned to ask his father, Nick, if he’d like to help with the sailing program at St. Bridget’s this spring.  As he wondered if his parents would be awake yet, he felt the iphone in his pocket vibrate and glanced at his watch.  It was not yet eight o’clock.  Who could be calling so early?  Caller I.D. told him it was his friend Josh Peterson from the Community College where Tim taught math and an Introduction to Architecture class.

“Morning, Joshua.  How goes it?” he said, before swallowing the last of his coffee.

“You’re not going to believe this,” his friend exclaimed.  “It’s not something you’d ever expect around here.  I don’t have all the facts … news is spreading fast … Lucy just got to work and everyone’s crazy over there.  The sheriff’s there and police are everywhere, she says ….”

Tim knew Lucy worked in the St. Bridget’s office.  “Come on, man.  What the heck is it?”

“They found a dead girl down near the water.  Did you hear me?  She was dead, as in not breathing!  The grounds guy found her.  Lucy thinks she was a student, but no name has been released ….”

Both Tim’s wife and his sister Kate were graduates of St. Bridget’s Episcopal School for girls over in Rivertown—a number of years ago—yet still, who could imagine such a thing happening there, even in today’s crazy world?  Tim’s mind was spinning.  “How did she die?  I mean what on earth happened to her?  And when?  You’re right,” he sputtered.  “I can hardly believe what you’re telling me!”

“I don’t know, to all three!  I told you exactly what Lucy told me … hey, Tim, got to go.  I’m getting another call.  See you when you get here ….”

Tim, shaking his head, went back inside.  The screen door slammed behind him almost clipping the tail of Waldo, their German shepherd.  He headed upstairs, two steps at a time, to find Molly was still in the shower.  “Hey, Moll, hurry up in there.  Got something t’tell you.  Over at St. B’s … something weird ….”

Molly Zawicke, four years older, had known Timmy Darling and his twin sister Kate since they were babies.  She loved telling people how she used to push Tim around in the stroller, until he was big enough for her to pull him in his little red wagon.  She knew all his moods and easily recognized the sound of alarm in his voice.  She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel.  “Okay,” she said, pushing back her dripping brown hair.  “I can hear you now.  What’s the matter?  Something about St. Bridget’s?”

“They found a dead girl on the beach.  Lucy thought she might be one of the students.”


“Josh’s wife.  Remember, I introduced you to her when we went to hear Kate give her political kickoff speech a couple of weeks ago.”

Molly nodded, although she couldn’t remember Lucy.  “So tell me what happened.  How did she die?”

“Josh said he didn’t know … but do you think somebody could have killed her?”

Molly fastened her bra and slipped her arms into a long-sleeved white blouse.  She had a court appearance this morning with her father Anton, who was defending a young man accused of breaking and entering with the intent of robbery.  It was a messy case.  The plaintiff was the defendant’s uncle and there was apparently bad blood all around.  Molly hoped it wouldn’t drag on all morning because she had a luncheon date with a college friend, and her law class at University of Richmond started at four.  “Oh, Timmy, sometimes you are so dramatic—murder?  In Rivertown?  At good ole St. B’s?”

Leave it to Molly to set me straight, Tim thought.  “I suppose you’re right, sweetheart.  Come here and turn around.”  Molly was struggling to fasten the blouse which buttoned down the back.  He stood, lifted her damp hair to kiss the back of her neck, and buttoned the shirt.  She wrapped the towel around her head and headed for the bathroom.  “There’s probably some simple explanation … like a heart attack or seizure of some kind—sad enough, but not a criminal act.”

“Want an egg this morning?  I can have it ready by the time you dry your hair and come downstairs.”

“Sure, darling.  But I haven’t much time.  Dad said to be there a little after nine.”  She blew him a kiss and disappeared.

After Molly left for the day Tim, who didn’t have to be at school until 11, puttered around, all the time thinking about the dead girl.  He put a load of clothes in the washer and emptied the dishwasher.  Remembering tonight was Molly’s class in Richmond and she wouldn’t be home till after seven, he took a pound of ground beef out of the freezer and left it to thaw.  It never bothered him to share the house chores.  He and Molly had been best friends for as long as he could remember, and sharing in every sense of the word came naturally to them both.  Even during the several years of Molly’s hapless marriage to George Crispin, Tim and Molly had spoken to each other at least once a week and frequently emailed back and forth.  Molly’s mother Sara once told her friend, Tim’s mother Claire, that Molly had threatened to marry George hoping to prod Tim into marriage—when that didn’t work, and half out of spite, she’d gone ahead with her announced plans.

One night three years after her very formal and elaborate wedding and reception, Molly appeared tear-streaked and frightened at the entrance to Tim’s little bachelor house in Holly Grove.  He had barely opened the door when she fell into his arms.  It was the night his life did a one-eighty—it was the night the door that had closed between them reopened.  Every time he thought of it, he wondered that he had accepted her back without question or condemnation.  It must be true then: he’d been waiting for her all along, and in the end she had returned to him.

“Oh Timmy, hold me, just hold me.  I’ve done a terrible thing and I’m so afraid,” she’d sobbed against his shoulder.

Overwhelmed, he’d simply done what she asked.  He pushed the door shut and held her.

“Can I stay here?  I don’t know where to go,” Molly whispered.  “I can’t go home now … oh, please, just say something, Tim, anything.  Talk to me.  I need to hear your voice.”

Molly had stayed that night.  He remembered warming some soup for her and then tucking her into his bed.  “I’ll sleep on the couch,” he’d told her, “and we can talk in the morning.”  It was like Molly to have her own agenda so he hadn’t been surprised when he awoke to find her curled at his feet on the other end of the long sofa.  She was looking at him across the tangle of their legs.  Molly’s eyes were hazel if you believed what it said on her driver’s license.  But in morning sunlight they appeared golden, while by lamplight you’d swear they were green.  That’s how they’d looked to Tim in the light cast by the small lamp behind his head.  Wide open and deep green, begging for forgiveness, and deep enough to drown in.  “I love you,” he’d said.  “Don’t break my heart again, Moll.”

She hadn’t.  The week after her divorce was final, and for the second time, Father John Macomber joined Molly Zawicke Crispin in holy wedlock—this time to someone he loved like a son, Timothy Matthew Darling.  The only guests were their parents, of course Kate and Ben Baer and their children, John and Beverly Macomber, and a few special friends.  Following this, Sara and Anton Zawicke hosted a lively dinner party in their home a few doors from St. Mark’s in celebration of their daughter’s second marriage.  Other than the bride and groom, no one was happier than Claire and Sara, the mothers, who had always known these two belonged together.

It was a gloomy day with clouds hanging tight over the river.  Tim put Waldo in his run and paused to look up and down the Rappahannock.  Although he’d lived in this very spot his entire life he never tired of studying the river.  It was his guide to the weather and he often thought to his moods as well.  Here, on these fertile acres of Northern Neck land his ancestors had built the first Woodbine house early in the 19th century.  Every so often he stopped to remind himself how fortunate they all were to live on this Virginia peninsula bounded by the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers.  But the moment soon passed and he headed for his jeep and the twenty-five mile drive to work.

Once on the road he thought about calling Josh to see if he’d heard any more from Lucy, but decided he’d still be in class.  He’d just have to wait until he got to the college to get more news.  A short time later he walked into the main hall to find the place buzzing with speculation.  Everyone was talking about the happening at St. Bridget’s.

“They’re now saying it was a boarding student, a senior.”

“What was she doing down at the river anyway?”

“What time do they think it happened?”

“I heard her name was Helen something ….”

“Bigelow.  Helen Bigelow ….”

Tim kept walking down the long hall to his classroom, chatter all around him, when he heard something that caused him a moment of alarm, even a kind of foreboding.  “She was Todd Heatley’s girlfriend,” someone had said.  Todd was one of Tim’s most promising students in the architecture class.  Good grades.  A local farmer’s son as he recalled, from over near Westfield Beach.  He and Todd had enjoyed lunch together several times in the cafeteria, and Tim knew him as a good kid with a potentially positive future.  From all appearances, Todd was at the college to learn, not to make friends or to party.  He was a serious student among many who were not.

Tim set his briefcase on his desk and waited a few minutes until the students were seated and semi-settled.  The second seat in the first row on the right was empty—Todd Heatley’s seat.  He decided to ignore that for the moment and skip the roll call.

“Good morning, everyone.  I know you’re all thinking about what’s going on across the river.  But since not much is known about it yet, I suggest we let things take their course.  In due time, we’ll know some answers.  For now, we’re here to talk architecture.  I’m going to start this morning by asking you to turn your thoughts to two architects, both well known, both considered forward thinking and modern for their time.  Your assignment was to make a brief study of both I.M. Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Please take about ten minutes or so to make a list of what you found to be similarities in their approach to structure, and a second one listing possible differences.  Then we’ll share what some of you come up with.”

There followed the usual bustle as laptops popped open, papers were shuffled and notebooks snapped.  Tim loaded some slides in his projector in preparation for discussion.  All the while he could not stop wondering if it was indeed a friend of Todd’s who had died sometime during the night on the riverbank.

When class ended, Tim had a break and he knew the person who would have the most current and relevant information would be Josh, but it was a couple of hours before he was able to track him down.  Their classes were on alternate schedules.  He finally caught up with him coming out of the men’s room.  “Hey, Josh.   I’ve been waiting to talk to you.  Thanks for calling me this morning by the way.  Everybody’s got a different story, but I’m worried ….”

“About what?”

“What d’you mean, about what?  The whole damn thing!  I’ve heard kids talking about the girl … Helen.  They’re saying she’s Todd Heatley’s girlfriend.”

“Who’s Heatley?”

“A kid in my architecture class.  A good kid.  And he didn’t show up for class today.”

Josh looked puzzled.  “One of our students?”

“That’s what I’m telling you.  He’s in his second year and I know him fairly well.  He’s never talked about his personal life, so I have no idea if he knows this Helen person or not … how did she die?  That’s what I want to know.  Have you heard any more from Lucy?  What’s really going on over there?”

“Come on, let’s go somewhere and get a beer.  I’m done for the day.  You sound like you need to talk to somebody.”

“Great idea, but I can’t.  My algebra class starts in about half an hour.  Just tell me what Lucy’s saying.  Have they released cause of death yet?”

Josh jabbed Tim in the ribs with his elbow.  “Come on, man, you know better’n that.  They’re not going to release any info until they get their act together.  Lucy says the school’s skipping classes for the day.  They had a chapel service and then broke into small groups to try to calm the girls down.  She says it’s utter chaos … kids crying and screaming and carrying on … parents calling from everywhere … a real nightmare!”

Later, his algebra class over, Tim headed for his car wondering if he should drive over to St. Bridget’s.  He had reason enough to stop in because they had yet to iron out the details of his sail boating class which was set to begin the first Saturday in April.  His common sense prevailed, however, as he left the parking lot.  He turned right, heading home to Devon County.  By the time he reached the turn on No-Bridge Road he’d decided to stop in at Woodbine and see how his folks were doing.  He still needed to talk to his dad about the class.  Nick had helped in the fall and it had worked well with the two sailboats—they could manage five or six girls to a boat that way.  He saw his mother immediately when he pulled around the drive.  She was clipping the dead blooms on the roses, deadheading she called it, near his grandfather’s grave.  Claire’s face lit up when she realized who had driven in.  Climbing the short rise, Tim kissed her forehead, and gave her a hug.  Mother and son had never been shy about showing their love for one another.

“Timmy, I’m so glad to see you.  Isn’t it awful about that poor girl?  It’s all they’re talking about on the radio.  Have you heard yet how she died?”

Tim shook his head.  “No one seems to know.  It’s strange, isn’t it?  We don’t think of young people just dying like that, do we?”  Gesturing toward Miller Dawson’s headstone, he said, “Glad to see you’re continuing to care for ole Granddad Miller’s grave, Mom.”  Tim knew for a fact this site meant more to his mother than any of the others in the family cemetery on the other side of the fields.  He liked to tease her about it because it was only a few years now since she’d belatedly learned Miller was her true father, not Paul Sutton, the man to whom her mother, Margot, had been married.  A year or so ago he and Kate had sat transfixed as Claire attempted to reconstruct the family tree for them, but it was complicated.  Paul Sutton, the grandson of Daniel and Teresa Sutton, and Miller, the grandson of Daniel’s sister Beth Sutton Brandon were second cousins.  But Miller was not a legitimate member of the family by marriage—his father Gabriel Brandon had died in a barn fire, likely without even knowing he would become a parent.  Raised by Margaret Dawson, his unwed mother, Miller was told by her at an early age who his father was.  Out of deference to his mother, he never shared his illegitimate tie to Woodbine until he revealed it to Claire on his deathbed.  What he did not reveal, however, was that he was also her mother’s lover and her true father.  He’d thought it was up to Margot to provide this piece of the puzzle if and when she chose to do so.

Tim, remembering his mother’s excitement when that long lost letter had turned up years later in which Margot confessed all, felt a sudden surge of affection for her, and putting his arm around her waist drew her close for a minute.  “Come on, Mom.  Let’s go in.  I’m ready for one of your famous manhattans or something.  How about you?”

She looked at him.  “Why Tim, that doesn’t sound like you!  I thought you only drank wine or beer ….”

“Yep, that’s right.  But something’s bothering me.”  Tim knew if anyone would understand his concerns about that girl’s death, his mother would.  She fixed him a drink and poured a glass of chardonnay for herself.  They sat in the center hall, a place Nick and Claire had always used as a family room.  The sun was low in the sky and a chill had risen from the river.

“When Nick comes in maybe he’ll build us a fire,” she said.  “It feels chilly in here this evening.”

“I can put some logs on if you’d like.”

“No, just get comfortable.  He’ll be here soon.  I think he’s going over the site plans with Steven for the last couple of houses over at River’s Edge.  He’ll want you to look at them later I’m sure.”

“You still don’t like that guy, Steven Steeples, do you?”

Claire sighed.  “I’m just not comfortable around him, Tim.  You know that.  He’s … so … well, egotistical, arrogant about everything, treating his crippled wife like she’s a chore he has to put up with, carrying on with that mistress … and he’s sitting over there building houses on what used to be our land … what’s to like?”

Tim took a swallow of his bourbon.  “Ben seems to get along with him just fine.”  Ben Baer, Kate’s husband, had been managing River’s Edge Estates for Steeples ever since he graduated from William and Mary.  Earlier that year, over Claire’s adamant protests, Nick had sold Steven two-hundred acres of prime riverfront to save the family from bankruptcy.

“Yes, well, good.  Ben has to get along with him if he wants to keep his job.  As your father would say, Steven is Ben’s bread and butter.”

Tim shook his head, smiling.  “With Dad designing his houses, he’s practically your bread and butter, too, Mom!”

“Maybe so, but I don’t have to like him and I don’t have to deal with him.”  Claire kicked off her shoes and settled back in her favorite chair.  “Okay, so what do you have on your mind?  I’m all ears.”

Tim cleared his throat and took another swallow of the bourbon.  “I don’t really know how to begin.  It’s crazy but ever since I heard about the girl’s body being found … her name’s Helen Bigelow, by the way … not that it would mean anything to you, or to me for that matter, except … except the kids are saying she was the girlfriend of one of my students, Todd Heatley.  And I find that not only strange, but alarming.  If it wasn’t a natural death, then it means someone killed her, doesn’t it?”  Tim paused, waiting for her response.

“And who more likely than her boyfriend?  Is that what you’re thinking?”

He nodded.  “I have this weird ESP vibe telling me this is heading for disaster and that my poor student Todd is going to be in it up to his neck.  Where is this coming from?  Why should I have these concerns when I don’t even know the facts yet?”

After a moment Claire said, “I know what your grandfather would say, Timmy.  Miller would tell you to be quiet and ….”

“I know … listen to the spirits.”

He and Kate used to laugh about their mother’s fascination with the spirits of their deceased ancestors.  That was before he’d started helping her put an account of Woodbine’s former residents into story form.  Now, although he really couldn’t imagine a spirit might talk to him, he no longer laughed at her when she brought up the subject.  “Then you don’t think it’s peculiar for me to be worrying about someone I hardly know?  I mean, I know Todd but only because he’s one of my best students.  I want things to go well for him because he’s a hard worker … he’s trying to make something of himself.”  Tim looked up at the sound of the back door closing.  “Can we keep this to ourselves?  Dad will think I’ve fallen off the deep end.”

Claire nodded and laid an index finger across her lips.  They both watched as Nick, his faded red hair tousled by the wind, appeared around the corner.  “Hi, darling.  We’ve been waiting for you,” she said.  It wasn’t a lie.  She’d been hoping Nick would come in before Tim left.

“Well, well.  Look who’s here!  How’s everything, Tim?  How about the news from St. B’s—dreadful shock, isn’t it?  I just heard on the radio over at Steeples that there’s talk it might be a murder scene they’re dealing with.”

Tim glanced at his mother before responding.  “You mean the police know how she died?”

“The report didn’t exactly say that.  But it was pretty damn clear they didn’t think she expired from natural causes.  An apparently happy, normal young girl, with no health issues past or present, according to a quote from her mother, doesn’t just stop breathing ….”

Claire stood, kissed her husband lightly, and motioned him to sit down.  “You and Tim talk for a minute while I get you some wine, darling.  Timmy says some kids at the college said one of his architecture students was the girl’s boyfriend,” she explained, thinking maybe it would help Tim to stop worrying if he talked about it.  After all, it wasn’t his problem, vibe or no vibe.  What could he possibly do about it if it was true?  “I’ll be right back.”

“No, I guess not, Dad.  She wouldn’t just stop breathing … that’s what I’ve been thinking all day.  Todd Heatley is the guy they said knew her and he wasn’t in class this morning.”

“He probably heard the news and if it’s true that she was his girlfriend, he was undoubtedly upset.  That would explain his absence, wouldn’t it?” Nick asked.

Tim nodded slowly.  “But up until midday I don’t think they’d released her name.  The class started at eleven … so how would he even know something happened to his friend?”

Nick scratched his head.  “Hmm.  I see where you’re going with this.”

“Can’t help it.  I really like Heatley.  I’ve sat with him at lunch a few times … had a chance to talk one on one with him.  I just can’t imagine he’s involved in anything as scandalous or deplorable as taking someone’s life.  It’s just not possible ….”

“Then why are you imagining it now?  Maybe he was sick today.  His car could have run into a ditch, maybe his dog died … there are countless reasons why he didn’t make it to your class this morning.  You’ve always been a worrywart, Tim.  Take my word for it, it’ll all sort itself out in time.”

“Yeah, most things do, don’t they?  I’m probably jumping the gun, right?”

Claire returned with a tray of cheese and crackers, an ice bucket, the wine bottle, a glass for Nick and a refill for Tim.  “Okay, you two.  Here’s something to keep you going until dinner.”

“I need to get home Mom.  Waldo’s been in the pen all day.  I’ve got to feed him and take him for a run before I put something together for dinner.  It’s Molly’s late night.”  Claire handed him the glass of bourbon.  “Okay, I’ll just drink this and then go,” he said, laughing.

“Take your time with the drink so we can talk about the sailing course.  I know it starts soon and I guess I’ll help you out again if you want me,” Nick offered.  “Is the Molly II over in Rivertown now?” he asked, referring to Tim’s 15-foot daysailer.

Tim nodded.  “It was so beautiful last weekend I took her out of winter storage.  There was a great breeze and Moll and I went for a sail on Sunday.  We pulled her up on the sand at St. B’s and tied her up, thinking we might go out again soon, depending on the weather.”  Tim cleared his throat.  “About the sailing course, Dad—risking the chance of being called a worrywart for the third or fourth time in one day, may I suggest that if a student at St. Bridget’s has indeed been murdered, there might not even be a sailing course this spring?”  Tipping his glass, he took a healthy swallow, waiting.

Nick let this sink in before saying, “Good thought.  Certainly a possibility, because all hell could break loose over there I suppose.  Who knows what could happen?  Let’s change the subject and talk about what Steeples had to say about my site plans for the new construction?  And what he’d like to do instead.  Got time to take a look?”

“Sure, I guess another half hour won’t matter to Waldo.  Spread them out over there on the table.  Let’s turn the radio on so we can get the evening news from Rivertown.”

Nick chuckled.  “No.  I’m a failure at multitasking and the last time I thought about it, I concluded you weren’t too good at it either.”

Claire left them, and headed back to the kitchen.  “Sure you won’t stay for supper, Tim?  We’re having baked salmon.”  When he shook his head, she left her two favorite men alone, to ponder yet another of Steven Steeples’ foolish ideas.  Now he wanted to build a house on pilings down near the water.  She knew, eventually, Nick would win out and the idea would be scrapped.  But meanwhile they had to pussyfoot around Steven who was, after all, the boss.

On the short drive to his own house, Tim was grateful for the diversion over the Steeples’ issue.  It gave him something else to think about.  He parked his jeep, released Waldo and together they headed down the path to Pigeon Cove for their evening jog.  The wind had picked up, and the rising tide sent waves slapping against the shore.  Beyond the cove, whitecaps dotted the Rappahannock.  The temperature was definitely dropping, Tim realized, wondering if he’d made a mistake leaving the boat on the sand like that.  Unfortunately that brought his thoughts back to St. Bridget’s.  Now he had two reasons to drive over there tomorrow—to make sure the sailboat was secure, as well as to finalize arrangements for the Saturday classes.

The hamburgers had been seasoned and ready for the grill for at least an hour.  Tim finished his third drink and was thinking about bed when Molly arrived just after seven-thirty.

“Hey, you, get up!  I’m home.”  She bent to hug Waldo who’d followed her from the kitchen, bouncing around her feet in greeting.  Setting down her books, she plopped herself in Tim’s lap and wrapped her arms around his neck.  “I could hardly wait to get here,” she whispered.  “What have you been up to?”

“At last, you’re home at last,” Tim mumbled, returning her kiss with a fair amount of passion although he was only half awake.  “Love you, Moll, no matter when you arrive.  But I’m starving.  Let’s eat first.”