After two weeks, help from kind readers, and too many drafts to count, I feel I have arrived at a passably decent description of my novel, Turn on No-Bridge Road. At the very least, its construction will serve as the basis for a much shorter description and maybe even the book’s back cover. For me, an amazing result of all these hours of struggle was that a very clear concept of the protagonist emerged. I heard her voice and felt her tangled bewilderment over an ambiguous past and the mysterious innuendo surrounding it. It came to me that she must have suffered an ongoing fear of abandonment throughout her life, although this is not something even she herself has recognized in her thoughts or words. But it’s not too late—I can now go back to the manuscript and make a few changes before I publish. In an earlier post (My Writer’s Block, April 2012) I wrote about needing to feel a better sense of engagement with my characters, as I have in previous novels, and I feel I achieved that in spades while writing this synopsis. Too bad you can’t write a synopsis before you write the book—an outline is possible and helpful but that’s not the same thing, is it? I made so many changes in my outline as I went along, you might not recognize it as the same story!
So, without further comment, here is the current synopsis of Turn on No-Bridge Road:
Claire Sutton is almost thirty years old, single, happily employed and self-sufficient when she returns to Devon County on an icy evening in 1979. She has come to bury her Virginia grandfather and claim an unexpected inheritance—Woodbine Farm—400 acres of Rappahannock riverfront with an 1805 house, a cabin and outbuildings. She has no idea how complicated this will be made by the three very determined men she is about to encounter.
Miller Dawson, a friend of her grandfather’s he says, appears out of the snowy darkness that first night after her car ends in a ditch near the Woodbine lane. He leads her to the cabin because there is no electricity in the big house. What a grumpy, crusty old man, Claire thinks when he taps her guilt by asking, “Haven’t come t’visit for a long time, have ye?” However, within days she is caught up in Miller’s single-minded aspiration to restore the dining room paneling, which he rues having helped her grandfather remove and sell when his funds ran out. She is puzzled by his vast knowledge of Woodbine, including tidbits about its former occupants. “They might now reside in the family cemet’ry, but some of ’em still have mighty lively spirits … ye’ll see.” He hints at a family Bible and an old journal hidden by D.Brandon, her grandfather.
Then there is Jeremiah Weeks, her grandfather’s attorney, who is also Claire’s old flame and lost love. She is filled with foreboding at seeing Jerry, who has been married to someone else for ten years. Although she girds herself against her emotions, Claire suffers both pain and passion each time they meet. It is troubling when he declares the house, which holds such fond memories for her, is of little value and should be torn down. He has buyers who are very interested in the land, however. The price he suggests is way too low, barely enough to pay her grandfather’s debts.
Lastly, Nicholas Darling, an ambitious, engaging Northern Virginia architect appears one day during a rainstorm. Claire and Miller, a sometime carpenter, are struggling with the dining room restoration effort. Nick, seeking property for a client, also claims he’s related to Woodbine’s builder, a claim that later proves true. Claire accepts Nick’s help when she learns how much he knows about buildings, but only after he agrees to respect Miller’s ideas. Nick is unsure why he keeps returning every weekend—is it fascination with the house and its patchwork additions? or an attraction to Claire? It isn’t long before he knows which it is and what he wants. He wants both.
No stranger to Woodbine, Claire recalls lengthy periods of living in the cabin. First, with her unhappy parents, Paul and Margot, as they tried to save a troubled marriage; then with her mother alone after they were abandoned by Paul, an alcoholic. They moved back to California but every summer Margot sent her to Woodbine and D.Brandon’s care. Was this her mother’s way of escaping her parenting responsibilities? But no matter—Woodbine is chickens, pigs and cows, enchanted woodlands, fields where corn grows taller than a man; it’s riding on the tractor and pulling in the crab traps from Gramps’ dock; it’s the taste of blueberries on a steamy night—it’s where she learned about love. The day Gramps showed her where her namesake Clarissa lies under a tombstone inscribed 1823-1866, she remembers reaching for his hand saying, “I must belong here.” “Yep, reckon y’do,” he’d agreed.
Now, knowing the house and all its memories are hers, Claire faces a daunting dilemma—to sell and return to life in the publishing world, or to yield to Nick’s gentle persuasion. Two deaths and discovery of the late 1800s journal and family Bible become key in the decision that will bind her to Nick, and to Woodbine’s world forever.
A twisted backstory of family intermarriage and shabby affairs emerges as Claire pursues an ongoing obsession to understand the past and her place in it. Years later, after she is in her middle years, a long lost letter from her deceased mother turns up. Carefully, because it’s yellowed and very wrinkled, I lift the seal … can this be true? It’s what I’ve been searching for without even knowing it … dear God, how did I not guess?