Off To War – Chapter 1, Scene 4

OFF TO WAR

Chapter One (News)

Scene Four

The doorbell rang, disturbing the Thompson family’s lunch. In the dining room, Elizabeth exchanged looks with her parents and brother as their conversation halted. No one gave any indication they expected anyone. All they could do was wait until a servant came to announce whomever it was. Everyone set their silverware down, dabbing at their mouths, each readying him or herself to receive the unexpected visitor. They didn’t have to wait long until the butler appeared at the doorway.

“Mr. John Taylor is here to see Miss Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth’s heart tumbled. The hour was early for his arrival. With John shipping out tomorrow, they had agreed he should spend the day with his parents. And that he and Elizabeth would meet later in the afternoon. Had something happened to cause him to change their plans? Fighting a wave of dread that rose from within her stomach, Elizabeth waited for her mother to excuse her.

“Go ahead,” Abigail motioned for her to follow the butler to the parlor.

Elizabeth stood and fell in step behind the tall man who looked after their home.

The parlor, adjacent to the dining room, lay just a short walk away. But today the hall stretched for miles as Elizabeth anticipated what news John might bring. Stepping through the doorway, Elizabeth found herself unable to catch her breath for a moment. John stood tall and proud in his Union uniform. A question bubbled to the surface, but her emotions overtook her and she could not form it into words.

John nodded to the butler before the man took his leave of them, leaving the door open and positioning himself on the other side as a chaperone. Only then did John speak.

He moved toward her, placing his hands on her arms as if preparing to embrace her. “We’re shipping out tonight, Lizzie.”

She held back, moving a hand across her face in disbelief. “What? But you were supposed to leave tomorrow.”

“I know. But things have been expedited. I was informed this morning that our train leaves tonight.”

It was too much for Elizabeth to take in. The room began to spin. She allowed him to pull her into his embrace, but she couldn’t gather her thoughts even enough to put her arms around him. Tonight? But she wasn’t ready! Her plans were not fully set in place yet…

“I know it’s a little sudden, Lizzie. But we knew this was going to happen. It’s just happening a little sooner is all.” He pulled back to look at her and brushed away the tears she didn’t realize she had shed.

“I…I can’t…” she tried.

“Can’t what, Lizzie?” His voice was soft as he tucked an errant curl behind her ear. The touch of his fingers on her skin felt gentle, soothing.

“I can’t say good-bye.”

He wrapped his arms around her again. This time she clung to him and sobbed. It didn’t seem possible, but he held her even tighter.

“It will be alright,” he soothed.

She trembled.

He leaned back, only far enough to capture her lips with his. When the kiss broke off, he held her to himself again.

“I need you to be strong for me now, Lizzie.”

She wanted to be. Breathing deeply, she attempted to reign in her emotions.

All the while, he continued to rub her arms, her shoulders, pressing kisses to her forehead and her hair.

Why did he have to be so wonderful? Tears threatened to break through again, but she held them back.

Once she calmed, he used his finger to tilt her chin so she looked up at him. “Can you be strong for my parents?”

She knew what he meant. He spoke not only of today, but also if something were to happen to him. “Yes,” she lied.

“I know you can, even if you don’t,” he assured her, cupping her face.

She hung her head, fighting more tears.

“Write to me?” he hooked her chin with his finger so she had to look at him.

“Every day.”

“Wait for me?” he asked in the tenderest voice possible.

“Forever.”

John’s face broke out in a slow smile at that.

Elizabeth allowed herself to get lost in his eyes. They belonged together. In that moment, she knew…that’s why he wasn’t afraid. He would return to her because he had to.

His lips met hers again in a gentle kiss. She returned his kiss with everything she had, longing to communicate all of her love, all of her hopes and dreams in that one kiss.

When John broke contact, her head spun.

“I must go.” He blinked, moving toward the door, his step wavering. Was the room spinning for him too? “Know that I carry you with me, Lizzie. Always and forever, remember?”

“Always and forever.” She fought down a fresh wave of emotion, refusing to cry in front of him again.

He reached over and pulled her to him for another quick kiss. Then he was gone and she was alone.

Elizabeth fell to the floor in tears, sobbing, truly sorry for her loss. From the depths of her heart rose a determination to see her plan through. If his leaving was accelerated, so was her plan. She had to get things in motion. Wiping at her tears, she got up. There was much to do.

Reviews: To Read or Not To Read

reveiwI am an author. My books have some reviews (albeit not as many as I’d like). And, while many, many people have really enjoyed my work, there are those that do not. And they will let the whole world know about it through their reviews. I have read some of these reviews. And cried. And cried. And cried.

Putting out a book into the world is like putting out a piece of ourselves. We become quite vulnerable to everyone’s opinion. And, for some reason, we believe that everyone is going to love our work. We may say we don’t, but, in our hearts, we seem to think they will.

I received the advice long ago to NOT read reviews. Period. Did I take that advice? No. Because I thought I could handle it. Could I? Nope. So, my support system was left picking up the pieces of my broken confidence. Now, I know (a little) better. And I am the one advising authors NOT to read reviews. Why?

IT IS ONE PERSON’S OPINION. There is not a whole lot to gain from one person’s opinion. Especially someone from a random walk of life who is not a writer and doesn’t understand the context of your work. If you must read reviews, read through this lens: it is their opinion. What can I gain? Can something they are saying make me a better writer? If so, you can walk away with something. If not, it is not worth you dwelling on.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE ARE THOSE OUT THERE WHO THRIVE ON WRITING BAD REVIEWS. I know, I attracted one. Honest. This reviewer’s profile stated that he/she enjoys dishing out harsh reviews on authors that deserve them. Maybe I did deserve some of the things he/she had to say. It was my first novel. I have learned SO MUCH since then. But the tone of the review was definitely meant to tear me down, not simply review the book. So, be aware of this. It’s just best not to go there.

HAVING “HATERS” MUST MEAN YOU HIT A CHORD. What on earth could you have possibly done to upset someone so much to leave not just a negative review, but a nasty review in some cases? This must be something beyond you. Maybe something in your book did strike a chord that made them uncomfortable. This is what I’m left thinking.

HAVING NEGATIVE REVIEWS IS A PART OF IT. All authors have negative reviews. Look up “Pride and Prejudice”. Yep…negative reviews. Can you believe it? Poor Jane Austen is, as they say, “turning over in her grave” I suspect. Not a chance. People come in all shapes and sizes and walks of life and experiences. So, there are going to be those that just don’t care for your work. Just as much as there will be those that love your work. It’s not you, it’s because we, here on earth, are blessed with wondrous diversity.

I truly hope I have given you some reasons to ignore negative reviews, or at least, take them in stride. Better yet, let’s not even read them. But that means we’re not reading any reviews. Well, that’s okay. As much as we like the warm fuzzies that come from positive reviews, they, too, can have an impact on our writing. And I choose to write from the places of my inspiration rather than write to my critics (positive or negative). But that’s me. And that is how I handle my art.

Off to War – Chapter 1, Scenes 2 and 3

Off to War – Chapter 1 (News), Scene 2

Abigail Thompson sat in her favorite chair in the family parlor, working a cross-stitch that would become a decorative pillow. She enjoyed this craft as it gave her ample time to work things out in her mind as she worked the thread with her hands. If only everything could work out as easy and clean as her designs did! As her mind wandered amidst the ornate décor of her parlor, her thoughts dwelt on how weary she had grown of watching her daughter mope around the house these last few days. Since the night of John’s big announcement, Elizabeth moved about her days as if she were a million miles away. Always sad, always downhearted.

Abigail could only imagine the pain her daughter went through knowing her best friend and beau would soon be off to the war, perhaps never to return. It could not be an easy prospect to face. Indeed, they were all shaken by the news. While she admired John’s decision to fight for his country, to stand for the principles for which the Union stood. Still, she couldn’t agree with his decision to leave. As he neared the end of his internship, the prospect of his future lay before him. There was so much good he could do right here in Boston. So many people here needed him. Including Elizabeth.

Gentle footfalls neared the parlor. Abigail paused her work. Whomever dared disturb her solitude stopped just behind her chair. She turned as Amanda, one of the maidservants, came around to face her.

“Excuse me, ma’am. I have the menu for this evening.”

Abgail set her cross-stitch in her lap and, smiling up at Amanda, encouraged her to continue. “Alright.”

“Roast, potatoes, carrots, green beans, yeast rolls, and custard dessert,” Amanda recited.

“Let’s change that custard to a cherry cobbler, but everything sounds fine indeed.”

Amanda curtsied and took her leave.

Every night since John made known his intentions to join the Northern army, the Thompsons and Taylors had dined together. John insisted on spending every available moment with Elizabeth. Even now, she was due back from the hospital. She spent her midday there to take lunch with him. Of late, their lunches became drawn out. Abigail found it doubtful that any of John’s supervisors minded, considering the circumstances. But no matter how long they were together, Elizabeth always returned in a sullen mood, causing Abigail to wonder what they talked about. What did one talk about when you were off to war in a handful of days?

Just then, the front door creaked. It must be Elizabeth’s return.

“Elizabeth!” Abigail called out.

“Yes, Mother?” she heard from the direction of the foyer.

“Would you join me in the parlor?”

“Of course.” Elizabeth let out a deep sigh. She sounded so tired. No – weary, fatigued.

Moments later, Elizabeth came into the parlor, countenance as downcast as ever.

Abigail’s heart broke for her daughter. “Please, sit with me for a while.”

Elizabeth nodded, taking a seat on the settee near her mother’s chair. She seemed disinterested in anything her mother had to say. It was clear all she wanted to do was escape to her room.

Abigail put her cross-stitch to the side. “Tell me. How was he today?”

“Just as he always is…excited about the difference he’s going to make.” The exasperation in Elizabeth’s voice was evident.

“Perhaps he will make a difference. I’m sure he will save lives.”

Elizabeth became quiet. This wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“But it doesn’t help your heart to hear that, does it, darling?”

Elizabeth shook her head and fresh tears appeared at the corners of her eyes.

Abigail reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “Do not fear for him so, Lizzie. I understand that the doctors are kept far from the front lines in the camps where they can do the most good. He will be out of harm’s way.” Abigail hoped to assuage her daughter’s fears if even the slightest bit.

“John said as much, too. But I don’t know if I can take it. Not knowing day to day if he is well. If he is alive, or…”

“I know, darling, I know,” Abigail said, hoping her voice betrayed the tenderness she felt in that moment.

“If only I could go with him…” Elizabeth started.

“Shhh,” her mother patted her hand. “Darling, you know that’s not possible. Women of our station do not say such things. We will support him in the ways we can. You can join a booster or write letters.”

Elizabeth nodded.

Perhaps Elizabeth didn’t think that Abigail understood. She did. Elizabeth wanted to go with him. But that wasn’t possible. Taking another long look at her daughter, she confirmed that Elizabeth’s tears had been dried, replaced by a look of determination. There now, they would work together to support the cause. And that would be the end of it.

***

Off to War – Chapter 1 (News), Scene 3

Martha Moore stood in her family’s parlor, hanging her head, not able to brace herself against the tidings she just received, stunned. It couldn’t be so. Shutting her eyes against the news her seventeen-year-old son brought to her, she felt faint. She reached for the arm of the closest chair.

Her husband, Henry, must have seen her distress for he reached out an arm to help her sit. Though her husband’s hand stayed on her shoulder for strength and comfort, she felt numb. If only time would stop so she did not have to endure the pain of what lay ahead. The parlor whirled around her for several seconds. This room was filled with happy memories of family times spent together. Now it would forever be scarred with the memory of this interchange.

Her son, her sweet boy, Jacob, barely a man, had enlisted to go to war. Oh, he was old enough to be recognized by the state as a man, old enough to enlist. So, she could do nothing but let the tears come. And she did nothing to stop them. How could he do this to his hapless parents? He was too young to understand the ramifications of what he had done. But, of course, the Union army didn’t see things that way. No, he became one more soldier added to their roster today. That was the price of war.

Martha’s older son, Benjamin, had already enlisted and gone off to war months ago. At that time, they had been proud of his bravery and respected that he wanted to fight for his country. But he was a grown man! And Martha had been naive to the burden of having a son at war. Every day since he left had been a lesson. She had since learned what it was to have a son off at war. Since last she saw his face, she feared for his safety every minute of every day. But at least she’d had Jacob at home. At least, that is, until now.

“Mother, I promise, I’ll make you proud. Just like Benjamin!”

She shook her head. So that was it. He had seen how pleased they were when Benjamin enlisted. Had he been counting down the days until his enlist date? Did he think this was what they hoped for? This was the last thing she wanted.

“You don’t understand, Jacob, I can’t…” Her husband’s grip tightened on her shoulder, cutting her off.

“We are proud of you, son. You’ve done us both proud,” Henry said. “I think your mother is just surprised. We both are.” Her husband’s voice was steady.

How can he be so calm when my whole world is falling apart?

“I know I should have said something first, but I wanted to surprise you,” Jacob said.

“Well, you certainly did that.” Henry smiled at Jacob.

Martha began to understand what her husband tried to communicate. The deed was done. He needed support.

She didn’t know if she could do that. All she wanted to do was scream. What could he have been thinking enlisting? Didn’t he know he was breaking his poor mother’s heart? But she knew she would have to lean on her husband’s wisdom no matter how her heart cried out against it. At this point, there was no going back.

“Do you think they’ll put me in Benjamin’s regiment?” Jacob asked, his voice hopeful.

“No. Not likely,” Henry said, his voice even.

Jacob’s features dropped. It was clear this hadn’t occurred to him.

“But I’ll get to wear a uniform and carry a gun?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, you will.”

Martha’s stomach churned. The thought of her little boy who used to play with wooden guns carrying a real weapon into a fight…it made her nauseated. She looked away lest Jacob see her sickened expression. He was so eager. And he hadn’t a clue. War was a game to him. The reality had not yet set in. Looking back up at her son, she motioned for him to come closer to her.

He did, crouching in front of her so they were eye-to-eye.

“Just promise me one thing, Jacob,” she said, taking his face in her hands.

“What, mother?” his eyebrows went up.

“That you won’t go rushing into any fight. That you will stay back and watch out for yourself.”

His brows furrowed, but he nodded all the same. If he didn’t understand now, Martha hoped at that critical moment, he would remember and heed her advice. And so, she smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss the side of his face.

He accepted her affection, smiling back at her.

The Write Stuff: The Benefits of a Critique Group

I mention my critique group with some frequency. But I cannot say enough good things about them. Or about the benefits of a critique group. No matter what stage of writing – whether a newbie or a seasoned professional. My critique group is made up of all stages and places. And I love that. So, what can a writing group do to benefit me? I’ll spill the beans here…

Provide Instant Feedback. This is one of the most basic and obvious reasons anyone joins a critique group. I encourage everyone to be bold enough to share their work. That’s the only way to improve. Let the group see it and give feedback. The more eyes, the more they can catch. This is not because the writing is bad, it’s because there are only so many things the writer can catch. We tend to be too close to the work. This is, however, where I advise everyone to be choosy about their critique group. No one wants a group that is vicious or tears others down. If that’s the vibe, don’t go back; but try another group.

horizonsBroaden Your Horizons. By this I mean that we can learn more about our craft from others that are further along in their careers. I can benefit from others who have editors that have taught them different things. What can I glean from someone who attended a conference workshop that I didn’t have access to? These are all things to think about.

teachTeach. There may even be an opportunity to teach others. This not only brings on the warm fuzzies, but it solidifies your knowledge of craft and gives anyone a confidence boost. As we learn and grow in our craft, we should turn around and teach others.

shaking handsConnect. Those in the group that are published and going to conferences can connect newbies in the group with people in the industry they have met. This can be extremely valuable. During my time in my critique group, I have come to see the necessity of going to conferences and workshops and even taking online courses. All of these things have grown me in my craft. But I never would have known where to find these things had it not been for my critique group’s fearless leader. She connected me with the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and I joined a local chapter and take online courses through this organization.

supportAccountability & Support. That regular check-in keeps everyone accountable to continue working, so we have something to share if nothing else. But the groups’ support and encouragement helps everyone strive to complete projects and move further along in their career.

These are just a few of the benefits. As I said, I could go on and on (but I won’t). The next question you are bound to ask is “how do I find a critique group?”. I would look locally through your local publications, or check with the public library. Utilizing your computer to search for local groups can also prove fruitful. If there isn’t anything promising locally, try to find an online critique partner, or critique group. I would look for these through a search as well. The important thing for me is that I am in a group led by or at least regularly attended by a published author. Anything to add? How have you benefitted from a critique group?

I’m Sharing A Story

Hey, all! I have made a decision. It’s a pretty big decision for me. I decided to take one of my completed works and post it, scene by scene, here. Every Friday. At some point, I will offer the entire novel for free to anyone who signs up for my mailing list. So, be on the look out for that. The novel I selected is titled “Off to War”. And here is the first scene!

once upon a time

 

Chapter One, Scene One – News

Elizabeth Thompson stopped to check her reflection in the mirror as she tucked a stubborn, errant blonde curl back into place. She fanned her flushed face. It would not do for John’s parents to see the aftereffects of her running down the block to make it home. But it wouldn’t require a close examination for anyone to see that this is exactly what had transpired. Must everything in her appearance betray her? Her hair was tousled and her dress disheveled. Working to re-pin her hair proved difficult. Then she smoothed over the folds of her deep blue dress as best she could.

To her delight, her ministrations worked to improve her appearance somewhat. While it was true her hair didn’t have the same polish to it that it had when Nancy had finished with her that morning, at least it it appeared intentional. And though her dress was no longer neat and pressed as it had been fresh from the iron, everything was in its place. She hoped it was enough.

Drawing in several deep breaths, Elizabeth closed her eyes and clasped the cross John had gifted her one long-ago Christmas. John. Just thinking of him brought a smile to her face. He was everything to her: best friend, confidant, beau, and, unofficially, fiancé. The features of his face: his dark brown eyes, square jaw, chiseled nose and brow, and brown hair, were as familiar to her as her own reflection. Even now, she envisioned those angles she had come to know so well. Her vision of John smiled at her and then chuckled. His voice’s melodic smooth baritone entranced her. After allowing herself several moments to revel in her daydream, she pulled herself away from the dream John for sake of the real one.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Elizabeth poked her head out of her door and glanced at the case clock in the hall. They would be here any minute! Her heart beat a little faster as she moved from the mirror in her room over to the window to keep vigil over their coming.

Elizabeth allowed her mind to wander back to their conversations of late. She and John had talked and dreamed about marriage, but nothing had been set in stone. This was not for fear of their parents’ reactions. Quite the contrary. They knew their parents would be all too happy to hear of their plans. For now, it was their secret. It was, perhaps, a poorly kept secret. She would wager almost anything that their parents altogether expected their intentions to marry.

As she watched, a carriage pulled up and four familiar figures exited. He was here! With all due haste, she made her way through the hallway, down the stairs, and toward the front door. John and his family were regular dinner guests at the Thompson house. It was not only because of John and Elizabeth’s close connection, rather, the frequency with which the families engaged in social interactions stemmed from their fathers’ relationship. They were in medical practice together. This situation had been what spurred an initial friendship between John and Elizabeth. The ladies of the home had also become close friends. Because of these close connections, it had long been the wish of their parents that John and Elizabeth be joined in matrimony. So, all things considered, the two families supped together at least twice a week.

Soon, the door chime rang through the house. Elizabeth had just made it to the grand entry. And, as much as she wished she could, she dare not open the door. That would be an atrocious breach of protocol. Instead, she waited until one of the maids made her way to the door. The seconds ticking by felt like hours as Elizabeth waited to lay eyes on her beloved. At last, one of the housemaids, Amanda, appeared and opened the door to admit John, his parents, and his sister. Elizabeth’s face lit up as her blue eyes met the deep brown ones she had come to know so well. And John moved toward her, embracing her as if it had been years since they had seen each other, not mere hours. But she welcomed it all the same. He risked pressing a kiss to her cheek as he pulled back.

“You are beautiful this evening, Elizabeth,” he said, taking her hands in his.

“Thank you.” Her face warmed, thinking he was being kind. She knew she was a mess. Her hands felt small in his.

John’s parents and sister passed them, nodding to Elizabeth. Smiling in greeting to them, she nodded as well. Was it just her imagination or was there something off in his mother’s affect? Some sadness in her eyes? But there wasn’t much time for her to ponder whatever it might be as they moved on toward the parlor where Elizabeth’s parents waited, leaving she and John alone for a moment.

After his parents passed out of sight, John raised one of her hands to his lips, pressing a kiss to it. And whatever thoughts she was having about his mother vanished in her swirling love for him.

“I’ve been counting down the minutes all afternoon,” he said, his voice seeming even deeper.

“As have I.”

He took her arm and, turning them toward the parlor, took slow steps toward the chaperonage of their parents.

“There is something important I must speak with you about,” he said, his voice distant in that moment. His eyes were fixed on something in front of him, not quite meeting hers.

“Oh?”

“We’ll take a stroll after dinner.”

“You’re going to make me wait through the whole dinner?” she moaned.

He lifted a finger to touch her nose, smiling. “Yes. And I know you can be patient.”

She halted in her tracks and gave him a pout that was only half real, but definitely exaggerated.

“I’m not telling you,” he insisted. “Now come on, Lizzie.” He laughed, pulling at her arm. “Or our parents are going to start wondering where we went.”

She conceded. His parents had allowed them their brief unchaperoned moment, but there were boundaries to their trust. So she followed him to the parlor where their parents were already in deep conversation about…what else? The war between the states.

It seemed the war was all anyone could talk about these days. Elizabeth tired of hearing about it. All the more as the whole thing seemed so ridiculous to her. The South didn’t seem to have an ethical leg to stand on. Who in his right mind would think it was just to own another person, to sell another person, to beat another human being, to separate someone from his or her family? It all seemed so obvious that the Union had the moral high ground. And then for the Southern states to just try to leave? Secede from the Union indeed! Unimaginable! Yet it was happening. And now Americans were killing Americans. It was unthinkable.

Her father shared the latest news he heard about the advancing of the Confederates and the naval battles being won by the North. John’s mother shared that one of her friends had a cousin who was part of a Sanitary Commission. She had heard all manner of stories about the conditions in the camps. Elizabeth was only half listening, trying not to get bombarded by all this war talk.

Turning to John, she hoped he would be interested in playing cards. But to her surprise, he was listening rather intently. Strange, she had never known him to be so interested in the goings-on in the war. Then again, he was always looking for stimulating conversation. Elizabeth found herself envying the younger siblings who had engaged in some kind of amusing game across the room. She longed to join them, but knew her place was next to John. So, she was consigned to be a party, albeit silent party, to all this talk of war.

Elizabeth was all too happy when, several minutes later, the butler came in and informed them that dinner was served. As they made their way toward the dining room, Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief. At some point, her mother had insisted to her father that the dinner table was no place for talking of war and such horrid things. So it would be a safe haven for Elizabeth. Conversation would most often turn to things of society, which was only somewhat more interesting to Elizabeth. And they would always end up talking of her father’s medical practice, a topic she found much more intriguing. Then there was this after-dinner conversation with John hanging over her head.

Waiting for whatever John had to tell her made for a long dinner. Patience was not one of the virtues Elizabeth possessed. On most nights, she followed the conversation between her father and John’s father with little effort, but tonight her thoughts were much departed from their exchange as she wished away the minutes until she and John could be alone again. That time was not quick in coming. She had to feign interest through several dinner courses, nodding here and there to conversation she wasn’t listening to. John, however, seemed much engrossed in sharing whatever medical cases he had come across that day or listening to the cases the more seasoned doctors recounted to notice Elizabeth’s lack of presence.

At long last, the dessert plates were taken and the men prepared to retire to the mens’ lounge. John begged off, stating that he would like to take Elizabeth for a walk. Her father granted his permission and her mother insisted she wear an outer covering due to the chilly evening air. Moments later, draped in her cape, and without further ado, Elizabeth and John were off.

They stepped out of the house and onto the sidewalk. Elizabeth took in a deep breath, glad to be free of their parents and of having to stand on any form of ceremony. Amanda, one of the house maids, served as their chaperone. But it wasn’t the same as having her mother look over her shoulder. For all intents and purposes, it was just them. Glancing over at John, she drew closer to him, wrapping an arm even tighter in his. He offered her a smile, placing his free hand on her hand that captured his arm. This closeness still caused her stomach to turn in flip flops. Together they strolled down the street, Amanda in tow, enjoying the fine weather and beautiful scenery, making small talk. It wasn’t long before John turned them toward the park.

Elizabeth grew ever anxious for whatever news he had to share. But she sensed he was waiting for the right moment. And she enjoyed the easiness of these moments so much she dare not disturb it. As they made their way into the park and toward a bench, they covered benign topics such as the weather and the goings-on of their families and mutual friends. Amanda chose a bench far enough away to afford them some level of privacy, yet close enough to maintain a proper chaperonage. John helped Elizabeth arrange her cape so she was covered and warm, an unnecessary worry. With him beside her, the coolness of the evening was the last thing on her mind.

Then a silence fell between them.

“How were your rounds today?” she offered into the quiet that had befallen them.

John had just completed medical school and was interning at a hospital nearby.

“They were fine.” He did not offer anything further.

Odd. He always had a couple of cases to tell her about. When they were younger, they poured over their fathers’ textbooks together. And she had done her share of helping him study during his tenure in medical school. It had become a game of sorts between them for him to detail the cases he had seen that day and let her attempt to diagnose the patients. Yet this evening he remained silent. Whatever was on his mind weighed heavily.

“Do you want to talk about it?” She leaned forward so she could see his face more clearly.

He stared off into the distance in silence for a while. Long enough it made Elizabeth uncomfortable.

At last, he spoke. “We visited a wing of the hospital that cares for wounded soldiers.”

“Oh?” Her voice was soft, just above a whisper.

“It was unlike anything I had ever seen before…bodies mangled…” He shook his head.

She understood. He didn’t want to impress any more imagery on her.

“I can’t imagine what that must have been like for…” she started, reaching out to touch his arm.

“And so today I enlisted in the Northern regiment.” The words hung in the air. His eyes held hers. They were serious. And hopeful that she would understand.

Her heart dropped. She was speechless. How could he make such a decision without talking to her first?

He stood and stepped away from her before turning back to face her again. “I know I should have said something to you first. But you should have seen it, Lizzie, the pain, the death. What those men needed was more help on the front line. That could have saved limbs, that could have saved lives. How could I not offer my skills to help so many?”

“I understand.” She surprised herself with her calmness. Then her voice began to break. “But I can’t….I don’t…that is…I…”

“It’s okay.” He sat down and gathered her into his embrace.

“What of our plans?” she managed through tears that were now falling.

“I still want to marry you.” He pulled back, cupping her face. “So much.”

“Then let’s get married now.”

The words fell from her lips almost before she thought them. A tingle shot through her at the thought of getting married in the next few days. She couldn’t believe those words had just come out of her mouth.

John cocked his head as he studied her features. Elizabeth knew that look. She couldn’t hide her trepidation from him. He would know she didn’t want to throw together a wedding in a few days any more than he did, rush through a honeymoon, and then spend their first married year separated for who knew how long.

“That would make me happy. Truly happy,” he said. “But I won’t make you a war bride. And I won’t risk making you a young widow.”

She reached up then, placing her fingertips on his lips. “Don’t talk like that!”

He took her hand in his. “It’s a real possibility.”

There seemed to be a hole forming in her chest from where her heart had dropped. And it ached. She threw herself into his arms. “I won’t think like that. I can’t!”

They remained in each other’s embrace, not caring what Amanda might think. After some moments, John pulled back only far enough to look at her. He hooked his finger under her chin to tilt her head up.

“Remember, I love you.” His voice was firm and confident.

“Always and forever?” she sniffed.

“Always and forever.” He pressed a kiss to her lips.

The Transition from Writer to Speaker

Even now I am in the midst of this transition. Perhaps, admittedly, early yet in this process. But, it is my desire that this blog be a place where I share this journey. And this is one of the next steps for me, so here it is.

The Challenges:

pigletBy and large, writers tend to be introverts. This is not true across the board, of course. But if you check what Meyer-Briggs says about it, “author” falls into the “introvert” category. On personality tests, I tend to score about equal on the introvert/extrovert portion, so it’s neither easy nor difficult for me. Am I scared to get in front of people and talk? No. Does it make me nervous? Yes. I would much rather be by myself with my computer, sharing that same info through a blog or in a one-on-one conversation.

conference1What could I say that someone wants to hear? This is a struggle. But, honestly, people want to know what it’s like to be a writer. The ever-popular “where do your ideas come from?” (which we all know they really mean “what inspires you?”). There may also be some life experience that can be helpful to others. I have come through two fairly severe bouts of postpartum depression and am now on the other side of it. Women who are struggling want to hear what that recovery process looked like (though it’s different for everyone, there are common elements). I also share my experiences raising children with Autism and ADHD. Learning to live with these challenges in our day-to-day lives, and sharing what we have learned, can bring hope to others who are in the early stages. It’s all about finding your niche. What knowledge/experience do you have that’s valuable to others?

People at the conferenceFinding speaking venues. Reaching out to local groups is one way to find those venues. Libraries, book clubs, groups that are related to your subject matter…a group of new moms is going to be my target audience for sharing my journey through postpartum depression. This, in my opinion, is really where you have to put yourself out there.

The Pluses:

meeting peopleNetworking. Getting your name out there. Need I say more? There may not always be an opportunity to sell books at these venues (I’m not setting up my Historical Fiction/Romance books when I am invited to speak about postpartum depression). But there will always be an opportunity to share who you are. To make connections. And maybe even have a chance to speak somewhere else because of one of those connections.

bag of tricksThe Experience. This is another skill you will hone and perfect. And this will be another tool in your “bag of tricks”. It is becoming such, more and more these days, that writers aren’t just writers. We are promoters/marketers, speakers, editors, among other things. How many tricks can you fit in that bag?

feedbackInstant Feedback. This is one thing that is different from our writing. When we have the audience in front of us, we can see their reactions, hear their comments, interact with them. That’s not something we get when we write. There’s something to be said about that kind of connection with our audience.

And so, as I’m working my way through this transition (adding “speaker” to my bag of tricks), I am thrilled to bring you along and share my experiences with you. Come what may. Anyone else out there in this transition? Care to share any wisdom?

Closet Writer: Why you should come out

I was a self-proclaimed closet writer. Does that mean I wrote in the closet? Not exactly. It means I was very secretive about my writing. No one read what I wrote…I couldn’t face the chance they would hate it. The work was too close to my heart, I couldn’t bear the rejection! Besides, who did I think I was? I don’t have any kind of college coursework or classes to back up my work. I was a science major and here I am writing Historical Fiction. Basic English coursework, basic History classes. Surely, if I put myself out there, everyone would know I was a fraud.

fearOvercoming the Fear. At some point, we have to just gather our courage and step out into the world with our art and share it. I let my husband read it. But, let’s face it, he would tell me it was good even if it stunk like last week’s leftovers. Then I shared it with a friend who has a great habit of being super honest. No matter what. Believe me, I was terrified. But, against all odds, she loved it. We never know if we don’t take the risk.

baby-steps2The Next Steps. After some time, my husband and friend convinced me to put my first novel out into the publishing world in hopes to have it published. Thus began the scary process of querying. Cue nerves. But, believe it or not, one of my queries came back with a positive response – someone wanted my novel!

alone-in-crowdYou are not alone. My point is this: at some point every author has had similar experiences. We all feel close to our work. We all fear rejection because of this. And we all have had to realize that there will be those who don’t like what we put out there. This is an industry in which one must have thick skin. It doesn’t mean that what we put out isn’t worth while, or even good. It just means that people are entitled to their opinion. But no one has ever succeeded without first risking failure. And some of the greatest successes of our time (take Walt Disney, for example) succeeded only after experiencing failure.

What is keeping you from submitting your work to a publisher? Or even from sharing your work with a trusted friend? If you are working on honing your craft, do you have a critique partner or beta reader you trust to give you feedback?