Meet Hillary Altman

Readers, I’d like to introduce you to the leading lady in The House on Maple Street, Hillary Altman. Hillary is a grad student at JC, pursuing her MA in Fine Arts. She’s an aspiring historical fiction writer and a hopeless romantic. She is also the newest tenant in the Maple Street Boarding House.

Hillary struggles to find her footing after her best friend decided to forgo grad school in favor of taking off to a horse farm in Arizona. Feeling lost and alone may be clouding her judgement about her mysterious neighbor, down the hall. There’s just something about him.

Meet Hillary Altman

To top it off, Hillary’s fellow tenants have repeatedly warned her to avoid their landlord, who resides on site. A warning Hillary thought wise to heed given no one seems to want to share the details of his apparent criminal past. She feels she can guess, based on the sounds of arguments between her landlord and his wife, coming from their basement apartment. Though the thought of it makes her uneasy. But all is not as it seems.

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Your Questions Answered

First let me start off by saying I am loving the questions and feedback I’ve been getting from all of you via blog post comments, Facebook, and even face to face! I wanted to take moment to answer some of the questions I’ve been getting about “The House on Maple Street”.

When will the book be released?

I don’t have an official release date just yet so keep checking back for updates. I’m currently targeting mid-November. So just in time for holiday shopping and for your New Years Resolution reading lists.

Where will the book be available when it is released?

It will be available on Amazon.

What format(s) will it be available in?

The book will be available as an ebook on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. It will also be available in paperback. So if you’re hoping for a signed copy, have no fear! That will be possible.

Please keep your questions and comments coming!

Currently I am in full writing mode and staying ahead of schedule. We’ll see how long that lasts! In the coming weeks, I anticipate releasing a chapter of the book, to give you a preview. I’m also looking forward to the cover art selection process. And of course, I will be updating with the release date!

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Outlines and Sub Plots, Oh My!

Oh my is right! It’s been a busy week, dear reader. But I am pleased to say I have finalized my outline! My upcoming work, The House on Maple Street, is really starting to take shape and I’m so excited for it’s release in just a few short months.

When approaching my outline, I decided to approach it in two stages. Because the book has a distinct sub plot, interwoven throughout the main story. So, I started with the main story, putting together the key events of the book. This, of course, led to the discovery of more plot holes I had to fill in. Go figure! The number of times in this process that I’ve sat back and said ‘that doesn’t make any sense,’ is really surprising. Once the main story was mapped out and cleaned up a bit, I worked in the sub plot.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ve already had the opportunity to meet Evelyn Berke. And you know she is an amateur historian, researching the stories of the various buildings around town. She is also the main focus of the sub plot. As the story unfolds, you’ll get occasional glimpses into the work Evelyn is doing. The history of the Maple Street house plays an interesting role in the story that I look forward to sharing!

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Meet Evelyn Berke

It is my privilege to introduce to you Ms Evelyn Berke. Ms Berke serves as the head librarian at a small private college, affectionately known as JC. But her true passion is history. Evelyn is an amateur historian, working with the local historical society, compiling the stories of the people and places around the sleepy, little coastal town where she lives and works.

Meet Evelyn Berke

Originally from the mid-west, Evelyn completed her Masters degree in Library and Information Sciences twenty-five years ago. While she enjoyed the work, especially hosting story time for preschool children and watching young adults find their passion for reading, her real motivation for pursuing work as a librarian was that she would have full time access to documents on microfiche. To Evelyn, this was Eden! She could spend hours combing through old newspaper articles, uncovering the stories of her community.

Evelyn accepted her current posting with JC five years ago. It was her stay at the Maple Street Boarding House that persuaded her to take the job. She could sense the house was harboring a secret and she had to find out what it was.

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To Prologue or Not to Prologue

That is certainly the question. To epilogue for that matter. As a reader, I confess I often skip over prologues when I start a book. I’m also prone to skip the epilogue. The idea of gripping the reader with something of a trailer or preview of something that is going to happen later in the story seems a little unnecessary. Along those same lines, if an author has more to say, to tie up the end of a story, add another chapter. Skip the epilogue!

Yet when inspiration struck the other night, I found myself tapping away at my keyboard, drafting a prologue. I will say it was nice to interact with my characters, imagine their interactions with each other. It gave me a chance to understand their personalities, better than a character profile could allow me to do. It’s a piece of writing that probably will not make it into the final manuscript of the book. Mostly because I’ve since come up with an idea that focuses primarily on one character that I happen to like better than my current draft. But more on that later.

I welcome your feedback on this topic. Do you read the prologue when starting a new book? Leave me a comment!

Welcome to Maple Street

There was a vision in my head, when I started working out my plot line, of what the house my characters would live in would look like. I knew what I wanted it to look like but I couldn’t quite get my head around it. That is until I was combing through some old vacation photos. And there it was.

Welcome to Maple Street

I have found my inspiration for setting the stage for my story!

There has always been something that makes me wax poetic about a Victorian house with a turret. It’s somehow stoic yet romantic at the same time. I also enjoy the “gingerbread” details of the windows in this house. I can almost picture my lead character at the window in the turret, looking out over the quiet street on a sunny morning. Or one of my supporting characters reflecting on an unfortunate turn of events as rain gently patters against the dormer window.

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Throwing Up on Paper

Okay, I’m really talking about a thought dump but that title got your attention, right?!

My thought dump was a chance to get all of my ideas out of my head and down on paper. The point of this exercise was not to hash out a specific outline for my upcoming book, get into the minutia, or worry about historical elements of the story I’m working on. The point was to just throw up on paper. Every thought I had went on the list. What started to emerge was the plot and potential sub plots for the book. I was able to start high level character profiles. I have a new level of understanding of the world I’m creating for my characters.

One of the many benefits to this process, along with getting everything swimming around in my head down on paper, it helped me start to identify the holes in my plot. It helped me find the conflicts in my story; the elements that made no sense. That happened again as I’ve started developing specific character profiles but we’ll get into that later.

I consider a thought dump a living document. As I am moving through the process of creating character profiles and building the world my story will exist in, I will be coming back to my thought dump for revisions and starting to firm up a solid outline.

More to come! To stay in the loop on my progress, please be sure to subscribe below.

Ten Day Writing Challenge

As part of getting in shape to begin writing again, I started with a writing prompt per day writing challenge. If you’ve never tried something like this, I highly recommend giving it a try. Your challenge is to set aside one hour each day to take a prompt and just write. Don’t overthink this. No editing as you go. Just write. When your hour is up, allow yourself ten to fifteen minutes to reread your work and edit. Happy writing!

Day 1:

As she watched him from across the room, she’d never felt more certain of anything in her entire life.

Day 2:

It was at that moment that a strange feeling came over him, like he was watching himself from somewhere else.

Day 3:

Write a story based on this image.

Day 4:

A sense of satisfaction washed over him as he looked over his handiwork. This is just the beginning, he mused to himself.

Day 5:

She exhaled slowly, her back pressed against the door.

Day 6:

Her hands were washing the dishes but her mind was a million miles away.

Day 7:

As she looked across the vista, her soul felt at peace.

Day 8:

As the screen of her phone illuminated, she could feel the bile rising in the back of her throat.

Day 9:

Write a story from the perspective of a pet who has just learned they are adopted.

Day 10:

“And from what I hear, these detention centers aren’t all that bad.”

My Top Ten Reads

People often ask me for recommendations when they’re looking for a book to read. So I have complied a list of my top ten recommended books. These are in no particular order. I’ve provided links to Amazon for your convenience (not affiliate links) along with what I find meaningful about each of them.

A Cry in the Night

I discovered a copy of this book tucked away on a shelf in a room I was staying in years ago. It was a first of Mary Higgins Clark that I had read and it helped me discover a passion for great suspense.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

Who doesn’t enjoy a great stream of consciousness work?! John Irving does a brilliant job of this while not confusing his reader. I enjoy the plot twists and the delightful humor.

Hiding in Plain Sight

A non-fiction work that was recommended to me by a friend. I couldn’t put it down. This is a compelling tale of survival in improbably circumstances.

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte taught me the most valuable piece of relationship advice I’ve ever learned in life. If he doesn’t have a few skeletons in the closet, there’s probably a Bertha in his attic. Jane Eyre is a timeless tale that should be on every reader’s list.

Sarah’s Key

The interplay between history and it’s intersect with the modern era make this work captivating. I also appreciate the fact that it sheds light on a piece of history that is often overlooked.

The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel

Also a book that was recommended to me by a friend that I couldn’t put down. I so thoroughly enjoy the humorous moments in this story.

The Nightingale

A thrilling story that explores the complexities of family dynamics. This is a page turner I absolutely could not put down.

They Came to Baghdad

I’ve been known to call Agatha Christie novels a delicious indulgence. Her use of language is so artful and especially so in this particular work.

The Secret Keeper

Various reviews of this story describe it as ‘gripping’ and it is, in fact, just that. The jump between past and present adds to the suspense as the mystery unfolds.

The Emily Starr Series

Last but certainly not least, is the Emily Starr Series by L. M. Montgomery. This series was a favorite of mine from childhood. Something about Miss Starr was very relatable to me. She felt familiar and is a wonderfully complex character.

Starting From Scratch

I will admit, it has been a long time since I’ve spent any real time writing. By that, I’m not referring to emails or the documents I write in my 9 to 5. I mean sitting down and developing a plot line, telling a story, creating a character. One of my hobbies, as a teenager, was short story writing. I was the nerd who wrote her own material for the forensics club, in school. But it’s been quite a long time since I’ve scribbled out a tall tale.

So when the notion came to me to get back into writing, I realized this was a creative muscle I haven’t worked out in quite a while. As part of my mission to be successful with this project, I decided to do some exercises first. And for that, I turned to a board of writing prompts I keep at the ready on Pinterest. I picked one out and I started writing. No editing or back reading allowed. Whatever struck me from the board, I grabbed and ran with. The next day, I did the same thing. Then I did it again. Every day, I picked a new prompt, pulled up a blank documented and I wrote.

There is one piece that came out of this little exercise that I’m particularly proud of. The prompt was to write a funeral scene from the perspective of the deceased. For your reading enjoyment, I give you the untitled short story I simply refer to as ‘Day 2’:

Carnations, seriously?! So much for honoring your mother! What is this, a 1970s high school prompt?! Come to think of it, even my prom date sprung for a rose corsage. I battled cancer for heaven sake and look at the cheap ass flowers my kids picked. I bet it was that Melissa who picked these out. Never liked her. My David could have done so much better. Whatever happened to that Lisa he dated in college? She was such a nice girl.

I forgot how itchy this suit is. I should have donated it when I got sick, just to be sure they wouldn’t bury me in it. I never even liked this suit. I think I wore it to my nephew’s wedding. His wife, now she was a piece of work. Divorced twice, three kids. All illegitimate. Still not clear on how exactly that works but whatever. And then she ran off with her boss. Such a shame but he kind of had that one coming. And his new boyfriend is such a sweetheart.

They could have picked out a nicer box. How did I get stuck with such cheapskate kids?! John set up that funeral trust for our tenth anniversary. I nearly killed him. But there was certainly enough money to cover a nicer box than this. Polyester lining; I never. Not like they had to spend a lot on embalming. I’m practically back to my birth weight after all the chemo. I’m surprised they chose to have me buried in my most expensive wig. Would have thought that Melissa would have tried to sell it online already. Put me in some kind of headscarf, but not one of my good ones. She sure as hell wouldn’t let good silk go down with me. This thing is real hair. Bet that weirdo funeral director takes it off of me before they close the box.

Speaking of that Melissa, here she comes now. Oh, look at those tears. I bet she put eye drops in before they got out of the car. Gosh they almost look real. You’re not fooling anyone sweetie. Give it a rest. No need to make such an exhibition of yourself dear. She asked me if I wanted to end it about three months after I started treatment. Offered to slip me the morphine. I never told David. What a bitch my son married. But look at him. So handsome in his blue suit. Just like his father the day I married him. Thank God they never had kids. That woman as a mother; ugh.

And there’s my sweet Carolyn. Oh my love, please don’t cry. You did your best for your mother. At my bedside every day. Such a shame she’s a spinster and will probably end up with fifty cats. So smart and so beautiful yet so completely inept when it comes to men. What was the name of that last moron she brought home? Brandon, no. Aaron, no. Brian, that was it. God, what a moron! Someone should check that guy’s basement. I bet he murders his pets. That creep had the nerve to dictate her wardrobe, hair style. Wouldn’t let her drive to work. Yelled at her when she mowed her own lawn. I’m going to put in a bad word for him when I get where I’m going. Or you, know. Maybe a good word; depending.

Wow, now there’s a face I never thought I see here. My sister Gina. When was the last time I saw her?! Five years ago. Or was it six? She couldn’t remember my number when I was alive. Couldn’t be bothered to show up even after I left her that message about my diagnosis. David even tried to call her last week, when the doctor said my day was coming up. But here she is. She always could be counted on to show up for a free meal.

Oh my neighbor Jim is here. I don’t even have a pulse and he still makes it race. Look at those blue eyes. After John died, he was so kind. Took care of the lawn and cleaned the gutters. I wonder how he manages to stay in such amazing shape at 72. And still has that thick, raven hair. I really should have invited him over for dinner. Maybe light a few candles. What’s that Jim, the lamb is the best you’ve ever tasted. Why thank you; I just threw this meal together. Would you care for more wine? What’s that, you like my dress. Oh gosh, I just pulled this out of the back of the closet. Haven’t worn it in ages. And look at my hair, such a mess. You’re too kind. Oh, and there’s his wife, Carol. What a frump.

Here come the women from the ladies’ society from church. Really Liz; I look just the way I did before I got sick?! Time to have those cataracts done, dear. She always was blind as a bat. But I will miss Jenny. Such a gentle soul. So quiet and considerate. She visited me every week when I was going through treatment. She brought those wonderful cookies from that bakery on Main Street. Those were so good. I hope they have those where I’m going. Be a shame if they didn’t. Look at her, hugging my David. She’ll keep an eye on him for me. I know she will.

Wait, who on earth is that?! That’s at least the fifth person I’ve seen come through this receiving line to pay respects that I’ve never seen before in my life. Who does that?! Who honestly thinks some woman I’ve never met died. Gosh, I think I’ll take time out of my life to show up to her funeral and pay my respects. And look at this guy. Hey buddy, move it along before that sweat on your forehead drips on me and messes up my makeup. That poor artist had quite a time getting me to look like this. She really had to cake it on. I was waiting for her to pull out a pallet knife or a trowel or something. My face feels an extra three inches thick right now. Would it be rude to ask them to wash this crap off before they close the box?! I hate to think of spending eternity with this much whore paint on my face.

Must be getting close to service time. I think I hear the organ starting to play. I hope they got Edie to play this thing. I never liked Sandra. Nice woman but she plays everything at one speed and one volume. Slow and loud.

I wonder what they picked out for a menu for the lunch when this thing is over. I told David I wanted the lunch to be held at that nice bistro near the cemetery. We held John’s luncheon there. They do such a nice job and the food is wonderful. If that Melissa had her way, I bet I would get cold cut sandwiches and salads in the basement. God, can you imagine?! Those big ugly coffee urns. People eating on disposable plates. And bars as far as the eye can see. I would be mortified. I’m sure my David selected the plated menu and not that ridiculous family style nonsense. So tacky. My niece did that at Ted’s funeral. But then my brother-in-law never met a plate of food too big. Never understood what Lois saw in him. She always was the eccentric one in the family. I thought my mother was going to have a stroke when she announced she was going on that mission trip to South America. Didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Those people usually help build things or teach people something. She had no skills whatsoever. But she did it. Two years later she came home madly in love with that Jose. No, Juan. Wasn’t that his name?! Roberto. His name was Roberto. She sent him the money to travel to our hometown and never heard from him again. She was devastated. Until she met that Polish foreign exchange student a few weeks later, when she started college. Always loved that about Lois; she was a free spirit.

Here comes the Reverend. Oh come on! They got Reverend Tom?! The man has a speech impediment and a lazy eye. I specifically requested Reverend Mark. What is Reverend Tom even wearing?! Are those chinos?! Did he decide to phone this one in? Nope, that’s fine Reverend. Not a big deal today. Just sending me off to meet my maker here. No reason to dress for the occasion. Wait. Hold on. Oh he’s just here to pay his respects. Thank goodness! Hey, watch the spitting on the blessing there guy!

It’s getting quiet in here. Here come the last goodbyes. My sweet David. My first born. I love you my dear boy. The cards you made me on Mother’s Day out of construction paper. Misspelled words scribbled in crayon. Oh give it a rest Melissa! With the fake sniffles and the dabbing with the hankie. Where did she even find a hankie?! Seriously, how flipping pretentious. And my darling girl. Carolyn. Courage now, honey. I will miss your beautiful smile and hearing your wonderful laugh. I am so proud of the remarkable woman you have become. Remember me well, my love.  

Here it comes, the part I’ve truly been dreading. They’re going to close the lid on this hideous cheap box now. Which means I get to spend the next hour, laying here. In the dark. They could at least leave the lid open through the eulogy. How in the world am I supposed to hear it with the lid closed? And all this cheap polyester lining is going to muffle the sound. Because I’m sure dear Melissa wouldn’t hear of springing for the more expensive lining. Was she wearing my grandmother’s broach when she came through here?! She better not have been. That was supposed to be Carolyn’s. Ach! Wow, that funeral director isn’t exactly shy about throwing that extra bit of lining right in my face. Nope, can’t hear a thing in here. Gosh, this is going to be boring. I guess I should probably try to get comfortable. That’s going to be difficult in this scratchy suit. At least I can hear the hymns. They definitely got Sandra. Bet they’d all freak out if I started singing along.