Posts Tagged Romance

Beneath the Willows – Chapter 21

Simone’s head raged. Her, a delivery girl for this pompous planter! The mere thought of it forced her heart into overdrive; the desire to smash the painting over his egotistic head was near overwhelming.

True, he’d seen her art, and appreciated it for what it was. Yet he still had the gall to ask HER to deliver it! It was all she could do to keep from telling him to shove the painting up his, well, shapely derriere and take it himself!

She noticed its tight, carved form when he bent over to lift her box, the way the trousers curved in just the right places. Normally she stowed the paints in the music store across the pathway, but when she felt his eyes undressing her while she was in a compromising position, she couldn’t resist the all-to-good temptation.

Plus, she did some undressing of her own. He wasn’t too bad to look at, now she had spent part of the day checking him out. The trip to the market had been planned, hoping she might run into him again while shopping for lunch.

His appearance in the Square was a surprise, made more so with his purchase. Normally, she would have charged ten dollars for a painting, but for some reason, she wanted to test him – see if he was cheap, like most of the other men of his type.

He passed the first test, but failed the other. Instead of being a gentleman and looking away when she bent over, he took advantage. He was a pig. Just like all of the other men of his type. Perhaps a refined pig, one with good taste in art and women, but still pure grade swine.

He would pay.

“Rue St. Peters?” she said, after following him in silence for two blocks toward his home. They were at the intersection of Rue Chartes and Rue St. Ann, just up the road from all of the flop houses that lined Rue Bourbon. “Isn’t that a bit low for one such as yourself?”

He cocked his head. “What do you mean?” he said. “The neighborhood’s quite charming.”

She nodded. “I’m sure you see it that way, Monsieur,” she said. “Most of your type would. Perhaps living among the lower class makes you feel more powerful.”

He stopped and placed the box on the ground. “Now see here, Mademoiselle,” he said.

“Simone,” she replied, cutting him off.

“Simone,” he said, waving a dismissive hand. “Whatever. I’ve resided in that house for over ten years. I’m as much a part of the neighborhood as any other person living here.”

He tapped his silver-capped cane on the ground, creating a rapping noise that echoed along the brick streets, turning the heads of a couple standing beneath a porch awning.

“And what is it to you where I live?” he said. “I can live any damned place I choose!”

She smiled, not the face lighting one she used when truly happy, but one saying she had him on the ropes. Feeling his anger build, she thought it best to tone it down a notch. Inside, she laughed. It was like playing with a child.

“Of course you can, Monsieur,” she said. “Forgive my insult.” She opened her arms, still holding the painting in one of her hands. “I was merely suggesting you appeared to be living beneath your means.”

“That’s all.”

“Humph,” he said. “As if you knew my means. Didn’t I just buy one of your paintings?” He shook his head and grunted.

“I’d think you’d be more appreciative.” He stopped, awareness suddenly filling his face.

“Wait a minute,” he said, his eyes narrowing. He pointed his cane at her. “You’re trying to get me angry, aren’t you? You’re mad because I asked you to deliver the painting yourself.”

Uh oh, she thought. Maybe not a baby after all. Perhaps he was a BIT smarter than she imagined. He’d figured out her game rather easily, and now it was time to create a new one or she’d be in trouble.

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “That’s it.”

He leaned against the plastered wall of a row house and crossed his arms. Her eyes went to the box. “Well,” he said, shaking his head. “The game’s up. I’m not going any further with that shipping crate of yours until you fess up.”

Simone thought for a moment, taking time to quietly inspect his features. He appeared angry, yet at the same time playful. Was this part of a game as well? Who should she be in this charade they played: coy, innocent Simone, or worldly all-knowing Simone?

“You caught me, Monsieur,” she said, thrusting her hands into the air, but not before gently setting the artwork on the sidewalk, and leaning the painting against her leg. “Red handed, in the act; guilty as charged.” He rolled his eyes.

“What?” she said, frowning and lowering her arms. “You don’t believe me?”

“No,” he said. “I DO believe you. That’s the problem.” He laughed. “Here I was, trying to find a way to talk longer and in the process, insult you.” He shook his head. “What a world.”

Talk to me longer? She thought. It hadn’t occurred to her he might want to do such a thing. Something felt off with his statement, so she played it out further.

“You were being lazy,” she said, pointing her finger at his chest. “I thought you were a gentleman. Asking a woman to carry your painting for you?” she shook her head, allowing feigned anger to rise. “It’s sad to learn chivalry is dead.”

“What?” he said, confusion wrinkling his brow. “You asked if I wanted it delivered. I simply thought if you, uh, were the one who delivered it…” He paused, letting the sentence slip away as he looked into her eyes.

She shook her head slowly, tapping her foot. “You thought wrong, Monsieur,” she said. “Had you used your head for something other than a hat rack, you’d have realized asking a woman to do your grunt work was the wrong decision.”

There, she thought. That should put him in his place. He could have at least asked her to accompany him to see it hung, or to accompany the delivery boy to insure its safety.

Men never think, she said to herself. Not with the proper brain, anyway.

He ran his hand through his hair beneath his hat and frowned. “But,” he said. “I, uh, meant for… well, you see.” He stopped when she held up her hand.

“You’ve said enough,” she said. “Shall we make our way to your house? I’d like to eat dinner before sunrise.”

He nodded, bent down and lifted the crate, then motioned down the street. “Three more blocks and we’ll be there,” he muttered. “Allow me to carry your bag.”

She nodded, handing over the satchel in silence.  “Once we get there,” he said. “I won’t trouble you any longer.”

She sighed. What an idiot. Now he’s pushing me away. Men had such an interesting way of playing games. Just because she was insulted, didn’t mean she wanted to stop playing. How had he built a business being so meek?

“Monsieur,” she said. “What do you do for a living when not insulting talented, beautiful artists?”

They turned down Rue Royal, passing by mixtures of commercial shops, houses and large residences. Here, wrought-iron, gated passageways led into courtyards and gardens hidden behind colorful, two storied walls.

“I deliver things,” he stated without looking back. She smiled, hearing the sarcasm in his words. He owned a shipping company, so of course he delivered things. Moving her hair back over her ear, she picked up the pace until she was walking beside him.

“Like paintings?” she said, giving him a sideways glance. He stopped, smirked, then laughed.

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been known to ship a few of those, especially when a customer was moving their estate overseas.”

“Really?” she said, pretending as if she didn’t know who he was or what he did. “All by yourself?”

“I have a little help,” he said. A carriage rumbled past, horse hooves echoing off of the houses with every clip clop. The driver tipped his hat at the pair, which Tomas matched in return.

“That seems like a mighty chore,” she said. “With just a little help.”

She cocked her head, allowing the excitement in her stomach to grow. The rage in her head was gone, replaced by a buzzing just behind her eyes. “Are you a sea captain?”

He shook his head and turned. “No,” he said slowly. “But I do know how to pilot a vessel. My position dictates I stay behind, though I do love the sea.”

Huh, she thought. I’d never have guessed that. She glanced at his hands, once again noting the rough, yet delicate, thick length.

He cocked his head and leaned against a green stucco wall. “Why so interested?” he said. “A moment ago, you were tearing my head off, and now you’re curious about what I do.”

“Small talk,” she piped in. “I like to know my customers. Just in case they choose to become patrons.” She held up her hand. “I’m still upset at delivering your painting, though.”

“I see,” he said. “But not as angry as before.” He looked her up and down, then nodded. “I’m glad.”

“Oh really?” she said, not minding his eyes on her this time. “You should be. My anger knows no bounds.”

He pushed himself away from the stucco wall, then motioned toward the direction they had been walking. “Shall we?” She nodded.

“So if not a ship captain, then what?” she said, walking beside him again. She felt his warm presence radiating in an inviting way. “Warehouse manager, or shipping clerk, perhaps?”

“Why’s it important?” he said, pausing at the intersection of Rue Orleans to insure a carriage didn’t run them down as they crossed.

“Isn’t it enough knowing I find your work fascinating?”

She smiled, allowing the compliment to fill her being. He meant more, just didn’t say it. How hard should she push? “It’s not ‘that’ important,” she said, grasping for words. They were on the seven hundred block of Rue Royal, so her time was running short.

“I’m just curious.” She shrugged, spotting movement on a second floor balcony across the street. A gray-haired man sat in a rocking chair reading a book, smoke curling from a pipe clenched in his teeth.

“You seem to be well off,” she continued. “Perhaps even a planter by the clothes you wear.” She eyed him up and down to emphasize her point. “And your fiancé certainly seems like a belle.”

He sighed, gave her a sideways glance, then motioned her forward to cross the street. “My fiancé,” he stated. “I’m still shocked you knew about that.”

“I know many things,” she said. “It’s how a lovely woman like myself survives life as a street artist.” She caught his glance and noted he said nothing, only lifting his eyebrows as if impressed.

“Then you probably know I own and operate a shipping company,” he said, tossing the idea out casually. “And I now also own a plantation.”

She shrugged and smiled, yet said nothing. They turned up St. Peters then stopped about halfway up the block. Across from them rose a burnt-orange colored, two story house with green shutters hiding the windows.

Being a mix of French and Spanish influence, it was uniquely New Orleans. Gas lamps lined the wall between the windows, flickering in the fading light of late afternoon. Abutted next to the sidewalk, the house, like all others on the street, grew from the edge toward the sky.

“It’s a recent acquisition,” he said, pausing on the last word. His pointing finger led her gaze to the house across the street.

“We’re here,” he said. Looking both ways, he led her to a closed, black wrought-iron gate. An arched brick tunnel led through the building toward a garden peeking from beyond the gate.

“Lovely,” Simone said. “You’ve lived here for ten years?” She met his eyes, but only for a moment – just enough to feel the truth of his words.

“I have,” he said, his voice tinged with a hint of sadness. He turned his gaze upon his house. “I was born at the Willows, but this is home for me.”

“I see,” she said, scrambling for words. He appeared hesitant to walk beyond the passageway’s black gate, choosing instead to stare through the iron bars as if lost in memory. “It fits you.”

He glanced over his shoulder at her. “How do you mean?”

“It’s the way you gaze upon it,” she said. “Like seeing a dear friend you’ve always known.”

Like the way he looked at her.

He bobbed his head. “That makes sense, I suppose,” he said, then removed a key from his pocket, and inserted it into the inset lock. With a clicking twist, the latch opened and the gate swung inward, it’s iron screech of protest ringing off the bricks.

The dim, tunnel-like passageway gave way to a warm, open air garden. Expanding from the adjacent vine-covered, three story brick wall to her left, the oasis swept outward. Large, square paving stones sat within a carpet of green, forming a path from the tunnel to a small pond in the center. A willow tree draped over the water, offering a canopy of rustling green leaves as shade for a carved, wooden bench.

She turned, smiling at his almost sad face. The sun had settled behind New Orleans, yet still provided evening light into the rectangular courtyard. Its splashes of brilliance illuminated the red, yellows and purples of the garden’s flowers, while shimmering silver sparkles on the pond and casting long shadows into the lush, green corners.

She breathed in the fresh fantasy of honeysuckle and jasmine, their yellow and white blossoms intertwined among the leafy vines – striving for the freedom of a clear, blue sky. Using white, wooden lattices, they clambered the heights beside her, creating a living wall of wall of flowering green, – filling the air with aromatic dreaminess.

Nestled against red brick columns of the arched, open porch to her right, heart-red roses sang for attention, each planted in such a manner, as to demand attention. Matching the design of the entry tunnel, these arches formed two sides of the garden – balancing the mass of yellows and whites, with the individualism of the elegant roses.

The fourth side of the courtyard, opposite the tunnel, was solid red brick with three lion’s head fountains set within recessed arches. Matching the height and shape of the porch, the recesses rounded out the design, appearing as if they could one day be opened as well. The fountains spat water from their carved mouths into stone, half-circle basins, happily bubbling like an eager, forest brook. Set like walls, the sides of the basins rose high enough to act as benches, with blue-tiled sides and stone caps.

Above the fountains, three rectangular balconies curved out from the wall, matching the basins in shape, while using wrought iron railings to contain matching bistro sets. Shuttered windows flanked green wooden doors, shut tight to the mysteries that lay behind.

“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered, turning her head this way and that – taking in all of the elements of the oasis.

“Thank you,” he said, suddenly standing beside her. His tone breathed the words, and she shared the breath. They made their way to the pond, where a green, spotted frog hopped from one of the four lily pads –  rippling the water with a soft, deep kerplunk.

“I tried to bring what I loved most about the Willows here,” he said. “Recreate it in a small way, so I could enjoy it on evenings such as this.”

“What a blessing, Tomas,” she said, smiling into the water. The darkness of the ponds depth reflected their shimmering image upon its surface, flowing together like one of her paintings. “I could paint this scene every day,” she purred, “and never capture all of its essence.”

“You’re welcome to do so,” he said, moving closer to her. She felt it, more than heard – his warmth splashing her body with energy. “Anytime you wish.”

She nodded. “I’d like that,” she whispered, though why, she wasn’t certain – it just came out.

The light danced in this garden in ways she’d never seen in Jackson Square. She looked skyward, trying to discern from where it came. It had to be bounce light, the manner in which the courtyard was framed by surrounding buildings. Light did funny things when it reflected, and the color of the bricks combined with the greenery of the garden made this light unique.

“This way,” he said, motioning toward the porch. “I’ll introduce you to Joe.”

“Who’s Joe?” she said, slipping from the trance and following Tomas as he walked toward the central archway opposite the lions head fountains. A green door could be seen beyond, flanked by framed windows and as welcoming as the garden.

“My housekeeper,” he said. “Though he manages my home more than keeps it.” Once beneath, he pointed toward a small table against the wall, just beside a pair of whitewashed rocking chairs.

“You can put your things there,” he said. “We’ll take the painting inside.”

Dropping the paint box and bag in the place he pointed, he reached for the doorknob.

“Excuse moi?’ Simone said. “We?”

The feelings of awe were gone, replaced by tension in her stomach and a constriction in her throat.  “I said I would deliver your painting, and so I have.”

“It’s time that I bid you adieu, Monsieur Laiche.”

Tomas turned and cocked his head. “You don’t wish to meet Joe?” he said. “If you come to paint, he’ll need to let you in the gate.”

She breathed a breath, feeling a sense of being lured into something she did not wish to happen. However, she had agreed to paint in the garden. She sighed. Might as well see where this goes.  

“Very well,” she said. “I’ll meet Joe,” she said, lifting a finger. “But I’ll not stay for dinner.”

Damn! She thought. Why did I say that? The words had come without thought, as if on their own volition.

He chuckled, then turned the door latch. “I don’t recall inviting you,” he said. “Now you mention it, perhaps we can make room.”

“Maybe.”

He dipped his head inside. “JOE!” he called. “Could you come outside a moment, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

“Be right dere, Marse Tomas,” a deep, elderly voice called back. “I just put da po boys on for you an Marse Anton.”

Tomas smiled a boyish grin, the charm of it lifting her spirits. “He’s on his way.”

“So I heard,” she stated, trying not to sound interested, even though her heart raced with excitement. Isn’t this what she wanted? She’d followed the man into the Market of all things. Now he’d invited her to dinner. At his house, at HER silly suggestion.

Things were getting out of control, and she gathered her thoughts to make sure they no longer did. “It sounds like you already have plans for the evening, Monsieur,” she said. “Perhaps I’d best be on my way.”

A kinked grey-haired head poked out the door, then the entire man – wiping his hands on a dish towel as he stepped out onto the porch. Offering a bow, and then a grin, he looked to Tomas for the introduction

“Might I present Mademoiselle Simone,” he said, opening an arm wide as if sweeping her forward. “She’s an artist. Simone? This is Joe.”

“My, oh my,” Joe said, shaking his head – not hiding the fact his eyes were taking her all in. “What a pleasah, what a pleasah indeed.” He bobbed his head in a bow. “I’d shake ya hand, but I been choppin shrimp.”

She laughed, feeling the sincerity in his voice. “The pleasure is mine, Monsieur Joe,” she said.

“Jus’ Joe, Miss Simone,” he said. “I ain’t no one special. Joe’ll do just fine.”

She shook her head and smiled. “If you take care of this place, you’re more than special. I’ve never seen a garden like this in the entire city.”

Joe’s face lit up and he met Tomas’s eyes with a ‘where did you find her’ sort of look. The planter nodded in agreement and Joe turned back to Simone.

“Why thankya miss Simone!” he said. “I does my best wits what I got.” He pointed toward the door.

“You joinin us for dinner? Shore be nice ifn ya did.”

“I’m not sure Mademoiselle Bourgeois would approve,” she said, letting her shoulders slump. “Monsieur Laiche bought one of my paintings,” she added, glancing at Tomas as she did. “I helped him bring it here. As a gift.”

Tomas grimaced and frowned, yet Joe remained undaunted. “Don’t you be silly,” Joe said. “This house ain’t hers yet, Miss Simone. Ifn we wants comp-ny, we’ll ‘ave comp-ny.”

If it had been Tomas saying it, she would have said no. While she was intrigued by the man, he was still engaged to be married. However, the way Joe said it made her feel truly welcome as a guest. She looked to Tomas, whose grin looked a bit silly and shy.

“Very well, then,” she said, inspecting the richness deep within Tomas’s eyes. “I guess I’ll have to stay for dinner.”

“Sounds good,” he said. “Let me help ya wit ya things.” He lifted her easel, a rig as Tomas called.

“You say Mistah Tomas gone an bought one a yore paint-ins?” She nodded, lifting the wrapped canvas for him to see.

“Well I’ll be,” Joe said, gathering up the rest of her supplies, then waiting for her to enter the house. “In ya go, Miss Simone. I’ll be right behind.”

“You just tell ole Joe where to put em, then we’ll see about hangin that new paintin’.”

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Beneath the Willows – Chapter 2

Beneath the bright sun of a blue sky morning, Simone Plachette danced with two Creole girls in Jackson Square – laughing and twirling like a flock of gulls spinning toward tossed bread. Sunlight sparkled in her raven-black hair, as its shining ribbons splaying in time to the spin of her billowing, lavender skirt.

“Simone,” one of the girls said between giggles, grasping the woman’s hands as they spun in opposite directions. “You’re so much fun!”

“Oui!” another girl said. She took hold of Simone’s other hand and twirled, using Simone as the fulcrum. “I love when we dance!”

“Me, too,” Simone said, laughing. “I wish I were twelve, like you!”

The sisters’ parents watched from the steps of New Orleans famed, Lower Pontalba building. It was one of two newly constructed row houses bordering the formal gardens of the Square. Laughing along with the trio, the parents clapped when the imaginary music stopped. They smiled when the sisters hugged their twenty-six-year old playmate.

“Who wants to be in my next painting?” Simone said. Her eyes darted between each as she leaned down. She placed both hands on her knees, grinning at the girls face to face.

“ME!” one of the sisters said, throwing her hand up before the other could say a word. “I want to be! I want to be!”

“You win, Lucette,” Simone said, smiling at the sister who was first. She glanced at the girl who had not raised her hand as quickly. “Alise? I’ll paint you next time, oui?”

The girl nodded. “Oui, Simone!” she said. “Tomorrow?” Simone shrugged.

“Perhaps,” she said. “If I finish Lucette by tonight.”

“Do I get to keep the painting?” Lucette said, her wide, brown eyes eager with hope. Simone’s eyes drifted toward the parents and they nodded.

“You do indeed, Mademoiselle,” Simone said, motioning toward an easel placed beside the iron fence surrounding the Square. “Now, shall we begin?”

“Yes!” the girls said as one, jumping up and down like rabbits hopping in place. Simone brought her hands together in one, cracking clap.

“Good,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

Saturday morning brought hundreds of people into Jackson Square, especially on a mild, late spring day. Once an ignored military parade ground, it now thrived as a block-sized park. Black iron fencing enclosed stone-paved walkways, lush landscaping and even a small menagerie filled with exotic birds.

Opposite the river and across the gardens stood St. Louis Cathedral, with its trinity of tall, pointed gray spires forming the centerpiece of Catholicism in New Orleans. It, along with flanking buildings called the Cabildo and matching Presbytere, created a civic and religious backdrop to the formal gardens of Jackson Square.

Most people visited to enjoy the day, choosing to picnic, promenade or people watch. Some came after morning prayers, while others arrived early to take advantage of the vibrant markets filling the lands between Levee Street and the river.

Packed with fresh produce, exotic goods and vendors from around the world, the markets bustled with activity from sunrise to sunset. With available choices in a state of constant flux, they offered unique experiences found only within the French Quarter.

Ships covered the river behind the markets – either tied to the docks, anchored in the strong current or steaming up and down the thick, tan waters of the Mississippi River. Tall-mast sloops, steamships, paddle-driven riverboats – all plied the river delivering goods or people. At times, they were stacked so deep, that one might cross the river by walking deck to deck – never wetting a foot.

Even on Saturday, shipments continued. Slaves stacked bales of cotton into thick towers of white puffy cubes. Others unloaded hogsheads from mule-drawn wagons, each filled with anything from sugar to rum to sorghum syrup. Men sang, others yelled and foremen hollered instructions, filling the air with the human music of work. Neighing horses, stamping hooves and the jingle of tack; all contributed to the symphony of the docks.

Overhead, seagulls wheeled and cried, searching for food scraps either tossed or fallen onto the streets. Women with flowery, silk parasols strolled beside cane-toting lovers. They discussed news of the day, what might be best for breakfast, or anything in between. Street vendors unpacked carts, musicians prepared their instruments for mid-morning performances and artists put brush to canvas.

Simone’s easel sat on the lower corner of the Square, just outside the fence and across Rue St. Ann from the lower Pontalba Building. Across Levee Street from the market, her spot basked in shade given by low-hanging limbs of the live oaks, draping haphazardly over spear-tipped, wrought iron fencing.

“Simone,” Alise and Lucette’s mother said, having walked over after the girls joined her at her easel. Simone looked up with a smile, one that brightened moods with its dimple-forming radiance.

“Would you mind watching the girls while we go to Market?”

“Of course!” Simone said. She cast her gaze upon the sisters. “You don’t mind helping me, do you?”

“YAY!” Alise said. “Can I paint, too?” Simone nodded, lifting a small, stretched canvas from her nest of supplies leaning against the fence. She handed over a pair of brushes, as well as a palate for paints.

“Oui,” she said. “You shall learn to mix colors.” Alise clapped her hands and grinned at her mother.

“I’m going to be an artist, Ma-Ma!” The woman nodded at Simone.

“Tres bien, Alise,” her mother said, sharing a knowing look with her husband. Dressed for a Saturday stroll, the man tipped his tall, lavender top hat to Simone as the mother finalized instructions.

“Behave yourselves, mes cheris,” she said. “We shall return later this afternoon.”

“Oui, Ma-ma!” the girls said at once. “Bonsoir, Pa-pa!” Both parents nodded, then strolled arm in arm toward the market, leaving Simone with their daughters.

“Now, Lucette,” Simone said once the couple departed. “Sit still and we shall get started.”

“Oui, Simone,” she said, sitting on her stool.

“I want you to watch the seagulls as if you were one of them,” Simone said. Lifting her brush, she considered the little girl, then daubed the brush into a blue-green mixture of paint.

“What do I paint, Simone?” Alise said, inspecting a small, wooden palette, a knife and a tin of paints. Seated cross-legged against the fence, Alise had the supplies laid on the ground before her.

“Use the knife to daub paints onto the palette,” Simone said. “Choose red, the yellow and the cyan.”

Alise nodded, dipping the knife into the yellow. With a gleeful grin, she smeared the paint onto the palette.

Simone lost herself in the art, creating blocks of color that resembled nothing discernable. A couple stopped, spending moments inspecting Simone’s work. The woman, dressed in orange as if ready for a ball, grinned at the two girls.  Alise returned the smile, yet Lucette remained focused and perfectly still.

The beaux, however, didn’t appear interested in the painting at all. Instead, he stared down Simone’s open-topped smock, which revealed ample cleavage as Simone leaned forward.

Before she could say bonsoir, the woman noticed her beaux’s eyes and snatched him away by the arm – muttering about harlots as they walked away. By the look on the man’s face, Simone realized he was getting an ear full for his eye full.

“Ya no be temptin em like dat, Sea-moan-eh,” a husky-voiced woman said from behind.

“Dey may tink ya da devil, an cast ya out da city.”

Simone laughed, shaking her head while streaking a blue-green swath across her canvas. Alise giggled, yet continued mixing paints into colorful blobs. Lucette pretended to be a seagull.

“That’s the plan, Maria,” Simone said seductively. She narrowed her eyes. “Tempt them with my art, then steal their souls for eternity.”

An elderly woman passing by gasped, then scurried away – her fingers fiercely working a set of black rosary beads clutched in her gnarled, wrinkled hands.

Sister Maria, all three hundred plus pounds of her, leaped into the air and cackled, pointing a thick, bejeweled finger at the retreating lady. Multiple strands of gold and silver beads hanging around Maria’s neck clinked together, as if they, too, were laughing at the frightened woman.

“Ya put da fear in ‘er, Simon-eh!” Maria said, still chuckling. “Just as I be tellin ya.”

Simone brushed a streak of yellowish paint onto her canvas, pulling it down in a thick, feathery motion. Two other children, a girl and a boy, dashed across the street toward Simone and Maria, calling out, “Sister Maria!” “Sister Maria!”

“Just as you be telling me,” Simone said, replacing her brush with a thin, charcoal pencil. This she used to outline the area through which a river would flow.

“You’d think they’d have gotten used to me by now.”

“Dey don’t like seein what dey don’t undah-stand,” Maria said. “People be blind like dat.”

“What do you see?” Simone said, glancing over her shoulder at Maria. “What do you understand?” Maria cackled again, causing the children to cheer.

She plucked pieces of picayune candy from within the pocket of her ankle length, burgundy dress. A wide, black silken sash wound around her waist. Clasped tight with a golden buckle, it hid the candy’s location from the children.

“I know many tings,” Maria said, offering the candy to the children. “I see many tings.”

“I undah-stand many tings.”

She ruffled the hair of the boy and girl as they thanked her for the candy.

“It be takin more dan dis con-vah-sation for ya ta know what Maria know.”

Simone found it fascinating the way her friend talked. R’s became ah’s, and h’s didn’t seem to exist. They painted a lyrical language that tickled Simone’s heart with musical pleasure. Turning her name into three syllables was a delight, as if each was a separate word – with moan being her favorite.

She chose a color for the river, or rather a mixture of colors unique to Lucette. Something the children wouldn’t expect – a color matching the little girl’s spirit and essence.

Sparkling sea-foam green came to mind.

“But ya do see many tings, Simone-eh,” Maria continued. “Ya paint like da mojo be flowin true ya and on to da canvas.” She nodded, leaning closer to inspect.

“Ya see da girl as if she be da water and da gull at dee same time.”

Simone stopped, her brush lingering over the canvas without making a stroke. She turned. “You can see that in my painting?”

The woman nodded, her multi-colored tignon shaking its beads and bones in agreement. Covering her hair, the linen wrap spun around her head, spiraling upwards in swirls of burgundy and black.

Simone pursed her lips and smiled, completing her mark on the canvas.

“Lucette?” she said, turning the easel so the girl could view the work in progress. “What do YOU see so far?” The girl cocked her head in thought, placing a finger to her mouth.

“I see myself flying away to a new, magical land,” she said, her voice soft and quiet. So much so, that the chattering gulls flying overhead almost drowned her out.

“Some place beautiful, just beyond the water!” The children nodded.

“Really?” Simone asked.

Maria’s face went still as she stared at the little Creole girl. Lucette bobbed her head, almost laughing.

“Flying tickles!”

“I bet it does,” Simone said, twisting the easel back. She daubing paint onto her brush from the palette.

“I wish I knew how to fly.”

Morning turned toward noon, with warm, cooling breezes flowing in from the river. By the time the parents returned, Alise had mixed a colorful mess on her palate and Lucette was squirming like a trapped squirrel.

“LUCETTE?” their mother called out, standing inside the garden and beneath the oaks. She held a basket, while in the distance her husband was spreading a blanket atop the green lawn.

“ALISE! Time to go. Tell the lovely artist good day and come along!”

“Bonne journée, Simone,” Lucette said, gathering her skirts and standing. “Will you be here tomorrow painting my picture?”

“Oui,” Simone said, smiling. “I might even be finished!”

“Oh goody!” Lucette said. “Then I shall see you tomorrow! Au Revoir!”

“Au Revoir,” Simone replied. Maria said nothing, simply staring at the two girls who dashed toward the gate with pigtails bouncing.

Maria mumbled, opened a small, cloth bag and took a pinch of powder from within. Bringing it to her lips, she kissed it then tossed the powder into the air.

Simone watched, fascinated by the ritual. “A blessing?” she said, cocking her head. Maria smiled, though only in response.

“Soom-ting like dat,” she said quietly. “Ya coom by latah, Simon-eh. We be avin tea.” Simone smiled, her face lighting up like Lucette’s colorful form on the canvas.

“I would like that!”

“Den I see ya soon.”

“Au Revoir, Sister Maria!” the other children said, almost as one.

“Come, lit-luns,” she said, opening her arms wide. “Let Sister Maria be givin yas da hug.” The two children jumped into her arms, allowing themselves to be absorbed into her bosom.

“Dere ya be,” she said, rocking them back and forth. “I be keepin ya safe. Ya be okay dis night.”

Once she let them go, Maria waggled an amethyst-ringed finger at Simone. “No be late,” she said. “Da tea’ll go cold if ya be.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Simone said, smiling after the departing priestess. She returned to her painting.

Lucette the Gull.

That would be the title. A beautiful one, about soaring and flying free.

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Beneath the Willows – Chapter 1

Hello Lovely Readers!!

As promised, I am honored and proud to present my first novel, “Beneath the Willows” for your reading enjoyment. It’s been revised to the point of presentation, yet has NOT been professionally edited. Therefore, if you find a typo, or misplaced word…. well, that’s the way it is. Comments are welcomed and encouraged, an please LIKE and Share with others. Tales are meant to be shared, and I hope you find this one worthy of such an endeavor.

Beneath the Willows was inspired by an envelope, a family artifact left over from a passed down, now lost stamp collection I once had in my possession. The physical address simply states, “The Willows – Port Gibson, Mississippi.”

The Louisiana portion comes from the father’s side of the family, where a strong French connection with New Orleans continues from the 1700’s until this very day. Laiche` is my grandmothers maiden name, and while I’d always know it, I never realized the depth until doing research with Ancestry.

Finally, while family names are used in this story, this is a work of complete fiction, and all references to said families are fantasy and not to be considered real. Where possible, I used historically accurate places and people not associated with the characters. Also, this work is protected by Copyright © 2016 by Stephen R. Gann. No portion of this story may be used without the expressed, written consent by myself, the author.

Madame Olympe, for instance, was a real shop keeper in New Orleans, selling hats (chapeaux) to the wealthy elite of the city.  I give credit for this information (and many of the historical references and dialect) to the book, “Social Life in Old New Orleans, Being Recollections of my Girlhood: Ripley, Eliza Moore Chinn McHatton, 1832-1912.”

There are many people I wish to thank and express gratitude for helping to bring this story into our reality, so I’ll simply say THANK YOU to everyone all at once. You know who you are, and when this book is officially published, I’ll put your names in the credits.

This book is dedicated to my son, Carson. You dared me to walk the walk, do as I preached and write a book. Without your challenge, I would have never felt inspired to complete this novel. Thank you.

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Therefore, without further adieu, I present:

BENEATH THE WILLOWS  – A Historical Romance by Stephen R. Gann

CHAPTER ONE

Beside still, dark waters of a lily pad pond, Tomas Laiche hid beneath the Willows. It wasn’t exactly hiding, because everyone knew he was there; more like avoiding the situation into which he’d been tossed. His mother played an important part, pulling him from the freedom he relished running his New Orleans shipping company and back into the plantation life from which he’d fled.

His father was dead, supposedly from heart failure, but Tomas knew better. No one found floating in a backwater bayou died from something so benign. His family plantation was on the brink of bankruptcy, both from bad luck and bad decisions. This left his aging mother to manage the vast holdings alone.

And Tomas?

Well, he was about to tether his soul to a Louisiana sugar baron named Bourgeois. And while he might not be hiding, he damned sure was avoiding.

“Marse Tomas?” a woman called out from the direction of the Big House. Less than one hundred yards away, his mammy’s voice boomed as if she were right behind him.

“Damn that woman,” he muttered, leaning forward from the hand-made bench upon which he sat. Lovingly crafted by his father from the fallen boughs of an ancient cypress tree, it had always been his favorite thinking place since he was a child.

An equally ancient Willow tree draped its spindly limbs around Tomas and his bench like yellow-green hair from a wood sprite. Depending upon the season, the locks either sheltered the chair in cool, delightful shade, or highlighted it with colorful ribbons of leafy, free-spirited fronds.

“Marse Tomassss!”

He bent over and dug a moist, year-blackened pecan from the spongy soil beneath his feet. Rolling the nut in his hand, he tossed it toward the closest lily pad. It thumped and slid across the pads green surface, plopping into the water at the end of its journey.

The pond reflected truth, revealing the bench and Willow for what they were: a requirement of each, one defining the other; shared sentiments of both the bench and the Willow. Rarely clear enough to see into the depths, the pond waters soothed its visitors with soft ripples, croaking frogs and the occasional plopping splash of a hungry fish.

Azaleas, clematis, monkey grass and rushes enveloped the pond, holding it close like a protective mother. Three pecan trees draped their arching limbs over the water’s edge, dipping the trailing tips of Spanish moss into the darkened waters.

“Marse Tomas!” The voice was closer. “I knows you in there!”

Above it all was the song of the Cicada. An effervescent composition of buzzing – rising to a crescendo, then softening into silence. At times, the winds through the Willow branches was all that was heard, filling the pond with feelings of place and purpose. Then there would be silence, and all was quiet; only the shimmering of willow leaves – certainly not the bellowing of Mammies.

“I’m not coming out, May,” he said, calling back over his shoulder toward the approaching housekeeper.

“And I’m not hiding!” He pushed reddish brown bangs from the front of his eyes and tucked them under the brim of his gray, felt planters hat.

The willow branches rustled as May pushed her large body through, taking up position behind and to the side of Tomas. She crossed her arms across her white ruffled blouse and scowled.

“I ain’t never said you was.”

“Sure sounded like it,” Tomas said. He picked up another pecan lying at the toe of his black riding boots. He heaved the nut toward the farthest lily pad and missed – finding one of the dozen or so red-blossomed azaleas surrounding the pond. Two mockingbirds burst from the bush, crackling in protest as they sought shelter in a nearby tree.

“Them’s your words, not mine,” May said, watching the birds fly toward freedom.

Tomas shrugged and leaned back against the fan-shaped spokes of the cypress bench – feeling the hard, aged wood press against his spine. Nestled beneath the umbrella-like cascade of Willow fronds, the bench provided Tomas a perfect view of the oasis spread before him.

“Sides, Miss Mammie’s fit to be tied,” she said, shaking her head. Multi-colored beads dangling from her dark blue, turban-like tignon clicked together like rattling dice.

“You supposed to be dressed for Miss Marg’rite’s arrival.” She placed her hands on her hips, forcing her ankle-length blue skirt to billow outwards. Tomas grunted.

“Why you lurkin’ like some scared child? Ain’t like she gone bite-cha.”

“She might,” Tomas said, tossing another nut. The Pecan trees scattered around the plantation created a never ending supply for the squirrels, who deposited them in the grass beneath the bench.

“Besides,” he continued. “Who said I wanted to see Marguerite, anyway? Don’t I have a choice in the matter?”

He heard the beads rattle again, as the massive May shook her head. “Nope,” she stated. “You ain’t got no say atall, Marse Tomas. If Miss Mammie’s invited em, you gone be there.”

The rhythmic buzzing of Cicada’s filled the trees, urgently building, then fading into quiet. Tomas imagined the winged locusts descending upon May and carrying her off, perhaps dropping her into the nearby Mississippi River.

Faint hope in that happening, he thought. They’re probably scared of her, too. That made him laugh

He turned, scowling at the Negro housekeeper. She’d earned her freedom almost ten years ago, yet ever since he was a little boy, she’d ruled over him like HE was the slave and she the master. Well, mothered was more truthful. She treated Tomas like he was her own.

“May,” he said. “I’m twenty-nine-years old. One might think I could choose what I did with my life without being told.”

“What gaves you that idea?” She chuckled. “Since Marse Francois up an died, you ain’t got no choice.”

“You gotsta do whats good for tha Willows.”

Tomas sighed and looked toward an algae-stained marble statue across the small pond. Tucked between two blossoming azalea bushes, the stone boy held a tipped bucket streaming water into a marble, birdbath basin. Red petals from fallen blossoms floated in the water, bobbing over ripples formed by the tiny waterfall.

“I reckon,” he said, seeing his life trickle away like the bucket’s water. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

How does it refill? He ran his fingers through his reddish brown bangs, lifting his wide brimmed hat as he did. He’d come to the pond for as long as he could remember, and not once had he asked that question of the fountain.

“Now I don’t blames ya,” May said. “The Willows ain’t New Orleans.” She brightened.

“But miss Marg’rite? She’s a gorgeous girl. All the folks say so.”

“She’s a witch,” Tomas said, turning to toss his final pecan. He aimed for the farthest pad and missed, landing it next to a partially submerged turtle, who ducked and swam into the depths of the pond. “I’m sure she hasn’t changed since the last time.”

“I don’t know ‘bout dat” May said, shaking her head, eyes watching where the pecan landed. “But your momma’s right fond of her.” May nodded. “Says she’s a God-fearin woman.”

“I’m sure it’s the other way around,” Tomas said, muttering under his breath.

May frowned and crossed her arms. “Now I ain’t gone hear no more lip from you, Marse Tomas.”

“You get yourself up to tha house and get ready, you hear me?”

Tomas grinned, his eyes twinkling like he’d heard a joke that no one else had. He stood and wiped his hands on the bright, green pantaloons he wore tucked into knee-high, black leather boots.

“Yes’um, massah,” he said, dipping his head like one of the field hands cutting sugar cane. “I’za be a comin right now!”

“Don’t you be sassin’ me, Tomas Jacques Laiche!” May said, her scowl growing deeper along with her voice. He knew that tone well, and when he was younger, it’d been followed by a switch across his backside.

“Go on, now,” she said, pointing a thick, dark finger toward the house. “Get!”

Tomas scurried from the lily pad pond as if he’d been swatted, bursting through the branches and hustling toward the house. Looking over his shoulder, he slowed to a walk. Straightening his dark green, knee-length planter’s coat, he brushed away any leaves that might have clung on his escape.

With a final adjustment to his gray hat, he tucked his bangs beneath the brim, smiled, shook his shoulders and sauntered toward the house.

He was ready.

He’d walked the path to the Big House from the grove so often, he no longer saw the beauty that made up the manicured grounds of the Willows Plantation. Having grown up here, the beauty was now background scenery, nothing more.

He didn’t see the fourteen billowing Willow trees guarding the grassy carriage path flowing from the river to the mansion’s front stairway. Groundskeepers kept the streaming limbs over the path cut high, so as to create a leafy-green tunnel which whispered shimmering welcomes when breezes rustled through the dancing fronds.

He didn’t see the white, Greek Revival mansion rising from the lawn. Three stories were supported by thick, round columns standing atop the roman-arched, brick wall of the first floor. Rose vines clambered up wooden trellises placed between the arches, coloring the foundation in shades of pink and red.  A near perfect square, the house stood like a sparkling gem atop a field of floral green.

He didn’t see the four triangular dormers perched atop the gray slate roof, their green shuttered windows gazing toward the river – winking at riverboats steaming along the Mississippi’s tan, muddy waters.

Tomas noticed none of this these days.

What he did see, was his mother waiting at the top of the sweeping stairway. Her hands pressed firm against her slender waist, forcing her frilly, dark green hoop dress to swirl over the veranda like a French parasol.

A coachman in full green and white livery of the house waited at the base of the stairway, observing Tomas’s approach. Tomas stopped next to the Negro servant and glanced up at his glaring mother.

“How angry is she, Jim?” Tomas asked without looking at the servant. “Dare I venture upwards?”

“If you value your life you will, Marse Tomas,” Jim said, his eyes darting between Tomas and his mother. Tomas nodded, chuckling quietly before making the ascension.

“Glad it ain’t me,” Jim muttered.

Tomas stopped halfway and cocked his head at the comment. Smirking and shaking his head, he completed the climb to his glaring mother.

As Tomas arrived at the veranda, she tilted her head, eyes sweeping toward the distant levee.

“Good morning,” he said, bending down and kissing her on the now exposed cheek. “I hope the day finds you well?”

She pursed her lips and lifted her eyes to Tomas, though not until she offered a slight smile from her only son’s kiss.

“Finds me well?” she said, her tone saying the kiss did nothing to staunch her annoyance. “How well do you THINK I am, Tomas Jacques Laiche?!”

The second time his full name had been used. Was the entire household angry with him? He inspected the wooden decking of the veranda, noting two of the boards were beginning to lift.

“The entire Bourgeois family is coming for lunch,” she said. “Including that lovely daughter of theirs, and you go off to hide.”

Tomas grimaced, wincing at her biting tone. “I wasn’t hiding,” Tomas said, though not as powerfully as he would have liked.

He caught a glimpse of a doorman’s widened eyes. The man looked away when Tomas challenged his look.

“I had to think,” Tomas said, feeling as if he were twelve years old. Her looks were one thing, but the tone of her voice sunk him to childhood in an instant.

“Hopefully about your place at the Willows,” she said, her tone growing more intense; if that were possible. “You spend all of your time in New Orleans while the heart of what your father and I built is wilting away.” She sniffed, as the corners of her eyes filled with moisture.

“Ever since Francois passed, God rest his soul,” she said, crossing herself. “You’ve avoided me like I had the yellow fever.” Moisture turned to tears.

“Even when you DO come to visit, you hide away in some remote part of the property; thinking as you call it.”

Tomas met his mother’s eyes, feeling her anguish wash over him. A ploy to tug at my heart, he thought to himself. She was quite adept at it, and if she intended to make him feel guilty, it was working.

“Do you hate me that much, Tomas?”

Tears turned into all out sobs, and the French powders she used to color her face began running in drizzling streaks of black.

“Oh, mother,” Tomas said, pulling her dainty frame against his chest, her head resting just beneath his chin. Tomas wasn’t a massive man, standing just under five foot six inches. His mother, though, was much smaller at four foot eleven. She was like a child to him, though in stature only – especially now.

“It’s okay,” he said, patting the top of her head. “It’s okay. I’m here. I’ll be ready for their arrival.” She sniffed and nodded, glancing up with water-filled eyes.

“Thank you,” she sniffled. “I’m so glad. You’ve no idea how difficult it’s been with your father gone.” She sniffed three times, as if trying to stop the rain.

Pulling away, she gazed into his eyes as his hands rested atop her shoulders.

“The Willows is failing, Tomas,” Mammie said, sadness and sincerity filling her face. “I’m getting old, and with the two years of ruined crops, I can’t see it surviving much longer.” He nodded and sighed, cocking his head as she spoke.

“If we don’t keep up, we’ll lose everything we’ve worked so hard to build.”

“I know,” Tomas said.

“Do you?” She said, searching his eyes. “Do you, really?” Tomas looked toward the river, allowing the Willow trees to guide his view. “Your father and I built this plantation from cypress swamps more than thirty years ago.”

“This is our life’s work. You were born here, raised here.” She gently poked his chest, right atop his heart.

“You’re a part of the Willows, Tomas. It’s time you came home.”

“More and more companies are hiring us to ship their goods,” he said, gasping her hands in his as he turned to face her full on.

“We’re not just transporting our own sugar these days” he said. “We’re shipping cotton, timber, textiles. It’s 1853, and the South is blossoming.” He sighed and shook her head.

“We’re positioned to bloom with it, mother.”

“Riley Mac can run the Company,” she stated, shaking free from his grasp. For as far back as he could remember, his mother could change moods faster than a Gulf storm appeared from clear, blue skies.

“I need you here.”

He sighed again and shook his head. He loved the land, yet loved New Orleans more. The vibrancy of the growing city was like a cultural gumbo, filled with flavors, scents and tastes pouring into him like breath itself.

It was a delicate balance he walked, and if not for his father’s death, he’d not have come back to the plantation. For him, the Willows felt like the past, like chaining himself to an old, never-changing ideal. New Orleans was the ocean – open and free, even a little dangerous. It was dynamic.

“I’m here now,” Tomas said, turning his mother toward the door by placing a hand at her waist. “That will have to do.” She nodded.

“I suppose,” she said. She looked at him as they passed through the opened pair of green, cypress-wood doors and into the mansion’s foyer.

“Marguerite’s coming, so look your best for her, dear. She’s always adored you so.”

“Ah, so the truth of the matter comes out,” Tomas said, laughing. “Marry me off to Marguerite so I can be settled down, is that it?”

His mother gasped, as if she’d been caught in a monumental lie. She placed her hand over her heart.

“Why, Tomas!” she said, drawling the words like a young, Georgia Belle. “What-evah do you mean?” Laughing, Tomas kissed her cheek, then left to get changed.

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Squeezing Juice from Pineapple Juice

 

Hello Lovely Readers,

It’s me, back again after a semi-long absence. But I was away on a most important, juice-squeezing quest.

Revisions.

As the title states, that’s what they’re all about. Getting the best from the best, then capturing it on paper.

I’ve just finished the 3rd revision to Beneath the Willows, my historical romance novel set in antebellum New Orleans. The story is strong, the pacing solid and the characters are happy. Which, of course, is most important as it was they who shared the tale with me in the first place.

And then there’s Frank and Francine – my ideal readers. They’re pleased as alcoholic punch. I even received a congratulatory post card from Frank’s vacation in the Caribbean. It was nice, as the picture was of him lifting a peach-colored, pineapple cocktail in toast.

So what have I learned?

Well, I’d have to say that the process of writing makes  writing better. As I moved through the novel, I noticed a tighter and smoother flowing story the deeper I went.

The beginning was sort of rough, while the end was near polished and dynamically charged. Therefore, more work was needed in the beginning.

Which is perfect, as the beginning is what makes you, the reader, want to continue onward.

Next, I’ve realized that I’m cursed with repetitive words. You know, words that repeat several times until you’re repeating yourself over and over repetitively? Those.

Fortunately, it just takes a little squeeze of the juice, and they’re caught in the cheesecloth. Gone, though some slip through. Maybe they’re even tasty.

And finally, there’s death.

Some characters and side tales, while delightful and filled with color, simply. Must. DIE.

Gone. Tossed into the bin of irrelevant threads, where those story arcs we love must find their way. “Kill your darlings,” King says, and they are sweet. We adore them, fascinated by their stories as if watching a street busker juggle chainsaws. We’re sucked in, then lose our way. Probably a fiver, too.

They, too, get caught in the cheesecloth.

So there we have it, writing fans! A few thoughts on revisions, and how to get juicer juice from the pineapple juice. (I meant to do that)

Cheers, and until next time,

Fair Winds and Following Seas, my lovely reader, wherever your horizons beckon…

-Stephen R. Gann

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Feedback Aftermath: Moving into Rewrite

Hello Lovely Readers!

Yes, it’s been awhile since I last posted. I took 6 weeks off to do other things besides write. I read, I played some World of Warcraft, attempted to cross country ski, visited with family and friends, read some more – including my own book.

Oh yea, signed some new clients, too. Hint: it helps in paying bills.

And during all of this time, my novel, Beneath the Willows, has been in the hands of a fabulous group of beta readers while I occupied my mind with more mundane things, chewed my fingernails to the quick and waited.

Patiently.  Waited.

There are the terrible cliches about paint drying and watched pots that never boil; time crawling. You know those, right? They’re TRUE! Light, but that was a long time to wait. Every minute ticking by with eternal ‘clicks’ of the clock.

Tick: The stars wheel overhead, fading into daylight with the rising sun.

Tock: The sun sets, dipping below the horizon to welcome a descending blanket of darkness.

Eternity passes, and now I’m prepared to move forward into REWRITE! Monday morning, January 25th, I shall take the feedback I’ve received and create a better, more dynamic novel.

To those who’ve read the book in all it’s first draft glory, typoos and all, I salute you!  Your feedback was valuable, your gift of reading invaluable and your desire to see my manuscript succeed priceless. I hope I can live up to the expectations.

And when it’s all done, the ink dried and a new project begun – dinner’s on me.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, lovely readers, wherever your horizons beckon…

Stephen

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What IS Romance, Anyway? Curious Minds Want To Know…

Good evening, lovely reader!

Yes, I’ve been a bit remiss in posting. I think it’s been fourteen days since I last put something to the boards. Yikes! I’ll be better, promise.

Frank’s still away in the Bahamas and yet to send me a postcard. Ah well, he deserves a vacation.

In the meantime, Francine and I have been getting to know one another. Which is why I’ve not written a description. I will soon, but for now, updates will have to do until I have a more clear picture. She’s pretty awesome, I can tell you that much.

I crossed the 60K word mark today, something I’m quite proud of. The story is solid, the pieces falling into place and now it’s into transitions and more of the sensual parts. I’ve saved those for last, leaving markers where they should appear in text. Francine’s really interested to see what comes from those, seeing that is why she took the job. Now that we’ve met and begun writing together, they should fit quite nicely.

Okay, to the main event: Romance. Oooh lala!

Have you ever looked it up the word Romance in wiki or some other dictionary? Rather disappointing if you ask me: “a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.” OR “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.”

Seriously? A feeling or a quality? Seems a bit too tiny if you ask me.

So, while walking with a friend of mine through autumn-stained forests  here in British Columbia, we discussed what Romance meant to me, how I would describe it and why that was so important to define.

You know? It took a few minutes (okay, several minutes) to come up with something deep and meaningful. Sure, it’s easy to say, ‘love,’ but after writing more than 60% of a novel about it, I felt I should have a more complete grasp; something with substance. One I could describe to Oprah or to Ellen when I’m invited onto their shows to talk about my not-yet-published but absolutely fabulous romance novel.

Here are some of the words that came out. Unabridged, unedited and completely from memory.

Energy between two people. Connection. Connective, reflective energy that builds as people move closer to one another. Emotional energy of connection creating passion for life, for self and one another – reflected back and forth until the two become one.

The list went on and on, but one thing was clear. The word connection & energy appeared to be the ties that bound them all together. My friend agreed, though she added many more words as she often does.

Think about what Romance means to you.

I would guess that for every person who answers, each will have their own definition. It’s a huge genre, that’s for sure. As large as the word LOVE, in fact – conceptual with multiple, possibly an infinite number of meanings.

FOR ME, whether it be between people or a person & place – connection is key. And it must be shared, reflected if you will, like a mirror shows you for you. Except in romance, the mirror is the other person and YOU are seen through them. The energy created in that reflection builds a bond; a connection. And, as that energy intensifies, the connection becomes the stronger and the two move closer.  Finally, the energy builds, intensifies until the two become one.

So there you have it, romance fans! My very own definition in less than one hundred words. If that is too many for you, then might I offer this: “Emotional energy of connection, creating passion for life, for self and another – reflected back and forth until the two become one.”

I can live with that. Someone call Ellen. I’ll be ready by the end of November, when I expect to finish first draft.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, my lovely readers, Wherever your horizons beckon…

Stephen R. Gann

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Frank, My Ideal Reader, Takes a Holiday. What Now?

Hello Lovely Reader!

Frank, my ideal reader, has left for the Bahamas, taking a holiday after reaching the halfway point of our novel. I’ve moved well beyond 50K words and plowing toward 60. It took sixty four days to reach the halfway point, though only portions of that was spent writing. I fully expect to finish by the end of November, if not before.

So why did Frank go? Why did he give up the free coffee and head for the beach just when we’d crossed the downslope?

I found out yesterday while I prepared to write at my little corner table inside Steveston’s fabulous coffee and bookstore: Village Books.

“Stephen, my boy,” he said, offering me a bag of Kicking Horse coffee beans, the dark roasted variety called, 454.

“I’ve done all I can for you in this romance novel of ours.”

“What?” I said, mouth dropping open in shock. I took the beans, noting that a card was attached with a red, silk ribbon. If I’d know he was leaving, I’d brought a gift, too.

“What do you mean? We’re just getting to the good stuff!”

“That’s the point, kiddo,” he replied, kicking his booted feet atop my table at Village Books. Fortunately, no one noticed. “The good stuff’ll need a different ideal reader if you want it to connect.”

“Ah,” I said, nodding. I had wondered if this might be the case. Apparently, I was correct. I took a sip of my maple macchiato.

“Please, continue.”

He smiled, hoisting his mug of dark roast. “I talked to a friend of mine,” he said. “And she’s willing to sit in for me, so you don’t feel so alone.”

“Willing to meet her?”

“Hell yea!” I said, leaning forward. “What’s her name?”

“Francine,” he said, sipping his coffee and smiling at me over the top of the mug. “She’ll be here in a few moments.”

“You’re going to introduce me, right?” I mean, I’m sort of shy. I don’t just walk up to random women and invite them to be my ideal reader. Surely he understood that.

He shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “I can’t be seen here, or she’ll get suspicious.”

Oooh, I thought. That sounds intriguing. What did he mean by suspicious? My mind went to thoughts of a hot, torrid affair that Frank might be a part of. That sly…

“Ah,” I said, choosing not to ask.

“She knows who you are,” he said. “She’s accepted the job and will meet you here.” He took a final sip, then placed his mug on the table.

“Well, lad,” he said, pushing his chair away from the table with a screech.

“I’m off for sunnier climates. Keep going, work with Francine, and I’ll catch up when you’re done.”

Tears formed in the corner of my eye as I watched him stand.

“You’re really going?”

He nodded, hoisting his courier bag atop his shoulder as he pushed the chair back under the square, wooden café table.

“Not for good,” he said. “Just for now.”

“Connect with Francine. She’ll give you what you need.” As he walked toward the door, he turned and tipped his hat.

“Adios, amigo!” he exclaimed. “Write on, brother! Right on!”

He vanished through the door as I stared, watching him fade into the setting sun of sugar white sands and green, rolling waves. But not alone, I noticed, smiling to myself.

Two kids, a bikini-clad woman and a fluffy, black dog joined him on the beach, gathering together to wave back at me.

“Thank you,” the voices whispered from the fading scene, and even the dog barked a farewell. For now.

“Thank you, Frank,” I whispered, daubing my eyes with a paper napkin. “Thank you for everything.”

Sighing, I flipped open my Surface and opened to the document about Simone, imagining the scene as I stepped forth into the writing. She was about to experience tragedy, and I really needed to connect with the horror in order for you, my lovely reader, to experience it.

Bells jingled from the Village Book’s door, drawing my eyes toward the sound – hearing the click of thin, spiked boot heels upon the concrete floor.

“Hello,” a raven haired woman said to me, standing by the chair that Frank had recently vacated.

“I’m Francine. Mind if I join you?”

Fair Winds and Following Seas my lovely reader, wherever your horizons beckon.

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Milestones, Millstones and Markers

Hello Lovely Reader!

I find this hard to believe, but I am 4K words away from the midway point of my 100K goal for completion. That’s right: I sit at 46K words on the novel I started in early August. So, if all goes as planned, completion should be at the end of November, if not earlier. I’ve discovered as I progress deeper into the story, my pace of writing picks up speed as well.

Instead of 5-800 words, I’m hitting 3K words a session. In addition to that, I am touching up portions as I catch back up with the story. I know: no editing while writing. However, in this case it helps with MY flow into the story, making the portal even stronger.

It’s working, and when something is working well, don’t change.

Frank has become a permanent fixture beside me, no matter where that place is. Coffee, cranberry and vodka, wine – he likes it all and has become absolutely fascinated with the story. I’ve never felt more connected to my work as a writer than I do right now. Frank is, too: hence his own chair beside me.

The cat even likes him (it must be the kitty treats).

Am I obsessed? I hope so, as it’s been a dream long time coming. The difference between obsession and passion is a vague boundary, and probably defined by the intention. Is it destructive or creative?

Fantasy writing provided the opportunity to create something completely from scratch, imagining places and people that had never been seen before. However, the task of creation became a millstone in a way, as if the task was so huge it held me back from the passion of connection. I always felt the weight of trying to bring that world to the light, breathing life into it in a way that the people and world would be honored.

Romance is freedom.

I am plugged into the story wholly and completely, to the point that it is all I think about. I zone into space and see, hear and taste the world in which I’ve opened. Passion ignited, made real through my words of what I’ve experienced. I feel no weight, only energy. I feel the power of what I see and feel how it moves from mind to word to page. Like a river of golden soul-love, pouring forth from the open portal into the world of reality.

Word counts are mere markers along the highway toward completion. Yet they give witness to the journey. For indeed, it is a journey. Maybe much more than a thousand pages, and hopefully so. They mark time, they mark progress, they mark freedom. For as long as I remain on the road, I am free.

Writing is freedom, shared experiences from those I write about to those who read. Walls cannot contain, relationships cannot bind – freedom is the soul singing it’s song and I’m singing for you, lovely reader.

Enjoy and IN Joy.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, my lovely reader, Wherever your horizons beckon…

Stephen R, Gann

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Perceptual Projections of Being…

Hello Lovely Readers!

Salutations and good even-ink!

Ahem.

Update on the Romance novel: Today, at 3:32 PM PST, inside Village Books in Steveston, BC Canada, Frank and I surpassed the 40K word milestone on the highway to completion. in celebration, we hoisted a cup of 49th Parallel Dark Roast (go bold or go home, I always say), drank a toast, smiled out the window at a sexy, dark-haired angel walking her pug (ignored by both) and motored on toward 41.

One can’t stop and ogle the signs when on the highway to completion! If you do, you might get run down by a random ice-road trucker texting updates from the Writer’s Circle onto Facebook. Not that “I” would do that!

Double Ahem.

So, what’s up with the metaphysical title? Well. Let me tell you: it’s a warning and a clue to life.

Have you ever made friends with someone and then, for some rather odd and unknown reason, pushed them away? Have you ever been really excited about a new job, then had it crash and burn around your feet? That’s the dark side of this rule, “What we perceive, we project.”

The Light side, where the Jedi Knight live, uses it to their advantage. They PERCEIVE a state from their audience and PROJECT it back in the manner they wish it exist. They project what they want the audience to perceive, thus intensifying the wholesome goodness of it. The audience sends it back – A Fine flow of the Force, would you not say?

O-o. Whaaaaat?

Here is how it works:

Let’s say you’re having a conversation with one of those sexy, shapely, blue female aliens from Star Trek and all is well, you’re really enjoying where it’s leading – hopefully to infinity and beyond. Then, all of a sudden, you PERCEIVE a disturbance in the Force. ‘She’ frowns, crosses her arms, says something that maybe hints at the Dark Side (and not the ‘good’ dark side, either).

Using your Jedi mind powers, you PROJECT them back. I mean, you don’t want to go over to the dark side. Don’t hit ME with your dark Jedi Mind tricks, you think. I’m on to you! Hand up, reflect! ::whew!::

However! She’s a master, too! And now, you PERCEIVE an even greater disturbance as she does the same thing, and in order to save yourself, you PROJECT it back!  Jedi Master Ping Pong. And before you know it, the possibility of exploring her Nebulae has gone where no man will ever return from – complete isolation; Exile!

Makes sense, does it not?

I didn’t think so. It’s not like it does, really. Who truly knows the emotional mind of sexy, blue Star Trek aliens? I mean, I’m a romance writer, and even I have no clue!

Triple Ahem

So, Stephen, tell me: what the hell does this have to do with writing and your journey of a thousand pages?

It has EVERYTHING!

Because.

What you perceive you project, even onto paper (or pixel). Perceive your character as you truly want them to be, wholly and completely, and you will KNOW exactly what it is you need to write.

Perceive your scene exactly how you wish, and you will project it into the right words at the right time.

PERCEIVE your story from an empowered, emotional state, and it will appear on the pages before you – as if it were always there. The more you do this, the stronger the Force and the greater master you become; maybe even Yoda, though that ‘might’ be pushing it a bit.

See? Jedi Mind Tricks at work.

What about the Light side, you ask? Same thing, just reverse it. Perceive what it is you want, then project it to the pages. Or onto sexy, blue Star Trek aliens. In fact…. if she does the same thing back, then nebulae are only the beginning!  We’re talking final frontiers here! O-O   ::fans self::

Okay. enough of that for tonight. More of this, and I’ll need another bottle of red wine.

Cheers and as always…

Fair Winds and Following Seas, lovely readers, wherever your horizons beckon you!

-Stephen R. Gann

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The Mission of Each True Writer…

Good Evening Lovely Reader!

When I am inspired, I feel energized. When I feel energized, I become empowered. When I become empowered, I embody PASSION.

The Impossible Dream is a song that bubbles up from time to time whenever I feel inspired to create something really amazing. Frank loves it, and HAS been known to march around my deck as if he were Don Quixote himself – lance held high and armor shining (even though it wasn’t in the musical).

“Pancho! Bring my armour and MY SWORD!”

So the other day, while I was moving toward 35K words writing the scene where Tomas meets his future wife, the song echoed between my ears and I suddenly burst into song (in private, of course).

Then, after queuing up the youtube video, I heard the opening line to that song:

“The mission of each true knight is duty. Nay, it’s privilege.” – The Impossible Dream – Man of La Mancha

Like a lance to the shield, my brain shattered into brilliance:

“The Mission of each true Writer is Story; nay, it’s Passion.”

That’s my take on it, and therefore the theme today.

So, in honor of my amazingly not-so-special singing voice, I have re-written that song into the Mission of Each True Writer  Feel free to sing along, as if you were Don Quixote singing to his lovely Dulcenea. If you care to add music, please feel free to load Impossible Dream – Man of La Mancha

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“The Passionate Tale”  by Stephen R. Gann

“The Mission of each true Writer is Story; nay, it’s Passion.

“To write – such a passionate tale. That your read-er lives in your heart.

To hold, a space filled with your power. To build, a link into your love!

To write – with description and joy. To hear – what it’s like to sing pain.

To feel, what your character dreams for, to fly into arms of your Soul!

This is your quest! To follow that Love!

No matter the stories, just write what you know.

To draw from your heart, without question or pause.

To be willing to show and not tell so your readers will care

And I know – if you’ll only be true – to this glorious quest.

That your words – will show passion and truth, when we open your book.

And the world – will be better for this:

That your tale, filled with feeling and song – will sing with it’s full breadth of courage –

To FLY.  Into arms   of     your      SOULLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!”

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Fly into the arms of your souls, lovely reader and soar to heights unknown.

Stephen R. Gann

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