Category Archives: Characters

Which One Are You?

Mom, won’t you PLEASE pay attention to me?

I regularly get questions about which of the characters has my personality or characteristics. It finally hit me that I gave each of the five women who comprise my main characters – Polly, Lydia, Beryl, Andy, and Sylvie something of myself. Now while I’ve given them each little pieces of me, they’ve filled out their own personalities. I think these women are familiar because they are so like all of us. You aren’t just a bunch of Lydias or Beryls, but you all recognize something of yourselves in each of them.

Sylvie got some of my fears and regrets – as well as the tenacity to push through them. The other night I was binge-watching NCIS and Ducky said “If you are in hell, keep going.” That made so much sense to me. We all do that. It’s why we’re still here, though I can’t describe much of my life as hell.

But Sylvie represents the part of me that was certain I had my life-plan in place at the age of twenty-one. I had a degree in music education and intended to teach or move right on to get my Master’s degree in Christian Education and Music. I’d spend my life working on staff in churches. Sylvie had a life-plan. She was going to be a nurse. Children and an abusive husband changed her plan.

I didn’t have those, but life changed my plan and I spent the next twenty years running a quick printing shop. Like Sylvie, it was surprising when things changed and I realized that something better was in front of me. I’d spent fifty years volunteering and working in churches – in multitudes of positions both musical and non-musical – too numerous to list here. Things change. Sylvie changed and moved forward. So did I. That’s where the two of our personalities converge.

Andy Saner-Specek. Andy is the part of me that is the introvert (it grows greater as I age, that’s for sure). She is content to be in supportive roles. She is highly organized and makes sure that the people around her are safe and have tools they need in order to live out their dreams. She has plenty to say, but doesn’t need to speak up all the time. Sometimes it’s awesome to just sit back and enjoy the chaos around you.

Beryl Watson. I think all of us would like to think we are Beryl. She’s wacky and wildly creative. On the outside, it looks as if she doesn’t care what others think of her. Beryl is a side of me people will rarely see. If I could have gotten away with wearing the wild clothing she wears, I would have, but it was never appropriate for the jobs I held or the life I lived. I tend to be outspoken at times, but usually get myself in trouble, so I’m more circumspect. But trust me, those words are in my head and it’s all I can do to keep them quiet. The thing with Beryl is that she cares very much what people think of her, so she is quite calculating in how she presents herself to the world. If they’re going to talk about her, she’s going to be in charge of what they say. She’ll own it – before anyone gets a chance to comment. Those who have rejected Beryl in the past hurt her badly and she will never let that happen again if she can help it.

I’m that person. I’m hyper-aware of people’s responses to me and to others. Sometimes I read more into a response than is actually there, but if there is going to be any discussion about me, I want to be the one who has created the conversation.

Lydia Merritt. The part of Lydia that I gave her is her awareness of others. I’m not as hospitable as Lydia is, nor will I drop in on people to take care of them, but I do my best to pay attention to those I encounter – whether online or in person. If there’s a need I can meet without them asking for help, I will do everything I can. Lydia makes me want to be better at that behavior. There are so many other aspects of Lydia that I wish I could apply to myself. Her unfettered generosity is something that I love about her and will always strive to emulate. Oh … and she drives my Jeep.

Polly Giller. I’ve written before that in many ways, Polly is representative of my mother. The one aspect of myself I gave to Polly is her tenacity and willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done. This was a value instilled into us by Dad from a very early age. No matter what, tasks will be completed. If you start something, you stick to it until you are finished. You don’t quit. When you’re ready to be done with something, you make a plan to walk away from it … you don’t just drop out.

Now the things that drive you crazy about Polly are also from my personality. When she whines because it gets to be too much or she gets too nosy or she wants to tell people what to do – well, that’s me. You’ll often notice that she deals with a lot of these things in her head. It’s better that way and while she might seem annoying, it’s her way (my way) of working out the nastiness inside before letting it loose on the world. Who cares if she’s whiny inside her head? She has to work through it.

Also, the story she told about not wearing underwear to school one day in Kindergarten was mine. I was that rebellious little girl who thought she knew better than Mom. I got two blocks from home and ran back crying because I realized how wrong it was. There are a lot of Polly’s embarrassing stories that come from my background.


Before I close, I need to tell you what happened to me today. I just love people.

I had errands to run and figured I’d head for Ames to do a couple of them and maybe pick something fun up for lunch. Living in the country doesn’t offer many opportunities for fast-food. My Jeep has been absolutely filthy and I hadn’t had time to wash it yet, so I ran through a car wash in Boone and headed east to Ames.

When I brought my car up to speed, it started to shake. Damn it. I pulled up the tire pressure numbers and they were just fine, so I didn’t have a flat. I tried to talk myself into believing that the roads were just that bad. But when I crossed the bridge and took the entrance ramp onto Highway-30, I knew it was me, so I pulled over and called my garage. I love these guys. I trust them completely.

His first thought was that maybe with the heat, one of the tires had a bubble or maybe a belt on the tire had slipped. I was now about 40 miles from the garage in Webster City (Gerber Auto, if you want to know) and I asked if he thought I could make it. Sure, he said, just don’t go very fast. I also knew that if I didn’t make it, they’d come get me. Like I said, I love these guys.

I made it there with no problem. When I got to the counter, Josh smiled at me and told me they’d take care of me – not to worry. Then … the owner came out and took my keys. He wanted to drive it to see what the problem was. For some crazy reason, I told them that I’d just come out of a car wash before it started. The next question was – you drive a lot on gravel, don’t you? Of course I do.

The owner took the car out, then brought it back and drove into a bay. They knocked out about two pounds of mud that had gotten caught up in behind brake calipers. He drove it again and returned to tell me it was driving smooooooth now. When I tried to pay, Josh glared at me and said, “You’re welcome.”

Of course! Thank you!

I went back out to my Jeep, drove away and just wept. THIS is Iowa-nice. For a girl who knows nothing about cars, I am grateful for a garage who treats me with respect and the guys who take every opportunity to teach me something new so I don’t have to rely on them. I know how to wash the undercarriage of my Jeep now. But they also told me it would happen again and they’d take care of me the next time.

If you ever wonder why I write stories of good people in Bellingwood, it’s because they are so real in the every day parts of my life.

And … I stopped at Dairy Queen for a pork tenderloin. Oh yeah – that’s another thing Polly got from me.

More Business – Character Lists

3277144_origOkay. I’m back. And this time I’m probably going to go a little “Sylvie” on you. You know, the practical, pragmatic, ‘just put it out there and take no prisoners’ Sylvie.

Early in September, I wrote a post about why you can’t find detailed character lists and that wasn’t enough. I’ve had some straightforward questions and some sideways comments about this and I recognize them all. And it’s okay. Don’t apologize or feel bad. You get to ask questions of me. That’s the kind of relationship we have. I’m not mad or upset. Just going to do a little cleanup here.

Like I said before – I get it. Don’t think that I don’t. But for every helpful reason you give me to fix this, what you don’t see are the myriad reasons behind the decisions I make. I’m a smart woman and have been around the sun way too many times. I don’t make decisions lightly – especially about something I am so wholly invested in. I spend a lot of time in thought and contemplation about danged near everything that I do and I make decisions based on what works for thousands of readers, even if it frustrates a dozen or so people.

The thing is – I’m also wholly invested in y’all. You are the reason I write and you are the reason that I am still working to discover a clean solution so that you can get your hands on all of the information you want – whenever you want it.

I understand that re-reading the entire series for a little information about a character is impractical for most people. That’s not a good option. It never was, though some of you enjoy doing that just for the sake of the stories.

Because there are so many reasons, I won’t go into them all. I actually shouldn’t have to. After 15 books and nearly 4 years building this community, I hope that you trust me to do whatever I can to do right by you.

Now, don’t you dare try to build me up in comments by slamming those who are asking for this or offering unhelpful/helpful advice. Stop it. That’s not being a good Bellingwood-ian. We’re a community. I got this.

For those of you who run into trouble remembering a name, or how a character entered the series, I can’t stress enough … ask questions. That whole community thing? You all love talking about these people. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world. The comments from yesterday’s post on the person you’d like to have coffee with are amazing. You really get these people.

So ask us. Or ask me. I guarantee you that I will answer your question faster than you could probably look it up anyway. Send me a message or an email and I will tell you what I can.

Okay … caveat. I’m not awake in the morning. My general hours of business are from about 10:30 am – 2:30/3:30 am. But the FB page is always on and someone is always hanging about.

For those of you who know your characters really well – pay attention to posts on the page that might be asking for a name or a connection or a relationship. Just answer the question for me and all will be awesome.

Be gracious, be kind, be loving, be grateful, be Bellingwood for each other. Because when you are that to each other, you are that to me. There’s nothing more amazing.

And oh by the way, I’m getting closer to a good idea on this list thing. That whole patience thing? It stinks … but it’s a virtue!

I love you guys.



Happy Birthday, Polly!

happy-birthday-pollyToday is Polly Giller’s birthday (September 20)!

There are a few dates that I’ve always known, and others that I’ve had to figure out. Okay, and still others that I haven’t discovered yet. Polly’s birthday has always been September 20th.

It kind of freaks me out that she continues to age, right along with the rest of us. I’m not sure what I will do when she hits 40. That will feel strange. Heck, it felt strange when I did. But Polly seems timeless at about age 32-33 and that’s just not real (please don’t go there).

So I guess we should celebrate. Ice cream sandwiches all around!

Happy Birthday, Polly!

A Little Business – Character Lists

All Roads Lead HomeWhen you build a community as big as Bellingwood, it is inevitable that newcomers (readers) get lost amidst all of the characters. Heck, even us old-timers (haha) forget who is who and who’s done what.

I have a friend who delivers an Excel file of the characters who arrive in a book, but I also keep a rather extensive list of characters and all that I know about them. I try to take notes as I write, but that doesn’t always work.

To be honest, neither of those databases are complete. There are many details about these characters that slide past me, no matter how many times I re-read what I’ve written. It’s scary.

Y’all keep asking for a character list and I keep not making it happen. There are several reasons.

First of all, there is absolutely NO good way to build this so that it is solid, usable and flexible. I’ve tried a searchable dictionary – type format. That didn’t work at all. I tried a wiki – that was just plain stupid. I tried a plain list, but oh my goodness, that became so bulky and unwieldy I wanted to scream. I’ve tried putting characters into Excel and well … for one book it kinda works, but after that, just hit me in the head. This isn’t an easy task. It’s complete insanity.

Secondly. This one is hard to explain and may sound like I’m avoiding the situation, but it’s also about spoilers. If you’ve read all of the books up to Book 14 (and I know, I know, you’re desperately waiting for September 25th), you know how each of these characters arrived in Polly’s life.

But what if you were just starting the series and discovered a complete character list and read about things that had yet to happen? How much fun was it for you to read the stories and uncover characters that have now become so familiar? The characters come with tears, laughter, joy and sadness. That’s what makes the story so real.

I’d hate to take away that fun for readers who come to this series along the way. New people find this series every day. That’s a real issue for me and a line that I hate to cross. Every once in a while, I let something slip because I’ve lived with these characters for four years now and it crushes me when I realize that I just took away someone’s initial fun.

One of these days, the perfect solution is going to present itself. Don’t think for a minute that I’m not processing on this problem regularly. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t process on a ton of things that you haven’t even imagined when it comes to the Bellingwood series. I understand that it can be frustrating to not remember details about your favorite characters or even why a character exists. You can always ask me questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

In 2013, I did create a quick character list and posted it on Facebook – these people are all pretty safe. Nothing is a spoiler here. If you need more information, let me know … we’ll get this figured out someday. I promise.

Polly Amelia Giller
Parents: Everett & Barbara (Mahoney) Giller – deceased
Relatives in Story City: Clyde & Ivy Giller
Caregivers / Farmhand: Sylvester & Mary Shore
Obiwan – German Shepherd / Labrador (gift from Doug Randall & Billy Endicott)
Luke & Leia – cats (gift from Brad & Lee Giese)
Nan, Nat, Demi, Daisy – Percheron horses (black)

Henry Sturtz
Parents: William & Marie Sturtz (Arizona)
Sister: Lonnie, Graduate work – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Polly’s Bellingwood Girlfriends:

Aaron & Lydia Merritt (Aaron is County Sheriff)
Marilyn & Brian Erikson (Dayton, IA) – one set of twins, pregnant w/3rd child
Jill & Steve Redman (Kansas City) – one boy, pregnant with 2nd child
Daniel Merritt (Des Moines)
Sandy Merritt (Minneapolis)
James (Jim) Merritt (ISU, Ames)

Beryl Watson – Artist
First husband: Stewart Lanier (divorced)
Second husband: Scott Watson (deceased)
Cat: Miss Kitty
Students:  Deena, Meryl

Andy Saner – Retired Teacher
Bill Saner, Junior
John Saner
Melanie Saner (ISU, Ames)

Sylvie Donovan – Chef at Sycamore House, attending DMACC
Jason – age 12
Andrew – age 9

Polly’s Boston girlfriends:
Drea Renaldi – Professor at Boston College
Two brothers: Ray & Jon

Bunny Farnam

Sal Kahane

Henry’s Employees:
Jimmy Rio
Sam Terhune
Leroy Forster
Ben Bowen

Sycamore House Employees:
Jeff Lyndsay
Eliseo Aquila
Sylvie Donovan

Bellingwood Friends:
Mark Ogden – Veterinarian
Partner – Seth Jackson
Employees – Marnie Evans, Dena Harrison, Leanne Malloy

Doug Randall – Electrical Apprentice for Jerry Adams
Parents: Helen & Frank
Sister: Tracy

Billy Endicott – Electrical Apprentice for Jerry Adams
Parents: Marcus & June

Which Character is Your Mom?

Mom & Dad's honeymoon. He took her canoeing. That's driftwood in front of her.

Mom & Dad’s honeymoon. He took her canoeing. That’s driftwood in front of her.

One of the most difficult things I’ve dealt with in the last 28 years is that friends and family never had the opportunity to get to know Mom in all of her wild glory. My brother’s wife met her just before she found out she had cancer and his kids never had the chance to meet her. My husband never knew her, many of my closest friends never got to know who she was. That was difficult. Okay, sure, they know me and Carol and Jim … but, Mom? She was her own unique person. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years, but … you know … moving on and all.

This morning, after someone read my last Mother’s Day post, they asked which character in the Bellingwood series represented her. I had to think about that. She isn’t Lydia. Mom wasn’t nurturing in the way Lydia is. She didn’t organize things at church, she didn’t pull folks together to take care of someone who needed help. Nope, not Lydia.

Then, I thought about Beryl. While Beryl has some of Mom’s artistic creativity, that woman’s personality is not my mom. Andy Saner/ Specek. Not really. Andy is too reserved and quiet.

Sylvie – well, maybe. Sylvie ‘found’ herself as an adult in her 40s and went from living at home with her family to running a business and being very involved in the world. She’s a no-nonsense parent who gives her kids room to grow up. But still, no, this isn’t my mother.

Then it hit me. I’ve written ten books and it finally dawned on me. I’m telling her story to everyone who reads the series. I can hardly type this without becoming emotional. I had no idea that was what I was doing. And honestly, I’ve wondered why this series has come so naturally to me. Polly isn’t me … she’s my mother. I’m looking in from the outside … not out from the inside as I tell this story. I’m telling you about my mom.

I don’t know why it took me so long.

Sal? The girl from Boston? She’s an amalgam of two of my mother’s friends. Why didn’t I realize what I was doing? I’m a nut! The women who surround Polly are Mom’s friends who came into her life over the years. As I thought about this, I realized that when I began looking back at Mom’s friends, I recognized them in the women I have created.

Now, as for Henry, there is some of my Dad in him, but not really … and that’s not what this is about. That will be another day for self-reflection.

None of us kids know a lot about Mom’s life before we came into it. She was an only child, whose father was probably a bigger influence in her life than her mother. We have a few stories, but if we were to be put to the test, we didn’t know my mother as a kid. You’ll find that I did that to Polly, too. Those years she was in Boston are vague. There are stories that will crop up here and there, but she came alive when she returned to Iowa.

Mom came alive when she moved to Iowa. She loved kids (older kids) and wasn’t terribly fond of babies and ooey, gooey stuff. The three of us became much more fun for her when we were old enough to engage. She had very interesting friends and never really cared about returning to her old life in Boston.

Pragmatism defined my mother. Life was what it was and you dealt with it. You didn’t fuss and fume because it wasn’t something different, you made the best of what you had. We weren’t allowed to feel sorry for ourselves very long. Suck it up and move on, there are other things that needed our attention and time.

It was more than that, though. We learned to love our lives, no matter what we did or didn’t have. Life was so much bigger than anything in front of us. People came and went, stuff was unimportant, and holding on to pain and grudges was ridiculous.

One of the things about Polly that grabs you is that she is always in the present … the right now. Everything that happened in the past is part of who she is, but it doesn’t cause her to ignore the life in front of her.

Mom lived in the right now. Her past was a story to tell, not a life that needed to be relived over and over. And if it was too painful and not relevant – the story didn’t need to be told.

She was a private person. Mom was thrust into the public eye (as a minister’s wife in a small town), a place she wouldn’t have chosen to be, yet she did it with creativity and grace (unless you listened to her complain at home) because it was expected.  Polly built Sycamore House, but she puts everyone else out front – Jeff, Sylvie, Eliseo. Most people see them on a daily basis, not Polly. She is transparent … yet private.

Polly doesn’t have an agenda for her life, she isn’t planning to be a tycoon. Success is important, but only because it allows her to do what she enjoys doing most … living life with the people she cares for.

My personal stories show up in the lives of all of the characters – wherever they fit, I tell on myself. You’ll never know which are true and which are fiction, but Polly’s story isn’t about me. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize what I was doing, but for those of you who never met my mother … you’re meeting her now. Her behavior sometimes might infuriate you … she might be self-centered and whiny, she might surprise you with who she chooses to befriend (or not befriend), she might frustrate you because she doesn’t follow your expectations. But … if you want to know why she’s so danged human … it’s because she is exactly that to me.

I don’t know what I’ll do with all of this information – whether it will make it easier or more difficult to write Polly … but now I better understand what I’ve done. So, I’m not ready to tell you that Polly IS my mother (there are so many differences) … but, if you want to find Mom in any of my characters … Polly Giller is where you’ll find her.

Bellingwood Vignette – 07

Book 10 will be published on June 25, but until then, here’s a little something fun for you. Happy Mother’s Day!

This little vignette actually occurs just prior to Book 10. It doesn’t affect anything in the overall story, but is a look at a conversation that happens behind the scenes in Bellingwood. All of the Bellingwood books are written from Polly’s perspective, so if she’s not in the room, we have no idea what else is happening. And there is always plenty of action going on, whether she’s there or not.

07 – What’s a Guy to Do?Flowers

“I have no idea what I’m supposed to do,” Henry said.

Bill Sturtz clapped his son on the back and laughed. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m guessing this isn’t the first time and it’s certainly not going to be the last with that little spitfire you married. You know, your mother and I had no idea what kind of life you’d have, but that wife of yours is going to keep you on your toes until the day you drop into your grave.”

“Probably longer than that,” Henry replied, rolling his eyes. “But help me out here, what am I supposed to do?”

“The flip answer is to tell you that she isn’t your mother and so you shouldn’t have to do anything.”

Henry scowled at his dad. “You buy flowers for Mom. Don’t give me that.”

“She’s the mother of my children.” Bill flipped the switch to turn the sander on and then flipped it back off. “I’m not helping, am I?”

“Not much,” Henry said. “Does she want me to recognize Mother’s Day or not? And what about Rebecca and her Mom and Jessie and her baby. We have all of these people in our lives and…” He sat down in a beat up old desk chair behind the work bench. “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

“Son, you’re the one who is making this difficult. Has Polly hinted that she wants you to celebrate thie holiday?”

“No, but…”

“No buts,” Bill said. “Has she ever hung you out to dry about holidays and celebrations?”

Henry nodded. “You’re right. She would have told me. But what if she just isn’t thinking about it. Should I be helping her do something about her own Mom or the woman who raised her? I know they’re dead, but maybe she wants to remember them somehow.”

“I declare,” Bill said, leaning over the workbench. “When did you lose your ever-lovin’ mind? You aren’t usually this spineless. I thought you two had one of those open marriages.”

“Dad!” Henry exclaimed. “What in the world do you mean by that? We don’t have an open marriage.”

Bill drew back in surprise. “I don’t know. What do I mean? What’s an open marriage?”

Henry was still trying to make sense of the conversation. “An open marriage means that we don’t care who the other person…” He hesitated. “Well, who they have a relationship with.” Henry waved his hand around. “You know… a relationship.”

“Oh!” Bill started laughing. “No! I meant open conversation. You two talk all the time, no matter what it’s about. Why haven’t you talked this topic into the ground?”

“We don’t talk things into the ground. We just…” Henry looked up at his father, who was grinning at him. “Okay, we talk things to death sometimes. But at least we’re talking.”

“Yeah. You’re part of that new revolution in marriage.” Bill drew his hands up in the air and made air quotes as he said. “You ‘communicate.'”

Henry lifted his left nostril and mockingly growled at his father. “And I’m not spineless. If Polly hasn’t said anything about the holiday, I don’t know if it will upset her because she doesn’t have a mother or because she isn’t a mother. Why won’t you help me?”

Bill rubbed his hand across the piece of wood in front of him, as if he were testing to see if it really needed to be sanded. “Every marriage is different. You have to figure this out on your own. What works for me and your mother might not be right for you and Polly. What do you want to do?”

“I keep saying that I don’t know.” Henry slumped in the chair.

“Then buy her jewelry or chocolate or something.”

“She’d hate that,” Henry said. “What are you and Mom doing for lunch on Sunday?”

“Your mother is probably cooking something. I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”

“You aren’t even taking her out?” Henry shook his head. “You’re terrible.”

“Where are we gonna go?” Bill asked. “Every restaurant’s filled to capacity. If Marie wants to go out to eat, we’ll do it a different day. No sense standing in line for an hour to feel like we have to hurry through a meal because that long line hasn’t gotten any shorter.”

Henry rubbed his hand down his face and rested his chin in his palm. “You could come over to our place. Polly and I’ll cook.”

“Don’t you think you should talk to her about this before you make the invitation, son? Or haven’t you learned how dangerous that is.”

“She’ll be fine.”

Marie Sturtz chose that moment to walk into the shop. She was carrying Jessie’s baby, bouncing it gently in her arms. “I didn’t hear any machines running out here and I saw your truck, Henry. Why aren’t you working at the coffee shop?”

He shrugged. “I was just talking to Dad about Mother’s Day. Am I supposed to do something for Polly or not?”

Marie gave her husband a smile, her eyes glinting with mischief. “Did he tell you to buy her flowers?”

“No. He thought I should do jewelry or chocolate,” Henry said.

Bill frowned at his wife. “You don’t like my flowers?”

“They’re always lovely,” Marie winked at her son. “I already have a spot picked out in the garden for them.”

“Maybe I won’t buy any this year,” Bill grumped.

“Don’t be like that. I love whatever you give me,” she said and turned back to Henry. “Would you and Polly like to come for dinner on Sunday? Maybe that would help.”

“You know Polly. She’ll want to feed the world. Jessie and Rebecca and Evelyn and who knows? She’ll probably want to invite Stephanie and Kayla and then, if she decides that Sylvie shouldn’t cook for herself on Mother’s Day, she’ll invite them. Oh, and that means that Eliseo will be invited.” He paused. “What am I up to now, thirteen or fourteen? I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.”

“Then we should have potluck,” Marie declared. “I’ll call Polly and set it up. That way you won’t have to worry about anything.”

“But I still don’t know whether or not I should get her anything,” Henry said with a little bit of a whine.

“Stop that,” Bill said. “You don’t whine.”

Marie laughed at the two of them. “If I know Polly, she’ll be happy just having all of her friends around. That’s what fills her up. She isn’t used to having people give her gifts or do nice things for her. Bring as many people as you can in for lunch and she’ll be in her element.”

“So I don’t have to worry about buying her a present?”

The baby fussed in Marie’s arms and she started to bounce again. She looked up at the clock on the wall and said, “I’ll bet you’re getting hungry. Mama’s probably wondering where we went.” Then she said to Henry. “You should always buy her presents. Even if it’s just because it’s Tuesday.” Marie stepped close to her husband and elbowed his side. “Isn’t that right, sweetie?”

“Right, sweetie,” he echoed.

Marie left the shop and Bill groaned. “See what just happened there? Now I have to go buy her a present.”

“You do not,” Henry said.

Bill flipped the sander on and said over his shoulder. “Yes I do. And you should too. You’d be surprised at how much more fun you’ll have.”

Any further conversation was cut off at the sound of the sander on wood. Henry stood up and walked toward the door of the shop. He glanced back at his dad and heard humming. All of a sudden, Bill was moving his shoulders and swinging his hips to music that was playing only in his head.

“That’s my dad, folks,” Henry said under his breath. “He’ll be here all week.”

He took his phone out and texted Polly. “What’s your favorite flower?”

Bellingwood Vignette (05)

These vignettes are just a small glimpse at other characters when Polly isn’t around. They don’t change the story or add anything that you’d miss if you didn’t read them. The first four vignettes are based on stories you’ll find in Book 9.

This story, though, could happen at any time. It’s just one of many conversations that happen in the background on any given day.

il_170x135.241941956All That Glitters

Jeff strode into the kitchen at Sycamore House and set his mug on the counter loud enough to get Sylvie’s attention.

“Yo, kitchen wench,” he said. “What kinda coffee ya got for me this morning?”

“Yo, strumpet,” she retorted. “Same as every morning. You know where it is.”

“Where’s Rachel?” he asked “Don’t you two have a lunch to cater or something?” Jeff poured coffee from the urn on the counter and went on through the kitchen to the table by the back window.

“No, it was more like a continental brunchey thing at the library. She’s taking care of it. I’m working on the cake for the wedding.”

Jeff pulled a plate of scones closer and turned it around a couple of times, looking for just the right choice. Before he could select one, Sylvie slid napkins across the table at him.

“Can you sit for a minute?” He gestured to a chair across from him.

She shrugged and sat down. Before he could say anything, she jumped up again.

“What?” he asked. “Don’t you ever sit still?”

“I need coffee.” Sylvie took her mug up from the prep table, refilled it, and came back to join him. “So what’s up?”

“Not much. I’m tired of my office.”

“Don’t lie to me, mister man. You never drop in for coffee unless you need to talk.”

Jeff sipped his coffee, looking at her over the rim. “You’re much too observant.”

“It’s a mom thing. Is it work? A boy?” She winked at him. “Heaven forbid, is it a girl?”

He chuckled. “It’s really nothing…” He paused. “It’s kind of work. Do you ever wonder if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing?”

Sylvie set her jaw and then put her hand out to touch his forearm. “You can’t be serious. You aren’t leaving us, are you?”

“No,” he slowly shook his head. “No. Like I said, it’s nothing.”

“Don’t you nothing me, Jeff Lindsay. I won’t put up with that. You started something. You’ve put the fear of God in me and you will darn well finish what it is you’re thinking.”

“I love my job. I really do,” he said. “And sometimes I think that it’s just ridiculous how much fun I have here. I like everyone I’m working with and you know as well as I do that working for Polly is easy. She lets us do our own thing.”

“And she appreciates everything you do,” Sylvie interjected.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “She’s free with the compliments. But is it weird that I like working in small town Iowa? Am I staying here because it’s safe and I don’t have to fight through challenges to grab big goals?”

“Do you want to run a big hotel in the middle of Manhattan?” Sylvie asked.

Jeff looked up at her in shock. “What? No!”

“Chicago? Kansas City? Dallas? Do you want to live in a large city?”

He shrugged and grimaced. “It would be a lot easier to find someone to be with.”

“That’s crap and you know it. The reason you haven’t found someone is because you’ve spent too much time working. But, you should also know that if Polly thought you weren’t happy because you were lonely, she’d…”

“She’d probably go find a string of nice young men for me to date,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“Either that or she’d tell you to leave if that’s what you needed to do.” Sylvie scowled at him. “Is that what this is about? Finding the love of your life?”

He gave her a shocked look again. “No!”

“Then what? Why are you questioning this?”

“I hate to admit it, but…”

“But what?” Sylvie tapped an invisible watch on her wrist. “You’re wasting time big boy. Out with it.”

Jeff laughed at her. “You’re a tough woman.”

“Yes I am. You’re babbling about how perfect your job is and how easy it is to work for your boss and how much you like this place and in the middle of that, you’re trying to make something terrible out of it. Now why would you be that foolish?”

“Because it’s too easy.”

“Uh huh. Go ahead. Explain that to me.”

“I got an email from a classmate this morning. She just lost her job managing a restaurant for some big time chef down in Houston. She worked hard for that job and clawed her way to the top.” He pursed his lips. “I feel guilty. I didn’t do any clawing.”

Sylvie laughed and snorted through her nose.

“Stop laughing at me,” he said.

“I can’t help it. You’re an idiot.”

“I know.” He drew the words out. “But nothing this good ever happened to me before. What am I supposed to think?”

“I would never have pegged you for one of those dopes who looks for the grey clouds in every silver lining.”

Jeff grinned. “I’m usually not, but this email shook me up. Everyone knew that Kimmy was going to be a success. She knew it. There were days I wanted to vomit while I listened to her sketch out her plans for the future. Nothing would stop her. And now … she’s been stopped.”

“Do you think she’ll find another job?”


“Do you think she was happy?”

He sighed. “That’s the thing. I doubt it. But then I don’t know if she even understands the meaning of the word. She was always so driven. When the rest of us went out for drinks, she wouldn’t go. She said we were wasting time that could be put to better use. That girl worked all the time and when she wasn’t working, she was … well … working.”

“I can’t imagine what kind of life she’d lived up to that point to make her behave that way,” Sylvie said quietly. “You aren’t that person.”

“No I’m not,” he declared.

“And you don’t want to live her life, do you?”

“Only a little bit. Sometimes things are a little slow around here for me.” He grinned at her.

“Well, give yourself another year or two. With Polly opening new businesses in town, I think you’ll find yourself plenty busy.”

“It’s so strange. I always saw myself running one place – a big hotel. I’d take care of all of the needs of the guests and make sure that everything they encountered was smooth. Around here, I never know what I’m going to deal with next. Some days I’m helping guests at the hotel, and then in the middle of that, I have a Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss some Crazy Dayz event downtown. Then, I’m managing a kids club on Monday afternoons or soothing bridezillas and their mothers, and now I’m adding a bakery.”

“And you hate it?” Sylvie teased him.

“Stop it. You’re right. It’s more than I ever could have imagined. I use information I never knew I had.”

Sylvie stood up and stepped back from the table. “So now what are you going to do?”

He glanced back and forth. “I don’t know?”

“You’re going back to work. You aren’t going to complain about it any longer. You’re going to be thankful you have what you have and you’re going to leave me alone so I can get this stupid cake going. Will you please tell Henry to hurry so I have a full-blown bakery?”

“Yes ma’am,” Jeff said, mocking in his chagrin. “I’ll be good.”

“You’re right, you will. And the next time you hear about one of your classmates failing in their high-powered job, remember that any one of them could have come to Bellingwood instead of you. You are a lucky man.”

“Okay,” he said. Jeff rinsed his mug out in the sink. “You really are tough.”

Sylvie hugged him. “That’s from being a mom. If you’d really needed a sympathetic ear, I’d have found it within myself to give that to you.”

“Good to know,” he said. “When I’m feeling sad about my love life, will you commiserate with me?”

“Nope, I’ll kick your butt. Commiseration implies that I’m feeling sad about mine. I don’t need that right now. If you want it, fine, but leave me out of it.”

“We don’t get to talk about your love life, do we?” Jeff asked.

“No you don’t. Now go back to work. This cake isn’t making itself.”

Saturday night in Bellingwood

Things are never dull in Bellingwood … and that means there is always something going on up in my mind.

My husband spent the weekend here in Iowa – we hoped to have lots of sunshine so that he could traipse around the neighborhood with his camera. We had a little bit of sunshine and of course, today storm clouds settled in and we’ve seen nothing but grey and rain.

However, Max did some quick cleanup on a couple of shots from yesterday and one or the other will be perfect for Book 10’s cover. Now all I need is a title … oh, and to finish the book. But, all in good time.

As we were driving toward Boone today, I stopped and said, “This is the Bellingwood corner. The town is just over that way about a mile.” He laughed at me. Every time I drive past it, though, that’s what goes through my mind – it’s the Bellingwood corner. In the last month or so, I drove up from Boone and it was getting dark and I could swear I saw enough lights off to the east for it to be a small town. I think the farmer over there is messing with my brain. Or my imagination is a little out of control.

Then Max asked where Polly had gotten run off the road. Well … the first time, it was on this highway, but the second time was over to the west several miles … on a road that I don’t like to drive because it is so twisty and turny and uppy and downy. It scares me enough that I avoid it. I suppose I should have told Polly that before she made the attempt.

We stopped in at the Tunnel Mill canoe access … just to see if there was anything there that would be good for a picture. The light was all wrong, but the pickup truck sitting in the parking area could well have been Henry’s as he and Polly walked with the dogs back in the woods.

The other day I asked on the Facebook Bellingwood page who you’d like to see me write the next vignette about. It started off strongly for Beryl and soon moved to Eliseo … and then to Jeff. The thing is, I need you to know that these vignettes are just a quick glimpse at something they’re doing while I’m in the middle of writing the next book. I don’t get too in-depth because of the huge number of readers that never get to these stories.

I know you’re desperate for more about Jeff, Eliseo, Sal, Sylvie … everyone. The funny thing? Their stories are pretty organic and will happen when they’re ready to tell me what needs to be told. And, when the story is told from Polly’s perspective, that’s the view you get to see. Jeff’s story will come … and then, another story about him will be told in the future. That’s just the way the series is going to go.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the events in my books happen over the course of a year and we glimpse two – three week sections in each book. Since I intend to be writing these for a very long time, each individual’s story might not happen for a while. I’d been intending to write Aaron’s story since Book 1 – and it didn’t show up until Book 9.

The other funny thing is that I never intended for Jeff to be a primary character. He was there as a support system to Polly. When I first got started, Polly, Lydia, Beryl, Andy and then to some extent, Sylvie were who would figure centrally in the storyline. Well, LOOK how that turned out. Talk about having to keep up with the characters! They had their own agendas and it was all I could do to hold on for the ride.

The same thing with Eliseo. He came in so that Polly had some freedom from the nitty gritty daily work in the barn. All of a sudden, he was a major player in the story. Sal was a link to Polly’s life in Boston – and she decided to move to Bellingwood so she could be part of the books. I needed a librarian and Joss & Nate became close friends with Polly & Henry. These people will not leave me alone.

I have more characters who are clamoring to move into Bellingwood. There’s one right now that might show up at the end of Book 10. I’m trying to get him to hold on for Book 11, but he’s getting pretty noisy. He’s going to move into town and stay and he’s already told me what he’ll do once he gets there. He’s going to frustrate some of you (and that makes me giggle in a big way), but he’s a great guy and I can’t wait to introduce him to you.

Max heads back to Omaha tomorrow morning and I’ll be able to write again. I tell you what. Having things go on in my life is directly proportional to my being creative. If stuff is going on, I’m not writing. So, I’m glad that I have a clean place, my laundry is done, the cover for Book 10 is in process and … tomorrow it all stops and I go back to work.

First thing = a short little vignette about Jeff. Because he’s a hoot!

Oh, here’s a little hint (about 20%) of the cover I’ll be using for Book 10.
Book 10 cover hint

Eight Things You Might Not Know About Bellingwood

Everybody loves lists. They’re the latest Internet thing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that those with OCD tendencies have taken over the online world. That’s all I can think.

However, I’m good with it. And I can make a list of nearly anything out there. Today, though, I’ll give you this list … just when you thought it was safe to get involved with another book series. I’m dragging you back in.

Some of you are friends from way back and y’all know some of these things, even though you may not have put them together.

In no particular order …

1. The name “Bellingwood” comes from mashing together my maiden name “Greenwood” and the very first name on the abstract for our land in the middle of Iowa (where I do all of my writing). Mr. Bell owned a lot of land here way back in the eighteen hundreds. Mom found his name on there and because we were located in a beautiful dell … Bell’s Dell was born.

Funny … when we were growing up here in the 1960s, the 1800s didn’t seem all that far away. It’s incredible what fifty more years does to history!

Amelia-designstyle-love-heart-m2. Polly’s middle name is Amelia. This was the name my sister chose for the first baby girl she might have someday. She had this named picked out when we were still very young, and since she didn’t use it … I did.

Percheron3. Ralph Bedford shows up in later books. Uncle Ralph lived in Bedford and farmed using Percherons longer than most of his cohorts. When they were moving to modern machinery, he still used his horses. He died just a few years ago, after living a very, very long life. He worked up until the day he couldn’t.

4. The map of Bellingwood is actually a town in Iowa, but I flipped it 90 degrees and renamed the streets. If you look for Roland, Iowa, you’ll see what I did. Once you get there, if you travel west along 130th Street / E18 about 16 miles, you’ll find the farmer’s field where Bellingwood is actually located.

WP Book 2 Kindle cover5. The street on the cover of Book 2 – A Big Life in a Small Town – is my hometown – Sigourney, Iowa. Max shot that several years ago and not only was I thrilled to show just a little of the place where I grew up, it was the perfect shot of a small town Iowa downtown.

1962chevyimpala2drht1128116. Nate Mikkel’s classic car – a 62 Impala hardtop. If I give the impression that I have any clue about classic cars, that’s only because I’m able to tell stories. I know nothing. The one car that my husband has desired throughout his lifetime is this car. If he can’t have it in real life, I suppose I can give it to him in my stories.

pollyanna7. I know no one named Polly. The funny thing about her full name – is that there are a lot of L’s in there. There are a couple of names going back a generation that begin with that letter. I have no idea where it came from. I really didn’t name her after the Pollyanna from Eleanor Porter’s books, even though some of my critics think she’s too sweet to really exist. My family has no Henrys in our lives either. Little did I know that my sister has long intended on naming her first pet Henry. She got a female dog, so she adjusted a little, Henri is short for Henrietta.

nanowrimo8. I was in the middle of finishing my Master’s Degree when I knew that if I was going to start a writing career, I needed to get moving. I’d ignored the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2011. Who had time for that? I was writing way too many papers to spend time working through 50,000+ words. By 2012, my friend, Rebecca, had been pushing me pretty hard to get busy. I sneaked it in on her. There was no way I wanted to take the challenge. I was still working on my Master’s and finishing that was more important than writing a novel. But at the end of November, I had a first draft and it was time to see what all the fuss was with self-publishing. “All Roads Lead Home” has seven quite a few edits since then. I’ve learned a lot in these last few years. But, it’s the story that came pouring out of my heart and I’m glad it did.

Friendship & Why Women Rock

An amazing blog post crossed my path the other day and after I stopped being emotional, I knew I had to share it with all of you.

When I first started writing the Bellingwood series, I encountered quite a few critics who insisted that people like Polly and her friends couldn’t possible exist. It was heartbreaking. These were women who had never known true friends … and even worse, had never been a true friend to anyone.

Friendship is more than going out to lunch or buying a Christmas gift or even partying on the weekends or acting as someone’s wing-gal. It is so much more than that. It’s understanding your friend’s needs even before they do or allowing them to be themselves while still loving them. It is about loving unconditionally. Mostly it’s about being willing to sacrifice.

And sometimes it’s even about accepting … gracefully … what your friend offers to you, no matter how much you didn’t want them to see you at your worst. There are very few people I trust that deeply. But the ones who push past my trust and give me a reason to let them in again the next time? Well … that’s an amazing experience.

the-women-classic-movies-865410_1280_960So take a few minutes to read about the experiences of this group of friends. You’ll see Lydia and Andy, Sylvie and Beryl and probably even Polly, Sal and Joss.

By the way, what breaks my heart is that there are so many who don’t have these types of friends at all. Be that friend first … it will be so worth it!

Here’s the post – go read it!  Why Women Rock!