Melanie runs away. From conflict. From pain. From reality.
When novelist Melanie Vander faces a looming deadline, she decides it’s time for an escape to an inspiring, novel-worthy locale. She’s not running away. Really. She just needs time to focus. But as she disappears into her writing, she encounters a man whose tenderness leaves her reeling. Engaging and wise, psychologist Elliot Hammond tempts Melanie to question everything, including her marriage.
But that’s ridiculous. Dr. Hammond isn’t even…real.
Melanie’s husband, Craig, has his own problems, including a recession that’s threatening his business. Waning finances, a looming home foreclosure, and a wife who’s checked out emotionally, has Craig feeling as though he’s carrying his burdens alone. When his client, the beautiful and single Serena Buchanan, offers him a solution to his financial woes, he’s tempted by more than her offer of a business solution.
At a crossroads, Melanie and Craig seem headed in opposite directions.
As Melanie runs away from her problems by escaping into her own fictional world, Craig dives into his struggles, seeking God for strength and healing for his marriage. Ultimately, Melanie must choose whether she’ll check out completely, or allow her characters to lead her home.
|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Ginny Yttrup is the award-winning author of Words, Lost and Found, Invisible, and Flames. She writes contemporary women's fiction and enjoys exploring the issues everyday women face. Publishers Weekly dubbed Ginny's work "as inspiring as it is entertaining." When not writing, Ginny coaches writers, critiques manuscripts, and makes vintage-style jewelry for her Esty shop, Storied Jewelry (etsy.com/shop/StoriedJewelry). She loves dining with friends, hanging out with her adult sons, or spending a day in her pajamas reading a great novel. Ginny lives in northern California with Bear, her entitled Pomeranian. To learn more about Ginny and her work, visit ginnyyttrup.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Ginny L. Yttrup
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2017 Ginny L. Yttrup
All rights reserved.
I run away.
From conflict. From pain. From reality.
At least, that's Craig's assertion — one he's maintained through twenty-three years of marriage. Why do the odd-numbered years feel less certain? But I don't run away. I'm present. I live in the moment. It just happens that sometimes the moment takes place in an alternate reality.
Alternate reality? Mel, it's fiction.
The conversation is on a loop, set to repeat at least once a year. It came around again last night over seared sturgeon at Ella, where we dined to mark an odd year of marriage.
Fingertips poised on the keyboard, I squint at the computer display on my desk and read the last scene I wrote. It doesn't work. Something's off. My forehead furrows in a way I've noticed is leaving a crevice between my eyebrows — a mocking cleft that suggests Botox is my singular hope for redemption from the evils of age. I let the muscles in my face go lax and open my eyes wide. Run away, my foot. Wrinkles are real. They're right now. And I'll deal with them. I move the cursor from my document to the Safari icon and do a search for Wrinkle Creams. After several clicks, I end up on Amazon, where I pay $29.95 for one fluid ounce of "the most potent serum available," guaranteed to restore my skin to its once smooth and youthful appearance.
$29.95? That's almost four dollars more than my last royalty check. Note to self: destroy the receipt.
I click back to my WIP — Work in Progress — or in this case, Worst Imaginable Project. But rather than read the scene again, my gaze lands on the Apple insignia on the bottom of my display, and my stomach rumbles. I push away from my desk, slide bare feet into slippers, and pad down the hallway to the kitchen, where I set a fresh pot of coffee to brew. I munch on a tart Gravenstein while I wait. In a moment of pure delusion, I bought the Gravs thinking I'd bake a pie for Craig. But who was I kidding? I don't have time to bake. I'm on deadline. After tossing the core into the compactor, I reach for a mug, but the cabinet is empty. My cell phone vibrates in the pocket of my robe as I begin unloading the dishwasher. "Hi there."
Craig raises his voice against the nail gun popping in the background. "How's your afternoon going? Words flowing?"
Afternoon? I glance at the clock on the microwave. "Dribbling. The words are dribbling. You're on-site?"
"Yep, remember? I have a meeting with the homeowners."
"Right, I know." Did he tell me that?
"Mel, I'm sorry about last night — I wanted to celebrate, not argue."
With the phone propped between my ear and shoulder, I set a stack of plates down and lean against the quartz countertop. "Yeah, me too. I'd hoped to make it up to you when we got home, but —"
"I fell asleep. I know. This job's taking a toll."
"You missed the big reveal — lingerie purchased just for the occasion."
"My loss. Rain check?"
Not even a chuckle? "Sure. See you for dinner?"
"Probably not. I need to get back to the office and get caught up. Late night."
"Okay. Well, hang in there."
I slip the phone back into my pocket and rub at the knot that's formed in my neck, a result of either cradling the phone or hearing the tension in Craig's tone — I'm not sure which. "Sorry I'm late. Sorry I'm tired. Sorry I yelled." He's apologized a lot in recent months. Fallout from the job, he says — pressure as he adjusts to building high-end custom homes for wealthy clients, those who still enjoy liquid assets in this ongoing recession. The tract developments he built for so long are a thing of the past, at least until the economy recovers.
"Building sixty tract homes was so much easier than building one custom for entitled clients who think they own me." Craig's oft-stated complaint plays again. After reaping the benefits of a booming housing market in the Sacramento area and calling his own shots, Craig's frustration is palpable. Daily. However, his current clients, Serena Buchanan and her daughter — the homeowners — do sound like the epitome of entitlement, according to Craig's descriptions. Although, it seems his attitude toward Serena has softened in recent weeks. He said something about her being widowed last year, didn't he?
Widowed or divorced? I finish unloading the dishwasher as I attempt to recall details, but my memory of the conversation is fuzzy. What's clear is the feeling the conversation evoked — a feeling I didn't care to explore. That's it. Serena Buchanan was widowed.
Menopause is rodent-like in the way it nibbles holes in one's memory. Or maybe Craig is right — my mind is always somewhere else. "Are you listening, Mel?" How often has that question punctuated our conversations? Too many times to consider.
The back door scrapes open, conveniently scattering my thoughts. "Melanie?"
"Is Craig ever going to fix that door?" Jill walks into the kitchen, grabs a mug out of the cabinet, and pours herself a cup of coffee.
"Make yourself at home."
She laughs and then turns to me, looks me over, and, still smiling, raises one perfectly plucked auburn eyebrow. "Nice outfit."
I glance down at the black satin peeking from under my robe and the plaid cotton PJ bottoms I pulled on with my nightgown this morning. I pull the robe tight. "I'm working."
"And I need to get back to it."
Jill holds up one hand. "Hold on." She takes a sip of her coffee. "Why is your coffee always better than mine?"
"Because I made it. Anything we don't make ourselves is always better, remember?"
"Right. Listen, this is your afternoon reminder — we have group tonight, and you're leading. 7:00 p.m."
My shoulders droop.
"You'd forgotten, right? Or, better stated, you put it out of your mind."
"No." I pour myself a cup of the fresh French roast. "You know, this thing you do" — I motion between the two of us — "it's called codependency."
"It's called accountability."
"It's just ... Craig is working late, so I thought I would, too. This story" — I shake my head — "isn't going anywhere."
"He's working late again?"
I wave off her question.
"So come and brainstorm. We're the Deep Inkers. We'll energize you, stimulate your creativity. ... We'll work our writers' group magic. You know when you isolate yourself it dulls your vision. Anyway, you're leading — you have to come."
"Facilitating." I look at my neighbor and, next to Craig, the closest thing I have to a best friend, and I wish, as I often do, that I had just half her energy. Not only is she a sought-after freelance editor, but she also has three little ones to chase after. Somehow she accomplishes more in one day than I do in a week. Of course, I remind myself again, she's also twelve years younger. "Since you're reminding me, remind me where we're meeting."
"Where are the kidlets?"
She takes a deep breath. "The kids are with Marcos's parents for the afternoon and evening. Marcos took the afternoon off and is there with them." She glances at her watch. "I have a cobbler in the oven." She goes to the sink, dumps the rest of her coffee, and then rinses her cup. After she rinses it, she reaches under my sink for the dish soap, thoroughly washes the mug, and then opens the dishwasher and sets the overturned mug on the top rack. Then she goes back to the sink and washes her hands, using the same antibacterial dish soap. She puts the soap back under the sink.
I watch her routine, mentally calling her plays like a sportscaster, but I know better than to say anything. We all have our quirks.
She turns to go. "See you at seven?"
I follow her through the laundry room to the back door. "What kind of cobbler?"
"I'll be there."
* * *
I toss my robe on the bathroom counter, peel off my black satin nightgown and pajama bottoms, and then reach into the shower to test the water. Shivering, I wait for the hot water to make its way to the upstairs master bath. Where's a hot flash when you need one? I turn toward the mirror and startle at the image reflected back to me. I run my fingers across the pooch of my abdomen mapped with stretch marks. Having had children might make the marks worthwhile, but mine only remind me of the multiple pounds gained and lost over the last few decades. I turn to the side to view my profile and then lift my sagging breasts. It's evident I need more than wrinkle cream or Botox can offer. A silver landing strip has appeared atop my head since just yesterday, highlighting my once-natural, now bottled, ash-blond tone. Who am I kidding? My ash-blond is almost platinum now. Every time I've seen my stylist in the last year, she's dyed my hair a shade lighter so the gray roots show less, but they only hide for so long.
Is it any wonder Craig doesn't want to come home or falls asleep on me when he is here?
With steam collecting on the mirror and obscuring my reflection, I turn away and step into the retreat of the warm shower, grateful for an excuse to take a break from my manuscript. With hot water pelting my back, the tension in my neck and shoulders eases. But just as I begin to relax, an annoying question poses itself: What does Serena Buchanan look like?
I close my eyes and turn my face to the spray of water, considering the question for a moment. Then I file it in a thick folder titled Things to Think About Later and stuff it into a dusty cabinet somewhere in the back of my mind.
* * *
I was five years old the first time I lost myself in a maze of words printed on a page. Or maybe I found myself there. As I sounded out the words, a new world came to life. The beat of my heart quickened as I ran with Dick and Jane. The sweet scent of freshly cut grass swirled as we yelled, "Go, Spot, go." Jane and Sally became the sisters I never had, and Spot was the dog I'd longed for. With head bent over that first book, my imagination filled in the details between the lines. Or maybe the lines blurred the details of my reality. Either way, as a child, books became my savior.
Books filled the empty space.
Stories set the stage for something more.
And later, writing became my religion.
I began writing during the years we were working to conceive. And it was work. I charted my basal body temperature each morning and wooed Craig home from the jobsite each time I ovulated. And every month, the cramping of my uterus reminded me of my failure. After two years of trying, we succumbed to testing and discovered I was the problem. I was unable to conceive.
Craig said he didn't blame me, but I blamed myself. What was wrong with me that I couldn't fulfill the most primal act of womanhood? I straddled the chasm of grief and self-loathing.
Then I buried my failure under a pile of words.
In a way, books saved me. Again.
A year after I gave up on pregnancy, my debut novel was born.
Now we're godparents to Jill and Marcos's brood. If anything ever happened to them ... I shudder at the thought. Those tykes would run us into the ground.
* * *
After showering and dressing, I return to my desk and take stock. My word count for the day thus far is a paltry 453 words. This, my sixteenth novel, may be my undoing. I click my calendar icon and count the number of days between now, August 8, and October 1, my deadline. I divide the number of words still needed for the manuscript, approximately 78,000, by the number of days, and come up with the daily average I need to write: 1,472 words. That's doable. Although, I didn't account for weekends, unforeseen circumstances, or days like today, when the words refuse to show themselves on the screen.
I have three hours until our meeting. "All right, time to buckle down." I take a deep breath and read the last scene again. It's bad — so bad. I have no choice. I highlight the scene — approximately 2,000 words, including the 453 I wrote earlier — and press DELETE. For the next sixty minutes, I write and delete, write and delete, write and delete. By 6:00 p.m., I still have a negative word count for the day.
I get up from my desk, lift my arms to the ceiling, and bend at the waist, stretching my back. I grab my mug, go to the kitchen, and pour the last of the cold coffee from the pot, popping my mug into the microwave. In the forty-five seconds it takes my coffee to heat, it occurs to me what's wrong with the scene I'm trying to write. It needs to be told from another character's viewpoint. But whose? A male character's, maybe?
I wander back to my office and settle in my desk chair. If I add a male character, he could ask Chloe, my protagonist, pertinent questions and offer a different perspective. I lift the mug of hot coffee to my lips. He could give the reader the understanding they need of Chloe's struggle. My fingers twitch, anxious for their place on the keyboard. Once there, my pulse pounds. Caffeine? No. "It's creative energy, ol' girl, remember?" I open a new document and begin typing notes, considering plot points a new character might facilitate. I bullet point several ideas — just enough to remind me of the thoughts as they form. After several minutes, I lean back in my chair, read my notes, and smile.
I drop down a few spaces in my document, ready to create a persona. I stare at the monitor for a moment. "So, who are you?" I ask my unknown character, half expecting to hear him answer. Again, I bullet point information:
Stature: 6'2" — 195 pounds — fit
Hair: dark brown, cropped short
I think of Craig's hair — the way it's grayed at the temples this past year, giving him a distinguished, okay, even sexy George Cloony-ish look. Why is age so much kinder to men? I go back and add "graying at the temples" to my description.
I spend the next hour imagining, developing, creating Dr. Elliot Hammond, psychologist. After I have a solid physical composite, I make notes about his personality and emotions. I even go as far as assigning him a personality type based on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Once that work is done, I open my Internet browser and do a search for the actor I had in mind when I listed Elliot's physical features — there are hundreds of pictures to choose from. I pick a close-up and print it. When I hear the printer stop, I get up, grab the photo, and pin it next to the pictures of the other characters gracing the bulletin board that hangs above my computer.
I stand back and stare at the photo. He seems almost familiar — like someone I've met or known. Something stirs within me, but I don't ponder the feeling long enough to name it. Instead, I smile.
It seems the new man in my life has inspired my creativity.
* * *
"How many words have you written?" Valerie, a nonfiction writer and the newest member of the Deep Inkers, asks.
I glance at Jill, the freelance editor whom the publisher has hired for my last three books — and for this one. I swallow. "Seventeen thousand-ish."
Quinn, a young blogger who never has to write more than five hundred words to complete a post, taps on her phone, pulling up what I fear is her beloved calculator app. "And your deadline is —"
I hold up one hand. "I know, I know, I know." I fire my declarations in rapid succession. Then I take a deep breath. "You don't need to remind me. I'm behind. I know."
"You haven't missed a deadline yet," Jill encourages. "We'll brainstorm with you."
"Okay" — I glance at my watch — "Quinn, keep track of the time for me, will you?"
Quinn nods and looks at the phone still in her hand. "And three, two, one, go." She points at me.
Because our group is small tonight, I have a full thirty minutes rather than the standard twenty minutes to discuss my project. "Okay, so the good news is that I created a new character this afternoon. A therapist — someone Chloe can talk to."
Valerie leans forward. "Why did she seek out a therapist? What's she working through?"
"Oh ..." I'd forgotten that Valerie is a therapist — a marriage and family counselor is what I think Jill told me when she mentioned Valerie joining the group. "Well, she's ... you know ..." I slump in my seat. "She's ... struggling. But Dr. Hammond — this character — he's good. He's going to be important."
Jill and Craig got together at some point, I'm certain, and designated my nickname as code for "confront her." I square my shoulders.
"Does this story line, a struggling protagonist seeing a therapist, fit your brand?"
I stare at Jill.
"It's a little deeper than —"
"She can make it humorous," Quinn interrupts.
Excerpted from Home by Ginny L. Yttrup. Copyright © 2017 Ginny L. Yttrup. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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