Friday, February 15, 2013

Old Letters - Heartwarming or Heartwrecking

      As I posted the link to my previous blog, The Dead Art-Writing Letters, on Facebook, I suddenly remembered that letters played a huge role in my novel, Flourish. How could I have forgotten that? In my Facebook post I wrote:  Sad how we've lost that art, that keepsake that could make us smile on a rainy day when we pull out the old box from the top of the closet and re-read letters home from camp when we were ten. Well, that’s not what happened to Liz, my protagonist. The letters she found were not lovely memories of her childhood. No. Those letters forced her to confront her husband, Dick. They were the last straw in a bumpy sixteen year marriage that had started off on a bright note, full of love, with a country club wedding and flower girls and bridesmaids all dressed in pink.

      Below is an excerpt from Chapter One where I introduce the letters. To set the scene: Liz is in bed unable to sleep, consumed with stress over how she’s going to get her grapes picked. It’s harvest time, her vineyard is full, bursting with succulent ripe fruit, and she doesn’t know how she’s going to get the job done without Dick at her side. And it’s not just picking the fruit; she has to get that fruit made into wine, then bottled, labeled, and sold – and support her kids. It’s no wonder her eyes won’t close.

She lifted her head and took another sip of Cabernet, her comforting night time companion, and then slapped the glass down on the bedside table. You had to go wreck it with your drinking and drugs – and those damn letters. You really thought I’d never find them? 

 Later, in Chapter Three, the reader learns more about those mysterious letters. We are introduced to Michael, the new man in Liz’s life.  He has just sent her roses, something her ex never did .

Michael came along just when Liz needed picking up. Dick had been emotionally murdering her; self- esteem was not even part of her vocabulary. The final knife plunged into her heart on the afternoon she climbed the ladder in the old barn searching for the shoebox full of her childhood photographs. Instead, she discovered another box. A box of letters addressed to Dick, high on a shelf, shoved behind a bunch of old hats. The suspicions Liz tried to bury lit up like the marquees in Times Square. She knew where her husband was all those nights he didn’t come home. While doing laundry, walking the vineyard inspecting grapes, driving Noah to a friend’s, making dinner, the curlicued scripted words on the perfumed pink paper screamed in her head:

 “I miss you already. You just left this morning and I can’t wait to have you again. Let’s get high and make love. Come Friday night, to my house and my bed. I’m waiting, my darling. Always remember, I’m the one who loves you. With kisses (and you know where), Diane.”

When Liz finally confronted Dick, he grabbed the box, threw her a “who the hell are you” kind of sneer, and stormed out. The next day he came back, attached his trailer to his green pickup truck and left for good. And Liz began drinking herself to sleep.

These excerpts might have you thinking Flourish is a romance novel. It’s anything but. Yes, there is a little romance, some heartache, not only from those letters, and a touch of sex (what would a novel be without it?) but Flourish, I've been told by some in the book business, is upmarket women’s fiction which means it crosses the lines of literary (character driven) and commercial (plot driven) fiction. It is a novel, unpublished as yet, appropriate for book clubs. Flourish is a story of how women, with grit, determination, and the support of friends, can overcome adversities and succeed in ways they never expected. It is set on a hillside vineyard in the emerald green Lehigh Valley.

Recently I read two other books with strong female characters full of guts and moxy, with their land playing a huge role in their stories, just like Liz and her beloved vineyard: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, partly set on a vineyard, and The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo, set in an olive orchard. On my "to read" list is a much older book, Oh! Pioneers by Willa Cather, about a woman who inherits the family farmland and devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise. She sounds like my Liz, only Liz didn't inherit her land, she aquired it when her husband walked out, and she is determined to keep it and prove him wrong.
If you’d like to read the entire first chapter of Flourish you can do so on my website:

To my followers looking for my fitness tip, I'm sorry. Not this post. I’ll be back soon with exercises to relieve the tightness in your neck, to help you look over your shoulder with ease. We've all got some stress, and Liz certainly did. Our necks seem to be a place the tension likes to sit. So keep watching for my post. And thank you...

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