Happy Birthday, Elizabeth

In an effort to bring you up to speed on what’s been happening with my Cumberland Creek characters, I’m publishing this short story. In my timeline, this happens a year before my next book (SCRAPPED) begins. This takes place in November and SCRAPPED takes place in October a year later. Many of you asked me about Vera’s pregnancy. So I wrote this story to fill in some gaps and I first published in my newsletter. If you’ve not subscribed, please do. Most of my short stories are published there first.

Happy Holidays!

Mollie

 

Happy Birthday Elizabeth

 

Vera placed her swollen feet on the stool as she sank bank into the chair. A long drawn out sigh escaped from her hulking body. She took in the scene before her—a fire in the fireplace, beautiful log cabin walls with quilts hanging on two of them, a rocking chair next to the stone fireplace. One of these days, Vera was going to learn how to quilt.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea for you to come to this retreat,” Sheila said.

“Good Lord, Sheila. It’s only thirty miles from home,” DeeAnn said, as she sat a plate of muffins on the table.

“Get those away from me,” Vera said, turning her face toward the window, which offered a view of the lake, and colorful autumn trees surrounding it.

DeeAnn tsked as she moved them to another table.

“It’s all I need to gain another pound,” Vera said. “I can barely move as it is.”

“Thirty miles of twisty country roads,” Sheila said to DeeAnn, ignoring the conversation about muffins and weight.

“I’m fine,” Vera snapped. “Just pregnant. I’m not due for another few weeks. So chill out Sheila.”

DeeAnn and Sheila exchanged a look.

“What was that all about?” Vera said, an octave higher than her usual.

“Nothing,” DeeAnn said and walked over to the fire, which the group had deemed   DeeAnn’s responsibility. She poked around at it.

Sheila sat down on the huge plaid couch next to her. “You’re just not yourself, dear.”

“Well, who the hell is?” Vera said after a few minutes. “After everything that’s happened…I’m not sure I’ve processed it all. Then there’s this,” she patted her stomach.

The Cumberland Creek Scrapbookers had been planning this retreat for months. It was the only weekend they could all get away at the same time together. They rented a cottage at Sherando Lake, which was a part of the George Washington National Forest.

“You’ll be fine. You’ve got us,” Sheila said.

Vera rolled her eyes. “Look at us. We are a mess. We came up here to scrapbook and…”

Why was Vera being so grouchy? She was more moody than ever.

With all of the tensions in their lives, along with the upheaval the recent murder created, they all felt a need to get away. Vera’s nerves were shot after the whole murder ordeal. Newcomer Annie was shaken, as well. They were all hoping to never have to deal with another murder again.

But so far, Sheila was driving Vera crazy by her fussing, DeeAnn was driving Vera crazy with all the goodies she was baking, Annie mostly went for long walks alone by the lake, and Paige sulked at the scrapbooking table alone. Why was she the only one scrapbooking?

Vera was worried the group was falling apart. They’d been together seven years as a scrapbooking crop—others coming and going but Sheila, Vera, DeeAnn and Paige were the main stays. Sheila and Vera had grown up together. Paige was a few years younger than them in school, but their families all knew one another. DeeAnn was from Minnesota—had married a local man, moved to town and opened her own bakery.

Since Maggie Rae’s murder, things had been tense within the group. It was almost as if making those scrapbooks for her family sapped all the creative energy from them too. They were adrift in their projects and lives.

But nobody had been more tense than Annie, the newcomer who thought she was moving to a sweet, bucolic place, not a town where your neighbor gets murdered in her basement. Annie had been stalked, too. Turns out by an “innocent” man who was troubled. She was so gorgeous that it was a wonder more men didn’t stalk her. Well, mused Vera, she was a bit intimidating, too. Sharp. Said what was on her mind.

Just then, Annie walked back in the house after another one of her walks, looking like a glowing, windswept  goddess. “It’s just so beautiful out there,” she said dreamily.

Vera grunted. She had always loved Sherando with its hills and lakes and thick forest surrounding it. But she was in no mood to talk about its beauty. Truth was, she wasn’t feeling well. She been feeling bloated and cranky for months, it seemed, but today it was different. She tried to fight off heartburn and back pain with Tylenol and anti-acid. It seemed like everything she ate made her hurt.

Looking at Annie, so tall and thin, made Vera want to heave. She was so over being pregnant. The charm of it wore off weeks ago.

 

“What are you working on over there?” Sheila said to Paige.

“Just an album for Randy,” she said. Randy was Paige’s only child, who had grown up and moved away. His father disowned him when he found out he was gay. Paige was trying to patch things up—not easy.

“How’s that going?” Sheila asked.

“Oh well,” she waved her hand. “You know. Randy and I are getting along fine over the phone. We spent that weekend together and had such a blast. But Earl? “ She shrugged.

“He’ll come around,” DeeAnn said. “I mean Randy is his kid, too.”

Paige frowned. “I hope so. But he’s been so brainwashed about gay people. And I suppose it’s harder for a man to come to terms with a gay son.”

Vera didn’t get that at all. She’d never tell Paige, but she thought her husband Earl was an idiot. But of course her own soon-to-be-ex-husband was not much better. But she was proud of Paige for forging ahead and patching up things with her son herself—without Earl’s blessing.

But sitting here, pregnant and without a husband, she didn’t want to hear this conversation at all. Something about it rubbed her the wrong way. You just never knew what kind of child you were bringing in to the world. Gay. Straight. Manic. Gifted. But Vera believed it didn’t matter—that you loved and supported your kid no matter what.

Vera saw Paige running her fingers over the page she just finished. The title was “Mother & Son.” It was surrounded by different photos of them together. One of when he was still a baby in her arms.

“Aw now,” Sheila said. “Look at that.”

“I can’t wait for this baby to get here,” Vera said, feeling more hopeful as she looked at Paige and her page. Look. They survived the baby years, the toddler years, middle and high school, then college. Surely she could manage.

But she’d be managing without a husband.

Oh, Bill wanted to be a part of it all. She was sure he would be—but not in the same way Earl was with Paige and Randy. Her mother, Beatrice, would help as much as she could, too. But she was no spring chicken. Fear ripped through her as it often did ever since she’d been pregnant. She just wanted to scream: “What kind of a sick joke is this, God?”

She’d always wanted to have a baby, but at 41? Alone?

“Me, too,” Sheila said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had a baby to play with. I can’t wait.”

Sheila had four of her own. One was heading for college next year. One was heading for high school—one in middle school, the youngest in elementary.

“Funny, you somehow think of them as an extension of yourself. But they really are their own people. And sometimes it’s not something you planned on or even ever imagined,” Paige said, sort of to herself.

“I’m glad you’re getting to take some time away,” Annie said, changing the subject, as she looked at Vera. “Try to get as much rest as you can, while you can. We’ll all be there to help you out. But this peace and quiet, here, in these mountains…well, once you become a mom, you’ll see these moments are fleeting.”

Annie sat down at the scrapbooking table and fingered through some paper. DeeAnn joined her.

Finally, Vera thought, everybody is at the table. Well, everybody but her. Maybe it was going to be okay. Maybe they would survive as a group—after the weeks of them investigating the murder and now the trial and with all the gruesome details it revealed about Maggie Rae and her family life. Would anything be the same again?

“You know, that’s true,” DeeAnn said, sifting through an envelope of photos and papers. “But I’ve never regretted having kids. I’m so proud of mine I could burst. Doesn’t mean there hasn’t been times I wanted to wring their skinny necks,” she said and laughed.

Annie laughed along as Sheila joined them at the table.

“Are you all actually going to crop at this scrapping retreat?” Vera said. “How about that?”

“Of course we are!” Sheila said, with a little too much cheer in her voice.

Annie went to the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. “Anyone else?”
“I’ll take one,” Paige said. “I need it. Dealing with Earl about Randy has set my nerves on edge. I want him to come home for Christmas. Randy wants to come home. But Earl is all like ‘what will people think? What about the church?’ “

“Those are good questions,” DeeAnn said, after a moment.

“What?” Vera squealed, rolling herself out of her chair. “It’s nobody’s business is what I say.”

“Now, wait, Vera,” DeeAnn said, putting her scissors down. “Paige and Earl live here. They’ve been at that church forever. God knows what will happen if Randy walked through those doors.”

Vera waved them off as she walked up to her chair at the table.

“Man, my back just aches,” Vera mumbled, before sitting down.

“That chair going to be okay?” Sheila said, getting up from hers.

“Sheila, sit down. Good Lord,” Vera said.

Annie reached over and turned the radio on—Alison Kraus was singing. That was one singer they all agreed about so they left it on the station. They wouldn’t get much choice in these mountains anyway.

They all began to dig through their papers, photos, books, and a photo escaped from Vera’s unruly pile. It was Maggie Rae, smiling at the camera, sitting on a swing, must have been in high school, maybe college.

Tears suddenly stung Vera’s eyes as she looked up at DeeAnn.

“We did good by her,” DeeAnn said, in a hushed tone.

Sheila reached out and grabbed Vera’s hand. “We certainly did.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” Vera managed to say.

“Me neither,” Annie said from across the table. “I keep thinking about her kids.”

“I just wish…we could have stopped it,” Vera said.

“Shhh,” DeeAnn said. “Nothing we could do about that.”

“We just didn’t know,” Paige said.

“But we need to be more aware,” Annie said.

Vera nodded. “Yes. Hopefully, nothing like this will ever happen again in Cumberland Creek. But let’s make a pact to be more vigilant. There were signs. Let’s not ignore them any more.”

They all nodded in agreement.

Vera felt her body give off a great heaving sigh as the tension in the room seemed to disappear.

Damn, she was hungry. She started to get up to get a plate of raw veggies that was on the kitchen counter. The room spun and she sat—or rather—fell back into her chair.

“Vera?” Sheila was on her like white on rice.

“Just got a little dizzy. I’m sure it’s my blood pressure,” Vera said. “Something I’ve had to deal with for a few months, now. All this extra weight. Fifty pounds! “

“Are you sure?” Sheila said, reaching for her hand.

“Yes,” Vera said and took a deep breath. “Help me up. I just want that plate of veggies.”

“I’ll get it,” Annie said.

But as Vera stood, leaning on Sheila—a woman half her size—pain ripped through her back and lower abdomen as large gush of water came pouring out from her. It was in a great puddle on the floor.

“Oh great,” Sheila said. “Just great.”

“Shut up, Sheila,” Vera said.

“What?” DeeAnn and the others stood and raced to Vera’s side.

“I just lost my water,” she said, sounding much more calm than what she felt.

“Whoa,” Annie said. “We need to get you out of here.”
“Okay,” Paige said. “We can do that. Let’s just get cleaned up and packed up and leave. “

“We better do it quickly,” Annie said.

“Of course,” Sheila said.

“I mean,” Annie said as she pointed at the window. “It’s snowing.”

“That’s just a little skiff,” DeeAnn said, a Minnesotan who knew her snow. “I’ll drive. It will be okay.”

 

Supplies thrown into to their crates. Clothes heaped into their suitcases. Bags zipping. Food placed into containers and bags.

And the snow started to come down with big fluffy flakes against a gray sky and huge evergreens. Clumps of snow hung on to the green branches.

A white dusting covered the roads. Better that it happen now than later, Vera  thought. But still, she wasn’t due for another three weeks. She took a deep breath, trying not to panic. The weather casters had not called for snow—though it was November and her mother had warned her about the possibility.

“What on earth is wrong with you? What if we get a snow storm? You ready to have that baby holed up in a cabin with nobody to help you but those crazy scrapbookers?” Beatrice had said.

Damn her. Why did she always have to be right?

Vera couldn’t call Bill, couldn’t call her mother, as there was no cell service until they were down off the mountain.

Somehow, Beatrice was already at the hospital. Someone had managed to call her. How did Vera miss that?

And Bill was nowhere to be found.

“Where is Bill?” Vera managed to say, after she caught her breath from a contraction that gripped her and her mother grabbed on to her hand.

“He’ll be here,” Bea said.

“Now, we see you want a natural childbirth,” the nurse said as Vera was placed into a wheelchair, with the scrapbookers swarming around her, like she was their precious queen bee. Of course. Her friends would always be there for her. She warmed.

Beatrice harrumphed.

Another pain tore through Vera, along with her stomach getting as hard as a bowling ball.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she said between breaths. “Give me what ever drugs you’ve got.”

 

Later, as she held her daughter, with her mother and Bill on either side of her, she was awash in emotion and warmth. She fell hopelessly in love with the sweet girl-child in her arms.

“What did you decide for a name?” Bill asked. “What do we call her?”

“Elizabeth,” Vera replied.

A strange sound came from Beatrice—something between a sob and a gasp. “My Mama’s name.”

 

 

 

 

Mary Burton’s Draft Process and Me

 Yesterday, I wrote about my experiences following Mary Burton’s draft process on the Killer Hobbies blog. For those of you following it from this blog, here’s an update.

I’ve been following Mary Burton’s draft process with my third novel in the Cumberland Creek Mystery Series.  This is a new process for me—it’s much more methodical than the way I usually approach my drafts. If you’ve been following along, you know that I sort of skipped ahead on one part, which is that I allowed an early read of the manuscript. I have a beta reader who prefers a early read. She made several suggestions—some of which I’ve taken.

For example, I introduced a new character in this book that I was uncertain about—she set me straight. So, I got rid of the character. Now, if I had not been uncertain about this character, I would not let an outside reader’s opinion affect me in such a way. But there you have it.

So, I’ve been working on the next draft. And now I’m ready to move on with the fourth draft: 

Fourth Draft/Polishing:  Really perfect sentences.  Weed out weak words, eliminate passive voice, use literary devices, and search for clichés.

One trick I’ve learned through years is using Microsoft Word’s search and find function to make this part of the process go quicker and smoother. I will search for over-used words like “well” and “then” and so on. I will also look out for passive voice.

So while I’m working on the third book in my series, I am gearing up for the release of the second book in the series, which is SCRAPPED. I enjoy the, but am finding it a bit surreal at times. (What year is it anyway? And didn’t her daughter just graduate from high school–or was it college? heh.)

So, after I go through what I’m calling HYBRID (at this point) with an eye for perfecting sentences, I will be sending the manuscript to a few beta readers. So, I am nearing the end of the process for this book. After they read it and react, I will look at the manuscript again in terms of what they had to say about it. Then I will let it stew and go back to it one more time before I send it off to my editor. For this part, Mary suggests printing the manuscript, rather than reviewing it on the computer at this stage—I concur. Stay tuned.

Cover Love

For those of you who  have not heard me screaming from from the rooftops, or have not seen my Facebook posts, here is the cover for the second in the Cumberland Creek Mystery series. I love it, what do you think?

Meet Paige, Cumberland Creek Cropper & Red Velvet Cake Expert

Paige Swanson grew up just outside of Cumberland Creek proper—sort of between Jenkins Mountain and the town. She grew up in the modern Mennonite church, which means that to look at her, you’d never know she was a Mennonite. In fact, you might think “aging hippy” when you first see Paige, even though that is not what she is at all.  She is fond of tie-dye shirts and dangly earrings.  In fact, when Annie first meets Paige she thinks her name doesn’t suit her at all. “She looks more like a Willow or Moonbeam.”

Paige is the high school history teacher. She’s the mother of one son—Randy, who is a chef living in Washington, DC, with his partner. She has not spoken to him in years. This issue is a dark cloud hanging over her that bursts from time to time.  His homosexuality goes against everything she believes in—or so she thinks.

Like all Cumberland Creek Croppers, Paige is a pretty good cook, but she loves to make cakes and cupcakes. Her specialty is red velvet.

If you’re interested in more recipes from Cumberland Creek, email me and I’ll send you some. Also, there are recipes in every one of my monthly newsletters–Paper. Story. Recipe. You can subscribe on the sidebar form. You can pre-order Scrapbook of Secrets on Amazon.

Red Velvet Cake

No wedding, no funeral, no picnic is ever complete in the South, without out the comfort of a red velvet cake.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounce red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans.

Lightly stir eggs in a medium bowl with a wire whisk. Add remaining liquid ingredients and stir together with whisk until blended. Set aside. Place all the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl and stir together well with another wire whisk. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix on medium-high for about a minute or until completely combined. Pour into cake pans and then drop the pans on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

After about ten minutes, remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature

8 ounces of Philly cream cheese (1 package), room temperature

2 – 3 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Mix the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add the vanilla extract and mix. Slowly add the powdered sugar. Keep adding until you get to desired sweetness and thickness. Either spread on with a blunt knife or spatula, or spoon into a piping bag to decorate your cake or cupcake.

The Cumberland Creek Croppers: DeeAnn

So, in my last post I introduced you to my main three characters in my upcoming novel, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS—Annie, Beatrice and Vera. Three other regular croppers meet every Saturday night—DeeAnn. Paige, and Sheila, who is the scrapbook consultant in the group.

Since my last post was a bit long, I thought I’d keep it short this time and tell you a bit about DeeAnn.

DeeAnn has been in Cumberland Creek for twenty-five years—and she’s still considered a newbie. She married a local man—her college sweetheart—who is the high school principal. She’s got two daughters, both in college. Fair skinned and freckled, she’s a large, muscular woman—with a baker’s arms and heart. There’s nothing she likes better than feeding people. She brings the most delicious snacks to crops. Her bakery is the only one in town. There are others on the outskirts of Cumberland Creek. As a baker, her focus has always been on bread, cake, and cookies. (Pamela’s Pie Palace has the pie market cornered.) In the first book, DeeAnn hires an intern who has a way with muffins.

A quote from DeeAnn:

“Classical tonight ladies?” Sheila asked.

“Hell no,” DeeAnn said, getting up to head for her bag, pulling out a CD.  “Let’s hear some Stones.”

Blueberry Muffins from DeeAnn’s Bakery

DeeAnn’s intern whipped up a batch of these and forever endeared herself to her boss. When Annie was first offered one, she thought it was almost as big as her youngest son’s head.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1/3 cup milk

1 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cup white sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup butter, cubed

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F .

Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.

Crumb Topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.

If you’d like more recipes from Cumberland Creek, email me at molliebryan@comcast.net.  I’ll send you more. Also, my monthly newsletter, “Paper. Story. Recipe.” will include at least one recipe—along with links to scrapbooking deals and my journaling tips.  You can subscribe over there on my sidebar.

Mom’s Brownies

Okay, so as I’m going through my old columns, keying them in and so on, I ran across a mention of my mom’s brownies. Now I am suffering from an intense craving for them. Because I am nursing a horrible sinus infection, I simply don’t have the energy for baking. But I thought if I shared the recipe with you, it might help alleviate my longing. Well. It’s worth a try. I love these brownies—they are perhaps the most moist I’ve ever eaten. Of course, that’s the Hershey’s Syrup making it’s magic. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt one stick of butter (or oleo, as mom says).

Mix it with one cup of sugar and four eggs.

Mix in one cup of flour and one 6-ounce can of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup.

Grease a 13 x 9 pan.

Pour the batter in.

Bake for 25 minutes.

After it cools, sprinkle powdered sugar over it.

Sign up for my newsletter for more recipes. You can sign up on the sidebar panel. Also, I’ve a group of recipes available from Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop. Email me at molliebryan@comcast.net if you’d like a copy.

Five things I thought about during my morning run:

1. Moving along with my Cumberland Creek Mysteries.I hope to have book two, SCRAPBOOK OF SHADOWS, off my desk this week.

2. So hot and humid this morning.

3. Sometimes I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be able to stay at home and write. But it’s not easy for me and my family.I wonder if my decisions have been the right ones.

4. It was so nice to be at the pool yesterday with Jen and her boys. Highlight of my week, probably.

5. We’ve been watching a lot of Sherlock Holmes recently. Both the new series and the old one. Funny to find out after 20 years of marriage how much my husband likes it. So we watched several episodes together yesterday. Ni-ice.