This week my husband signed up to do the Your Novel Blueprint course from Jerry Jenkins. Because we’re both writers – and because it costs an arm and a leg – I’m doing the course along with him, sort of. Listening to the instruction videos, as least. The first few are more motivational: carving out the time to write, finding your goal(s), the real reason(s) why you write, committing yourself for the long haul.
In one exercise we were to imagine someone – I’ll call him Joe – getting off a bus. Who is Joe anyway? Where’s he coming from? Is this his final destination? Is he going to visit someone, or some place? Is he running away from something, or someone? Is someone meeting him here? Who is the most important person in Joe’s life, and why isn’t that person with him? As he looks around, what expression is Joe wearing? Many questions for us to answer, constructing a scene. Then the story: what trouble will Joe have to face now? How will he react, or deal with the trouble?
I really enjoyed this exercise, and soon had a tale-in-the-making…
The English Bride
As the train pulled into town, Annie’s eyes swept up and down the single street. Howard had warned her that Fox Bluff was a small place, but could anyone actually call this a town? It wasn’t a quarter the size of her English village, and they’d all thought that was tiny.
Bone-weary after four days and nights of trundling across this vast country, Annie was ready to throw herself down and kiss the solid earth. She stepped off the train ready for a hot bath and a good meal. She was anxious to go home – their home! – and begin their new life together. For the last hour she’d held his picture in her hand, trying to recall every detail about this handsome soldier she’d been married to for three weeks.
But where was he? She’d expected he’d be here on the platform, anxious to see her again.
Annie walked up and down the platform to get her bearings, waiting for Howard. A few minutes later she grabbed her two suitcases, now sitting beside the train baggage car, and entered the depot. She approached the wicket and spoke to the agent. “Excuse me, sir. I’m Mrs Howard Hendry. I was expecting him to meet me here. Has he been?”
He gave her a puzzled look. “Has he been what?” Then the light dawned. “Oh, you must be Howard’s English woman.”
Annie bristled. “I’m Howard’s wife. He was to meet me here.”
His eyebrows rose. “Well, Mrs Hendry, you may have a little wait, unless you want to walk out there. It’s haying time, you see, and the men don’t take time off for just anything.”
“For just any…” Annie closed her mouth. Least said soonest mended. She looked down at her two heavy suitcases. She was not about to set out walking across this dusty country carrying those. “Is there a tea room here in town where I can wait? I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”
“Tea room! This isn’t England, lady.” His tone softened. “There’s a few tables down at the hotel and you could probably get a cup of tea. Mabel may even have a bit of baking on hand, if you’re hungry.”
At this point in my tale Annie’s trouble is still small-ish. Howard could still show up any minute. So I’ll send her another big problem…
Annie spotted a fly-specked mirror and decided she’d better tuck in straggles of hair before heading for the hotel. She was straightening her hat when two women rushed into the station. Probably mother and daughter. Possibly her new neighbours? Annie would have greeted them but they never glanced her way.
“Millie here needs a ticket to Donahue,” the older woman said. “She’s off to teach school. Frank’s putting her luggage on the platform.”
“Teaching school, eh? Well, good for you, Millie.” The agent wrote out the ticket. “Here you are. One ticket to Donahue for the new schoolmarm. Hope you like your new job and don’t get too many rowdies to wrestle down.”
Her mother paid for the ticket and handed it to Millie. “It’ll be better than sitting at home pining over that lost beau. He’s not worth it.”
“Oh, mother! I wasn’t pining.”
“Yes, you were! And when I see Howard again, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind, that’s for sure. We all knew he’d pop the question after he got home…and then that English floozy got her clutches in him.”
Annie froze. Her Howard? Surely not.
The mother turned to the station agent again. “I’ve heard say those English girls just hung around our army base bold as brass, begging our boys to marry them so they could get away from all that war mess. Can you imagine?”
The agent waggled his bushy brows and swung his gaze meaningfully toward Annie. “Now, Selma, best not believe everything that’s said. You know how some folks exaggerate.”
Millie sighed. “He probably forgot all about me once he got over there with those stylish English girls with their peaches & cream complexion and all. I hope you’ll snub her good and proper when she gets here, Mom.”
“I’m sure every woman in town will snub her good and proper. They all know you and Howard Hendry had an understanding.”
The agent cleared his voice in a gravelly sort of warning that finally caught the older woman’s attention. Annie saw him arch his brows and shoot a meaningful look in her direction.
Selma spun around. “You! You’re the one that stole our Howard.”
Annie flushed. She summoned all her courage for a response. “Yes, I’m the ‘English floozy’ Howard married. And no, we certainly did not hang around the base and beg the Canadians to marry us. I was working in a shop the soldiers came into now and then. Howard and I fell in love. That’s all.”
“Oh, for sure,” Selma retorted. “Why, you’re not half as pretty as our Millie here. I can’t believe he’d take you in her place without a little…coercion.”
Annie’s eyes stung. Millie was a pretty girl; she could see that. She knew she’d be called “plain” by comparison. Still… Her temper rose. “Howard married me because he loves me,” she said firmly. “Besides, so many men were killed in the war. You had no idea if he’d even come back to marry your daughter.”
The station agent intervened before any more could be said. “Selma, if Millie wants to get on that train before it pulls out, she’d better hustle along.”
Her mother took Millie’s arm and guided her toward the door, adding a loud comment in parting. “Well , Millie, you can be thankful for one thing: you won’t have Eloise Hendry as your mother-in-law.”