Jennifer Sienes

Enchanted Nights

The house was straight out of a Stephen King novel with its gray shake-shingle siding, peeling painted front steps, and the fat orange cat guarding the entrance. Dormer windows glared down on us like two censorious eyes from what appeared to be a circular room on the third floor. The entire residence resembled a pre-schooler’s attempt at coloring—green-trimmed windows, teal-blue railing along the rickety front porch, pink-painted French doors trimmed with more teal blue. The faded pink heart-sign posted just off the sidewalk must have been as old as the structure. Swirling purple script partially hidden behind an overgrown tree identified the house as the Enchanted Nights Bed & Breakfast.


Chris looked at me. “What do you think?”


A shiver ran up my spine as I spotted a lone VW Bug parked in the gravel lot as if abandoned. Our two-week vacation was almost over, and our final destination was Boston and then home. We’d left Portland, Maine that morning, heading for Manchester-by-the-Sea, but when Sunday night traffic slowed to a parking lot, we exited the freeway and decided to make do.


“I don’t know. It’s kind of creepy.” Our GPS told us we were in Kittery, but I had no clue where that was. We’d passed through so many states over the last two weeks, they all seemed to run together. We had started in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and I really wished we were there at that moment. It had felt safe and sane. Unlike Kittery.


“The price is right,” Chris reminded me.


I frowned at the house. “Not if Freddy Kruger’s renting one of the rooms it isn’t.” And that appeared to be a distinct possibility. Chris liked a bargain, but what good would saving a few bucks do if we didn’t survive to take advantage of it?


“Let’s at least look at a room.” My husband was always the practical voice of reason.


I was too tired to argue. “If the owner resembles Anthony Perkins or says his name is Norman, I’m out of here.”


I reached for Chris’s hand as we moved around Garfield’s twin and climbed the peeling, painted steps. As we stepped inside, it was as if we entered a time machine. A dining room to the left of the foyer was set up with several chintz-covered tables, chairs with chintz cushions surrounding each one. Pictures plastered the walls over rose-patterned wallpaper, and every conceivable space was cluttered with what appeared to be vintage memorabilia. We were trapped in a 1950’s nightmare.


An odd, little man with coke-bottle glasses suddenly appeared as if he was an apparition. At least he wasn’t tall and thin, so he had that going for him. Still, his nasally voice and odd smile didn’t bring me any comfort. “Are you the couple that called about the room?”


“Yes, we are,” Chris said. “Would you mind if we take a look at it before we decide?”


“Why, of course.” He stepped around us and led the way toward a narrow, curved staircase bookended by two walls. Each tread was cluttered with more vintage pieces—rose-painted metal watering cans, old stuffed animals, ceramic wash bowls—making the trek upstairs precarious. Good luck if we needed to make a quick exit.


“We have a room on the second floor that’s available, but it shares a bathroom with another room. Then we have the Turret Room.” He smiled. “It’s on the third floor, but it has its own bath.”


“Do you want to try that one?” Chris asked me.


“Sure.” I certainly didn’t want to share a bathroom with a stranger, although I got the distinct feeling there wasn’t anyone else around. There were no noises coming from the recesses of the house, no voices, no music, just dead silence. Dead. Silence. Another shiver ran up my spine.


We reached the top of the stairs with no missteps, and the innkeeper turned left on the landing. He unlocked the door and threw it open with a grin. It was the obvious pride I noted on his features that kept me from laughing outright when I entered the Turret Room.


Immediately to the left of the door sat a toilet. I could literally use the potty and open the door at the same time. Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Beyond that was a small shower covered by a flower-patterned curtain. To the right of the door sat a chintz-covered sofa, of course. Straight ahead there was another curtain that led into the room where a small sink nestled against one wall and a double bed against the other. The windows that faced the front yard were the two that had glared down at us when we arrived. The room was so small, I’d have to go out on the landing to have a thought.


To this day, I don’t know what made us agree to stay at the Enchanted Nights Bed & Breakfast. It was late, and we were tired and hungry. Never the best circumstances in which to make a decision. We agreed to the room and were left alone.


Chris walked to the windows and peered down. “You know, if there’s a fire, we have no way out. We’d be trapped. Cooked alive.”


“Well, that’s a cheery thought.” When I plopped onto the bed, my backside met a concrete-hard mattress. Pain shot up my spine on impact, and I scowled. It was bad enough we were staying in Bates Motel, but there would be no sleeping on that horrid bed.


“Let’s go find some dinner,” Chris suggested. “The less we hang out here, the better.”


We carefully made our way back downstairs where the innkeeper was lurking in the dining room. Chris asked for a restaurant suggestion, although I would have been happy to take our chances. The sooner we were back outside, the sooner I could breathe again.


“There is a wonderful restaurant just this side of the bridge,” he said.


I remembered we had passed over a bridge when we first arrived, and it was only a few blocks away. The summer fresh air would do us good, and I was always up for a brisk walk.


“You’re welcome to join us for breakfast,” he invited. “We serve between seven and nine.”


“We appreciate it,” Chris said, “but I’m sure we’ll be on the road before then.” He took my arm and led me to the front door to make our escape.


After we ate dinner, Chris suggested we take a walk. “I’m in no hurry to get back to that place.”


I had to bite my tongue to keep from voicing my thoughts—you get what you pay for. It seemed I was constantly reminding Chris of this sage adage. But I had my chance to speak up earlier, so kept my thoughts to myself for once.


We left the restaurant and crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge to be met with a memorial sitting on a small square. Where had I seen that before?


“Hey, babe.” I pointed to the memorial. “Doesn’t that look like the same one we saw when we were in Portsmouth at the beginning of our trip?”


“Huh. It does. That’s funny.”


“I wonder if Kittery is a sister city to Portsmouth?” I pulled out my phone. When in doubt, Google. A minute later, I slapped my hand over my mouth to hold back the bark of laughter.


“What?” Chris smiled in response, even though he had no idea what amused me.


“We’re in Portsmouth.” I showed him the map app. “The bridge we just walked over? It connects Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Kittery, Maine.” How could we be so turned around that we didn’t even know where we were?


“That’s embarrassing,” Chris said.


I laughed as I looked around. Déja Vu. “Now I know why everything looks so familiar.” We continued to walk to the downtown area pointing out where we’d had breakfast on our first day and coffee later that afternoon. It felt normal, unlike our accommodations.


“Clearly, if we don’t even know where we are anymore, it’s time to go home,” I said.


Later that night, I laid on our concrete mattress, tossing and turning. Even if the bed had been filled with down, it was too hot to sleep. I was trapped between my husband and the wall, sweaty and cranky. Chris was on his back, eyes wide open, muttering about the dangers of a fire.


“This is ridiculous,” I finally said, sitting up on one elbow to check the time. Two o’clock. “Let’s get out of here.”


“You hardly slept.”


“That’s not going to change.” I pushed the damp sheet off my body. “You’re worried about us burning in a fire, and I’m jumping at every creak this old place makes. We already paid, so there’s no reason to stay until morning, is there?”


He slid out of bed. “Let’s go.”


We threw our things into the suitcase and tiptoed down the stairs, cringing at every squeak. Aside from the innkeeper, we hadn’t seen another soul—unless we counted Garfield. But then, I’d always been told that animals don’t have souls.


We’d spent time visiting family in Portland, toured Bar Harbor, and Kennebunkport. We walked the Freedom Trail in Boston, saw sail boats and lighthouses, and ate fresh lobster. But of the two weeks we spent on that vacation, the Enchanted Nights Bed & Breakfast stands out above the rest. Sometimes it’s the strangest things that stay with us.


Katherine Scott Jones

Shadow Sister: The Outtake Reel

I love a good outtake reel—footage of those false starts and rejected pieces from the making of a movie that wind up on the cutting room floor.

In creating a book, writers end up with a similar pile of rejected footage—scenes and ideas that got put on a page but did not make the final cut. Today I’m letting you in on some of that which went into the creation of my novel Shadow Sister.

Shadow Sister tells the story of a vintner’s daughter, bound by guilt, who embarks with a small-plane pilot on an Andean journey to discover secrets of her estranged, dead sister’s life and fulfill her last request. Along the way, she unravels secrets that test her devotion to home and make her question whether truth is worth the cost of forgiveness. Shadow Sister explores the mysteries of the human heart and the bond of unquenchable love.

The Title

Titles are always hard for me. True to form, it took me until the last minute—and required input from my editor—before I finally landed on Shadow Sister. Before that, my working title was The Shadow of Light, and before that, I toyed with various versions of The Sweetness of Light. I’m so glad we finally settled on Shadow Sister—it is the right one for this book as, depending on your vantage point, the term could be applied to either of the two sisters.

The Setting and Main Character

Shadow Sister takes place in two main locations: Bolivia and an eastern Washington vineyard. The Bolivian setting was never in question, but it took quite a bit of experimenting before I landed on the vineyard and made my main character, Sarah, a vintner’s daughter. This ended up providing a wealth of contextual details that dovetailed beautifully into the story I wanted to tell. Until I figured that out, I had cast Sarah as a marine biologist named Kate living in Seattle.

Scrapped Research

Story research of course turns up far many more tidbits of interesting info than a writer can possibly fit into the pages of a single novel. Here are some of the Bolivian fun facts I wished I could have used:

  • Social customs
    • Bolivians tend to eat outdoors when it is not raining.
    • Many men do not feel comfortable eating in front of strangers, so they will often face a wall or sit hunched over their food when they are eating in public.
    • Cha’lla is a ritual blessing drawn from Catholic tradition, indigenous religious ceremony, or—typically—a combination of both. Performed by a yatiri (spiritual leader) or Catholic priest, a cha’lla ceremony is performed whenever a new building is finished to ensure future peace in that building.
    • Many Bolivians believe in karisirus, or night phantoms. These harmful spirits catch people out after dark or when they’re sleeping. Legend says that they split their victim’s stomach and extract some of the fat.
  • Beverages
    • While the traditional Bolivian beverages api and mate de coca are featured in Shadow Sister, several others are not:
      • refresco (fruit juice with a dried peach at the bottom of the glass)
      • tostada (a mixture of barley, honey, cloves in water)
      • chicha (homemade corn beer)
      • singani (made from grapes, a cross between wine and whiskey)
      • Spanish, Aymara, and Quechua are Bolivia’s three national languages, and they differ from each other greatly. For example, the number one in Spanish = uno, Aymara = ma, Quechua = hoq.

I hope this glimpse into what didn’t make it onto the pages of Shadow Sister piques your interest in discovering more of what did!


Susan K. Beatty

Where Real Life and Fiction Meet

Among the most terrifying words today are: You have cancer.

When our thirty-one-year-old daughter told us, “I have breast cancer,” shock dropped us to our knees.

Over the next eleven years, Melanie would hear those words two more times. The second episode labeled her stage IV metastatic, of which there is no cure.

Talk about the need to be on our knees praying.

Melanie’s faith and courage throughout her journey have encouraged many, and it inspired me to write about “Courage at the intersection of faith and grit” in a series entitled Faces of Courage.

In each of the novelettes and the full-length novel, Faces of Courage, are characters confronted by breast cancer. And, because life likes to throw us more than one curve at a time, other trials befall each one.

Besides breast cancer, Marissa, in House of Courage, deals with weather events that threaten to destroy her family farm. In Isobel’s Mission of Courage, Isobel feels compelled to take in a homeless woman–while undergoing cancer treatments. Olivia’s husband, in Faces of Courage, becomes increasingly abusive.

Where will these women find the strength to get through such difficulties?

As many of us do when confronted with a new and frightening trial, these characters begin by thinking they can’t handle the situation and that they have no courage. But as they work through their emotions, pray, and turn to God’s Word, they begin to discover it won’t and can’t be done in their own strength.

How many times have I struggled against something, trying to be courageous, only to realize I’m trying to handle it by myself? (More times than I can count!)

Courage begins with faith. God commanded us to believe in the name of Jesus, and we are saved by grace through faith, a gift of God. That faith is a confidence in God the Father to do what He has promised us He will do. He promises to be with us always. He loves us, and has a plan for us.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments His people are told to stand firm, take courage. I Corinthians 16:13 tells us: Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

As Melanie waded through her treatments, her faith grew stronger. One of her most difficult surgeries involved having two-thirds of her cancer-diseased sternum removed and replaced with a donor bone attached with titanium clamps. If you’ve ever had a cracked rib, you can imagine in a small way what it may have felt like having everything inside feel broken.

Yet her faith stood firm. She will be the first to tell you it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t in her own power, but in the power of God.

I strive to show real, flawed characters, like we are in true life, struggling to find courage, but increasing in faith and stepping out with grit.

And in the end bringing glory to God.

This was originally published as a guest post on Diana Leagh Matthews’s blog, “Rebel to Redeemed…Sharing HIS kind of Love.”