My next book, Northern Comfort, is getting oh-so-close to its July 19 release. This novel is about the harsh realities of rural life in New England.
Willi is a single mother trying to raise her young son, who was brain-damaged at birth. She had a tough childhood after her kind father died in a crash while drunk and her mother married a cruel man who abused Willi. Then she married young.
Now, Willi and Cody live in a cabin left to them by the loving grandfather who took them in after Junior Miller, the boy’s father, abandoned them. Willi’s situation is a desperate one. She’s alone, barely making it. But she’s tough and doing the best she can.
In the opening scene, Willi is home from her job cutting hair at a country beauty shop and hanging clothes on a line in her backyard. It’s the dead of winter, cold and dark, but the job has to get done. She doesn’t have a drier because she can’t afford one.
Willi tries to keep Cody close to her as she works. But then tragedy happens when the boy’s sled quickly takes him in the path of a truck driven by Miles Potter. Willi and Miles have known each other since they were kids, but until the moment her son dies, they were separated by their families’ places in town.
How Willi handles this situation demonstrates her resilience and the kindness of those living in her small town, including Miles. Then, there is Junior, who eventually faces his failings as a father.
That’s what Northern Comfort is about. It’s not the stuff for pretty postcards although I do include a lot of the hilltowns’ traditions like maple sugaring and making old-time music.
By the way, Willi is not based on anyone real. The same goes for all of the characters in this novel. Without sounding like a nut, the story and the people in it came to me as they do with the other books I write.
Here is a scene from Northern Comfort. The chapter is called “The Buy.” Thanks to donations people gave Willi at her son’s funeral, she is able to buy boots to replace the cracked ones she has.
Willi parked her car next to a display of roof shingles poking through a snowbank outside Fisher Brothers Hardware in Penfield. The store never seemed to change, not since she was a little girl coming here with Daddy to get new works for the toilet or something else to repair their house. She sidestepped the displays of stovepipes and paint cans, the floorboards bending and squeaking beneath her feet. The last time she was here was in the fall when she bought tarpaper to wrap her house and the red sled for Cody. Today, she had two things to buy: a light shade to replace the one her boy broke and a pair of boots, if they were still on sale, as one of her customers told her.
Horace Fisher stood behind the counter, one of three brothers, who were all in their seventies and too stubborn to let the next generation take over. He smiled at Willi. Horace had an extra-long space between his thin upper lip and the bottom of his nose, a common trait among all the Fishers, who lived in Penfield even before it was officially a town centuries ago.
“Willi, it’s been a while. How are you doing today?”
They made small talk about her errands and the winter as he directed her to the lighting section, where she pondered for several minutes on the selection of glass shades. Horace showed her an opaque shade, a white rectangle with slanted sides. But she had her eye on a round one, its surface engraved like lace, which was twice as much. A few weeks ago, she would have taken Horace’s suggestion, but now she didn’t.
“That’s a nice shade, but I like this one better. Now, I’d like to buy some boots.”
She walked behind Horace, who carried the glass shade to that part of the store. The boots stood in lines on long, wooden shelves. Willi saw a pair of insulated ones from Canada, which cost more than she expected, but they appeared the warmest. She fingered the wool felt lining, thinking of the cold wrapping around her toes whenever she stepped outside.
Horace cleared his throat. “Well, we were running a sale last week on ladies’ boots, twenty percent off. But I was telling my brother Homer this morning we should extend it another few days. He said it was fine by him.”
She knew the man was fibbing, but it was a nice fib. She sat on a wooden stool to try on the boots. They fit right on her feet. She stretched her legs and rolled the boots on the back of their heels.
“They’re awfully nice. I’ll take them, too.”
At the counter, Horace centered the glass shade on a stack of newspapers and wrapped the sheets to pad it. He tilted his head as he eyed Willi kindly.
“I was sad to hear of your little boy’s death,” he said. “We lost a child, too, a little girl, Pearl, our next to the youngest. She drowned in an irrigation pond. My wife thought I was watching her, and I thought she was. It was such a long time ago.” He shook his head slowly. “It gets better, but you never forget. I don’t think you’re supposed to.”
Willi smiled as she gazed into the man’s eyes, a blue as light as water. Old-timers have manners, she thought, as she opened her purse to complete the purchase.
“I’m so sorry about your little girl,” she said. “Yes, it’s hard these days.”
LINK: Here’s the link to buy Northern Comfort. It’s only $2.99 for Kindle. Thank you if you do. Paperback readers will have to be a little patient.