Michelle Isenhoff

What's Next?

I’ve had a few people ask me what’s next on my agenda. I’ve been a little secretive. I’m still going to be a little secretive, but I’ll give you a broad hint at the end of this post. But first, what have I been doing?
Reading and reading and reading. I’ve reread old favorites and tried some new ones. I’ve listened to audiobooks while I walked. (Can’t bike. Winter sucks.) And I watched the movie for every book that had one. Even after I got Tears back from beta readers in Oct/Nov, it took me weeks to work up the motivation to finish it. It finally published, and still I read. Then last week I picked up my own series.
I don’t often reread my own work. It makes me too self-conscious, and my early books sometimes make me cringe. But I’d like to turn the Recompense series into audiobooks and wanted to catch any last typos or tweak any rough phrases before it reaches that inelastic format. Enough time has passed, especially since I looked at the first few books, that I no longer have vast chunks of text memorized and can read them more objectively.  And I wanted to experience the quick sweep of the series as a whole, which is pretty much impossible for an author to judge while they’re in it. Lol, I have to say I hooked myself on my own series.
Even Ella Wood, my last series, has a couple structural issues that my ultra-picky eyes notice. I did some serious studying of the art of novel-writing and some serious brainstorming before I ever started Recompense, and I have to say, I am really, really proud of this one. I’m happy with my character arcs. I’m happy my plot arcs. I’m happy with the way the main trilogy hangs together. And I’m thrilled that I was able to dive into the series as a reader and get so sucked into it that I couldn’t put it down for days. Is that like, horrifically boastful, lol? It’s the first time I’ve been able to say it about my own writing, so I guess I’ll boast proudly.
[And with that shameless self-promotion, I might as well tell you book one has been free all weekend and will remain so until the end of today.]
I finished reading the first three books. I’ve got to fix one last typo and reupload the third book, which I’ll do as soon as this post publishes, then I’m going to submit them to Audible. Tonight I’ll pick up the rest of the series and finish books four and five, but today, I’m going to bring all other reading to an end. Today I’m diving back into my next project, Where Angels Weep.
This is going to be historical fiction/romance again, at least 150K, a sweeping story from the 1920’s that I’d like to try to publish traditionally. (Series are hard enough for an indie to market; stand-alones are pretty much impossible.) Which means it won’t see the light of day for a while, unfortunately. I’ve got 5K written and I hope to finish by spring. Research always stretches out that rough draft phase, but I’ve gotten a good start. I plugged in several historical accounts during my weeks of reading. It’s fascinating stuff. Then I’ll need to start the submission process, with or without an agent. All new. I’ll let you in on that process and those decisions as I get there. Then if I manage a contract, it will likely be another year before the book sees print. If I can’t land a contract, I will self-pub. But this story has significant modern relevance. I think trying traditional is the step I need to take at this point. At least for this book.
So what’s it going to be about? A horrific event that happened about an hour from my hometown nearly 100 years ago that the world never should have forgotten. See if you can figure it out. Here’s your broad hint, the (early and unedited) prologue to the novel:
My shoes whisper through the uncut grass, each step a sigh mourning the loss of another fleeting moment. It was my granduncle who told me that life could be measured in footsteps. I didn’t understand what he meant until many years later. How could I? When we’re children, time purls over lazy summer days before collecting in the pool of a brand new classroom. The advancing grades of the schoolhouse are the only calendar we recognize. Each bright, innocent morning slides into evening with no awareness of its value. Of its irretrievability. We are blinded by the assumption that so many more remain to us.
Not until I reached the brink of adulthood did I discover how quickly the years roll past. How they seem to flow through our fingers like quicksilver the moment we think to grasp at them. Families. Careers. PTA meetings, dance recitals, vacations, board meetings. Life becomes a flurry of quick steps and the juggling of too many obligations. But children grow up and careers wind down. Eventually the pace slows to the muted shuffle of bedroom slippers on the tiles of a retirement home.
That is my last memory of my granduncle.
The spring day seems at odds with my morbid thoughts. Sunshine heats the top of my head and brightens new leaves to a lurid shade of green. The sky gleams so brilliantly blue that my eyes burn with it. And the roses I carry sweeten the air with the most delectable scent. Who could ponder death on such a day, when the air vibrates with the flutter of birds’ wings and the steady thrum of insects?
I suppose I could be forgiven, considering where I walk.
A lawnmower roars to life a street or two away, covering the fainter sounds of the distant freeway. I weave around a maple tree and wend among headstones, pausing now and again to brush a hand over timeworn granite. It’s peaceful here despite the muffled reminders of the outside world. Almost as if the superficial business taking place out there can’t penetrate the cemetery beyond a vague awareness.
But all of Bath holds that same unearthly quality for me. If time stops anywhere, it has done so in this tiny village. Returning takes me straight back to the carefree years of my girlhood. The school buildings clustering east of town look nearly the same as they did when I spent my days inside them. The farms sprawling across the countryside have hardly altered at all. Even the people remain unerringly constant. A little more weathered, perhaps, but they’re the faces I remember. Tucked away in a hidden corner of Michigan’s agricultural belt, Bath doesn’t draw a wealth of newcomers. But families who have called it home for years cling to it tenaciously, like the deep-rooted trees in the windbreaks between fields. Folks like my parents. And my uncle.
I blink back a wave of nostalgia. I’ve always been the sentimental one in the family. I have a trunk filled with mementos from those long-ago days—clamp-on aluminum roller skates, the collar worn by a beloved Labrador, a dried carnation dating from my first high school dance, a musty cheerleading uniform—and I’ve managed to save just as many treasures from my own children’s youths. It only made sense that I’d be the one to rescue the boxes of yearbooks, letters, and water-damaged photographs from my uncle’s estate.
I come to a grave marker carved into the likeness of an angel. Its face is downturned, its shoulders slumped over the curve of granite. A graceful, trailing hand gestures to the names engraved in block letters. There are two of them. One belongs to the uncle who always seemed more like a grandfather—the man who kept score at my little league games and played a million rounds of checkers with me on his front porch after school, always with glass bottles of RC Cola near to hand—and the aunt I knew only from stories.
I drop to my knees and run a finger over the rough line of my uncle’s name. Through my jeans, I feel the cool moisture of raw earth. Only three months have passed since I stood in this same spot with a crowd of friends and relatives and buried him beside his bride. Spring has scarcely had time to cover the naked scar of his grave. But I knew I had to make the trek and carry on the tradition he long maintained and place a flower on Aunt Mae’s grave. Especially now that I’ve begun reading a stack of journals written in her precise hand. I’ve brought a rose for each of them.
A wreath lies propped against the headstone beneath my uncle’s name. The patriotic groups who decorate the gravesites of veterans have already been here. But in Bath, late May brings with it more than just the memory of those who served in the armed forces. Dozens of fresh bouquets dot the cemetery, laid at the bases of headstones with far too few years between their dates. Stones that almost all include May 27.
My Aunt Mae’s grave bears such a bouquet.
Instead of adding my roses to the collection on the ground, I rise and lay them in the outstretched hand of the angel. They hang suspended above the graves, a perpetual offering. At least until the roses crumble into dust. It takes little effort for me to imagine that time froze just as the sorrowful figure was in the act of dropping them. It’s fitting.
My uncle was the one who chose the weeping headstone. Bath, he always said, had given the angels much to grieve over.

What's Next?
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