On January 27, 2005, I sat in a hospital room beside a bed, where a precious and beloved friend lay semi-conscious. It just about killed me to see this fiery lady lay still and not to hear her typically endless, witty commentary on life. Nonetheless, my family and I tried to talk to her like we always did, with me even teasing her about her favorite foods. When it was time to leave, though, I sobbed over the prospect of her story ending. And in eight short hours, it did.
6,429 days later, I like to think I’m reopening that book through Wrong Line, Right Connection, which comes out today. I could never claim to duplicate the original story, because Mabel Jennings Stentz was truly a work of art all on her own. Nonetheless, it’s been an immense pleasure to share a glimmer of her wit, impeccable fashion sense, and her genuine charm with the literary world.
Like I mentioned in The Book The Blog Wrote, I hesitated to write a book all about Mabel, partly because it was weird to think about putting my honorary grandmother at the helm of a romance novel! My reservations went further than that, however. As I said earlier, I didn’t believe I could capture the essence of such a dynamic, call-it-like-it-is woman. To put her on a flat, black and white page seemed almost preposterous.
I dipped my toes into the water with adding her to Forgetting My Way Back to You, and though I usually joke about my writing coach’s effusive feedback about her, it really bolstered my confidence. I was so tickled that my depiction of her caught her attention like that, even though she never met the real Mabel. In truth, I loved imagining every scene that included Mabel and calling her voice and wry statements to mind.
When I came around to the idea of writing a stand-alone novel about her, the element of the switchboard gave me the drive I needed, but it, too, brought some anxieties. I didn’t live in the time of the switchboard, and I’m not a big history buff. If you’d told me five years ago that I would write a period piece of any sort, I would’ve said, “That’s another Karina Bartow!”
I interviewed Mabel about her days as a switchboard operator, but given it was just for an eighth-grade project, I didn’t remember much of anything she said. Hence, I had to do my share of research to understand how it worked. Thankfully for me, her age of ninety in Forgetting My Way Back to You, which was set in 2013, allowed me to place her at the switchboard in the 1960’s. It was the later years of the switchboard, with it being phased out of culture for the most part in the ‘70’s, but I felt more comfortable with that era. As a big fan of classic television, I relished in learning more about the decade and visualizing the scenes.
All in all, this story I often dismissed from my mind ended up being the most pleasurable writing experience I’ve had thus far. The finished product may not be the thickest book on a shelf, but I packed it with as much love and nostalgia as I could muster. I sincerely hope readers sense my adoration for these special characters and that the story will dial into their hearts.
When the motel lit up a third time, she dropped the preamble. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stentz. I’ll get it right this time.”
“No problem, but now that I think about it, you can give me the number, anyhow. That way, I won’t have to trouble you if I need to make another call during my stay.”
She did her best to conceal her humiliation while she recited it. She didn’t cry often, but to her alarm, a tear traced down her cheek. With him living out of the state, they probably would never cross paths, but discouragement washed over her. She blew her chance, if she had one to blow in the first place.
“Thank you, miss.” His chivalry didn’t crack, a sign of what a nice fellow he must be, given what she put him through. “Since I have you again, I wanted to ask if you’d like to go to dinner with me tonight? I was hoping someone could show me the sights before I head north. Plus, I’d like to find out if you’re a better date than you are an operator.”
To get to know Mabel even better, read Forgetting My Way Back to You, available for 99 cents this week only on Kindle!
Character Spotlight: Mabel Jennings
Character Spotlight: Roy Stentz