I don’t remember where I was the first time I heard the term “women’s fiction,” but I do know that it stopped me in my tracks. I thought at first that it was superfluous, that romance was women’s fiction. It was, after all, the only genre written by women, about women, and for women. Well, for the most part.
But then someone said, “No, it’s the woman’s journey.” Oh. The person didn’t, as I recall, add dummy to the end of the sentence, but it was implied. And deserved.
It—women’s fiction—is my favorite thing in reading. And writing. Long before someone gave it its own name, it was what I wanted. I grew up reading about Trixie Belden and Sue Barton. Jim Wheeler and Bill Barry were important parts of their journeys, but they were never the only parts that mattered. I love romance and always have, but even in those books, my heart is intent on the woman’s own story. I want a Happily-Ever-After…of course, I do, because that’s what I want for all of us, but I don’t want all the scars removed in the process. It’s the scars, you know, that tell the story.
My own romances have women’s fiction leanings in them, some that editors have pushed back the other way and some that they just sighed and waved me on. My favorites in my own work are the ones where they just waved me on.
Only once have I crossed the line entirely and written a book that wouldn’t fit comfortably on romance shelves—even if my writer’s heart is in the women’s fiction section. In The Girls of Tonsil Lake, even though Andie, Vin, Jean, and Suzanne all love the men in their lives, they are formed by many things beyond those loves. They are 51, have been friends since they were five, and they share secrets and support and lifetimes full of tears and laughter.
It’s on sale now, for 99 cents for the digital copy. I hope you buy it and like it. I hope the Girls become your friends just as they became mine.
Four women whose differences only deepen the friendship forged in a needy childhood…
They were four little girls living in ramshackle trailers beside a lake in rural Indiana. They shared everything from dreams to measles to boyfriends to more dreams. As they grew up, everything in their lives changed—except their friendship. Through weddings and divorces, births and deaths, one terrible secret has kept them close despite all the anger, betrayal, and pain.
Now, forty years later, facing illness, divorce, career challenges, and even addiction, the women come together once again for a bittersweet month on an island in Maine. Staring down old age, they must consider the choices life is offering them now and face the pain of what happened long ago.
Secrets are revealed and truths uncovered, but will their time together cement their lifelong friendship—or drive them apart forever?
“It’s changed so much,” said Suzanne, peering through the passenger window of Jean’s front seat. “Of course, I don’t think I’ve seen it in the daytime since Rosie’s funeral.” She looked pale and had been extraordinarily quiet on the way to the lake.
I truly hoped we weren’t making a mistake.
“I was here a couple of years ago,” said Andie, glancing over her shoulder. “I came up to punish myself for something, thinking if I did that the biopsy would be benign as my reward. I couldn’t believe how it looked.” With a grin, she added, “Or that God didn’t fall for my trick.”
“Let’s stop and see Rosie on the way in, shall we?” said Jean.
She pulled between the wrought iron gates of the tiny cemetery that sat at the edge of Hendersons’ woods. We used to pass it going to Sunday school and we always made Andie walk on the inside because she was fearless.
It wasn’t hard to remember where Rosie’s grave was. Although the church membership hadn’t denied her access to consecrated ground, they’d made sure she was at the back, close to the barrels where the mowing crew threw the old flower arrangements.
But we’d taken care of her as well as we could over the years. Her stone was large and shiny, both of which she would have appreciated, with a rose etched artfully in the center above the name Rose Hart Bennett. A small white picket fence surrounded the site, and even in Indiana’s blustery winters, greenery filled the urn that sat on one end of the tombstone’s base. It held a small Christmas tree now, bristling with little suet-and-birdseed bells tied on with red velvet bows.
We took turns taking care of it, and the kids said the grave always looked best during Suzanne’s years. But over time, others had joined us in looking after Rosie. Flowers besides those we ordered often filled the urn; the fence was painted annually and at one point had been replaced without our knowledge; someone had built an enclosure around the barrels. It was nothing more than four panels of privacy fencing, but it was painted white and looked a hell of a lot better than other people’s dead flowers.
“Who’s doing it?” Andie had asked Scott Parrish, the minister who used to pick us up in his Plymouth for services if it was raining. He’d been young then, and Jean had had a terrible crush on him.
“I don’t know,” he answered Andie, and added carefully. “Your aunt had many…admirers.”
We didn’t speak when we reached the site, just stood with our arms wrapped around ourselves against the cold, and grieved again.
“Maybe a bench,” said Suzanne finally. She breathed in and out, very deep.
So did the rest of us, in unison. None of us wanted to blubber over Rosie now. Enough time had passed that we should be laughing gently at the good memories she’d given us, not weeping over her loss.
“Good idea,” said Andie. “I’d like to sit and talk to her sometimes.” She raised her head as though startled. “Good God, did I just say that? I swear, Rosie, I’ve just been around Jean too long.” Her voice was a thin and shaky sketch of pain.
Jean put one arm around Andie. “I’ve done my best, Rosie, but she still swears in inappropriate places and blames me for everything.”
“And complains.” Suzanne stepped to Andie’s other side. “What was it you used to say to us, Rosie? Oh, yeah, ‘you’d complain if you were hung with a new rope.’ She’s got that part down.”
“Nah.” I stood next to Suzanne. “You’d be proud of her, Rosie. You’d be proud of all of us. The last two years haven’t been so great, but we’re still here and we’re doing all right.” I laid my hand flat on the rose on the stone, feeling the indentation of the etching on my palm. “We miss you.”
“We think so much about what we didn’t have,” said Suzanne. “My mother being crazy, my father only stopping in long enough to get a little, take the money, and move on. Your parents being like they were and Andie not having any. But we all had Rosie. We were better off than we knew.”
“She saved our lives,” said Jean.
“She definitely did that.” Andie looked over at the lake, choppy and gray under the clouds, with ice starting around its edges. “I wonder if they ever found the gun.”
Bio & links:
Retired from the post office, Liz Flaherty spends non-writing time sewing, quilting, and doing whatever else she wants to. She and Duane live in the old farmhouse in North Central Indiana they moved to in 1977. They’ve talked about moving, but really…40 years’ worth of stuff? It’s not happening!
She’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or please come and see her at: