Return to Cricket Springs Is Available!
Learn more about the novel. Also, here's an announcement.
My latest novel, Return to Cricket Springs, is available. And I’m so excited. Below, I’ve offered a sneak peek at the Author’s Note I included in the book to give you a feel for why I wrote it. If you’re interested in picking up or downloading a copy, you can do so through this link.
One more thing … every year at this time, I take a couple of months off from the newsletter to enjoy the holidays and to work on the first draft of a new novel. This will be the last newsletter this year. If you are a paid subscriber, I will be pausing your subscription this weekend so it won’t bill again until I start releasing monthly long-form essays early next year.
Have a great holiday season!
The power of first love has always fascinated me. I explored the topic in Sacred Grounds: First Loves, First Experiences, and First Favorites where I said our first loves, first experiences, and first favorites (first favorite bands, first favorite movies, etc.) shape us in ways our second loves, second experiences, and second favorites do not, and cannot. We go into firsts with our eyes shut, without any reservation, because we don’t know any better, and our firsts become the measuring stick for every love, experience, and favorite afterward — when our eyes are fully open and we’re more cautious.
I didn’t intend to write a novel about the theme of first love. It just sort of happened. Blame Nicholas Sparks. I did intend to write about life in a fictional, small Nebraska town. I have a friend named Shawn who used to live in Clarks — a village in central Nebraska with a population of 344. Whenever I would pull into town and turn left down his street, people who were driving by or mowing their grass would wave. I loved that. My dad’s side of the family is from a small town in Arkansas, and whenever I visited, they did the same thing.
Cash and Sawyer came to life shortly after Shawn moved away from Clarks. One Saturday morning, Shawn and I went back one last time so he could close his bank account and run an errand or two in town. It’s a one-hundred-mile drive from the city we both live in now, so I knew I would probably never return (I actually did once, but that’s a story for another day). On that particular Saturday, I felt nostalgic as I thought about the last several Memorial Days.
Every Memorial Day, I’d get up before dawn (if you know me, then you’ll know this was a special event) and make the one-hundred-mile trek to Clarks on a dark, lonesome two-lane highway so Shawn and I could go fishing at his nearby cabin. On the way, we’d drive through Clarks, surrounded by American flags that hung from street poles. We’d stop at the lone gas station and pick up food supplies for the day, then head to a nearby hardware store for bait.
The hardware store had an elderly cat (I’m thinking his name was Chester, but I can’t remember for sure). He had more bad days than good at that stage of his life, according to a clerk. The last time we visited the store, my heart sank when I didn’t see Chester. Turned out, he was just having a bad day and had taken up residence on a shelf inside a counter. I almost called the store a couple of years later to check on him, but I didn’t have the heart. In my mind, he’s still alive. Don’t tell me any different.
Everything about those fishing trips was blissful. On the way to the cabin, Shawn and I quizzed each other on music that came on the radio and reminisced about previous fishing experiences (notice I called them experiences, rather than embellishments, although there may have been an embellishment or two as well). Then we’d stake out our spot on the small, smooth lake that perfectly reflected the clouds, hoping to land the big one. If you count carp, we probably landed a handful of big ones over the years. But mostly, bluegill either feasted on our bait, or even worse, ended up on our lines, and we had to toss the tiny things back. That didn’t stop us from adding them to our individual daily tally in the competition for the master angler. Meanwhile, I snapped photos, listened to baseball games, and worked on my sunburn in an area that was too remote to get a cell phone signal (and that wasn’t a bad thing).
Remember how I said everything about those fishing trips was blissful? That’s not entirely true. Shawn’s cabin didn’t have an indoor bathroom, and the outhouse had more wildlife, spiderwebs, and other creepy crawlers living inside than the rest of the wooded area surrounding the cabin combined. At least that was my perception. So it was off-limits. Another outhouse that must have belonged to another cabin at some point sat nearby, but someone had boarded up the door to forbid entry. You didn’t have to tell me twice.
One year, a man named Kevin — a friend of Shawn’s — invited us to his cabin for a grill out just down the road. And the place had an indoor bathroom. Kevin became my new best friend. He grilled the thickest, tastiest, juiciest steaks a person could ever desire. We stuffed our faces, talked about Husker football, and relaxed. It was a great day — everything you’d expect from a small town, including hospitality that goes above and beyond, great conversation, and strangers who could quickly become your friends.
This is the environment that Cash and Sawyer were born into. In a way, crafting the story about the fictional village of Cricket Springs was my way of staying in Clarks a little longer. And filling Cricket Springs with the cast of characters you just read about made it feel even homier to me. None of the characters are based on anybody I met in Clarks, but the way of life in that village was certainly the inspiration for this novel. I hope you enjoyed your brief stay. If you did, you’ll be happy to know you can visit again as the series progresses.
P.S. As I was putting the finishing touches on this manuscript, Shawn died unexpectedly at the age of fifty-five. I’m still heartbroken. His death makes this book, and ultimately, this series, even more precious to me.