Excerpt from Mile Marker 139

Today I’m sharing chapter two of my work in progress, Mile Marker 139:

You can read chapter one here: Chapter One

Chapter Two: Sarah Wilcox

“Four years and all that money, and this is what you’re doing with it?” Mrs. Wilcox asks for what feels like the hundredth time that week as Sarah readies for work.

“Sorry, Mom!  Jeez, shove it down my throat, why don’t you?”  Sarah grabs her to-go cup with her freshly brewed coffee in it, tosses on her coat, and moves toward the door.

“You’re not even going to have some breakfast?”

“You know all I need is coffee.”  Sarah smirks.

“Hmph.  That explains a lot.”

“Hey, it’s a job, isn’t it?  Beats sitting around here tomorrow all day listening to Uncle Bob and Dad argue over politics.  The election was a freaking year ago.  Get over it already.”

“I still hate how every store is practically open on holidays nowadays,” Mrs. Wilcox grumbles.

“Oh, Mom.”  Sarah sighs, taking pity on her mother, and kisses her cheek.  “Maybe Brewing Up Some Happiness is overpriced to you.  Maybe it’s got corporate America written all over it, but it’s paycheck.  And I like their coffee.  Lots of people like their coffee.  It’s job stability while I try to figure out my future.”

Mrs. Wilcox half-smiles.  “Get going, then, daughter.  Will you be home in time for dinner?”

“I don’t know.  First day on the job and all.  I’m supposed to get off at 5:00, but we’ll see.  It’s gonna be crazy today.  Lots of travelers.  Anyway, gotta go.  Can’t be late!”

Sarah climbs into her Ford Focus and zooms through suburbia, ready to leave her vanilla, cookie-cutter neighborhood.  Four years at Yale to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fashion design hadn’t exactly been what her parents had planned for their only daughter.  The school wasn’t the problem.  The degree was.  For Sarah to attend her parents’ Alma Mater was an honor to the family and a testimony to their daughter’s success and hard work.  Now, what her mother deemed a “useless degree” hangs framed in Sarah’s room.  She has been back with her parents since May, hoping for a career to emerge.  She’s tried submitting her resume for any job she thought might open the door to opportunity for her, but every door closed with signs that read “more experience needed,” “not the right fit,” “too young,” “need more education,” and “not looking for anyone at this time.”

So, it is to the new coffee shop at the nearby rest area that Sarah drives today.  When she arrives, the lot is full.  Employees are supposed to park as far away from the building as possible, giving access to the customers — at least that’s what her soon-to-be-boss told her during the interview last week.  Sarah checks herself over in the rearview mirror.  Makeup isn’t too heavy on her olive skin.  Her dark hair and eyes are the beauty of her mother’s Italian side, but she’s got her father’s straight-toothed smile.  Sarah’s a pretty girl.  She would’ve done well in the fashion industry if only there weren’t a thousand other pretty girls just like her.

She flashes that brilliant smile at her reflection.  “Here we go.”  She exits the car.

If Sarah thinks her bubbly personality will rub off on her coworkers, she finds herself gravely mistaken as she spends the next five days training.  That’s Thanksgiving break for many, but it’s no break for her. She’s deep in foaming milk and espresso for hours each day.  She’s just trying to keep her head up enough to prevent drowning in coffee and the cynicism that’s caffeinated by too much of the on-the-go lifestyle of customers. She smiles at them, is the perfect picture of kindness, and works hard.  But all they want is their coffee.  To them, Sarah is just another faceless, nameless worker behind the counter, the clear separation between them.  She serves a function and nothing else.  Five days in, Sarah is exhausted in every sense of the word.pablo (16)

She started late in the day that Sunday. It’s now eleven at night, and business is finally slow. The janitor pushes his mop and bucket into the dining area and begins to work.

“What are you doing here tonight, Mike?” asks Janice, middle-aged mom who’s been working alongside Sarah every day.

The janitor looks up and smiles.  “Ah, you know how it is this time of year, Janice.  No day off, even for us veterans.”

“So, did you wind up seeing your son for Thanksgiving?”

“Nah.”  Mike frowns.  “Needed my sleep. Ain’t driving all the way to Detroit for that.”

Sarah thinks she gets why Mike doesn’t care for the holiday. “I didn’t wanna spend the time with my messed up family either.”

Janice glares at her, then looks at Mike. “That’s too bad. I wish I would’ve had more time with my family. The kids are growing up too fast, and ever since Ted ran off with that hussy with the boob job, I’ve had to rely on my parents too much.”

Mike moves his mop in circles for several seconds, considering his answer.  “I wish my son relied on me more.  Consider yourself lucky, Janice.  Well, I’ve got to get this hellhole clean, well, as clean as I can, before the sun’s up.  Good night.”

“Have a good one, Mike.”  Janice begins to wipe down the cappuccino machine.  The steam wands are especially filthy.

Sarah stands next to her, wraps a wet cloth around a wand.  “What was that glare for?”

Janice sighs.  She’s not normally one to glower, but Sarah’s sure something goes unspoken between Janice and Mike in front of others.  “Mike’s been the janitor here for as long as I can remember.  He’s a good guy, but don’t push him.”

“He seems lonely.”

“You’ve worked here for a few days, Sarah.  You don’t know anything about him.”

“Okay, well, I just…”

“Look, I’m not trying to be mean, but you’re young.  People like Mike, and even me, we’ve been through stuff, you know?  You can’t pretend to understand something you’ve never lived.”

Sarah’s brow furrows.  “I didn’t mean to assume anything.”

“Well, you did.”  Janice finishes cleaning off the machine and tends to the next customer, leaving Sarah staring at the back of her.  

Fifteen minutes later, Sarah finishes up her shift and clocks out without saying goodbye.  She’s due back in a few hours, so she gets what little sleep she can.  Mrs. Wilcox’s disapproval of Sarah’s job grows as her daughter bolts out the door Monday morning, too high on caffeine.

“They work you too much,” Mrs. Wilcox calls after her, but it’s too late.  Sarah is in her car again, and minutes later, she’s on the turnpike, speeding at 85 miles per hour to work.

When Sarah arrives, it’s still dark.  She sits in her car and stares into the blackness divided by a few patches of brightness from the parking lot light posts.  Clustered next to the large building that houses the restaurants and restrooms are picnic tables on some grass.  Sarah imagines families sitting there in the warmer weather and has a hard time picturing sunshine and summer in this moment.  Just when she thinks no one in their right mind would sit outside at one of the picnic tables, she sees it: a form dimly lit by the closest light post.  

Sarah leaves her car and begins walking toward the building, but as she does so, she can’t help glancing in the direction of that odd figure.  It’s freezing.  She can see her breath and wants nothing more than to get back inside, so who would stay out there?

Probably just someone taking a cigarette break, Sarah thinks.  She enters and puts what she saw out of her mind…

…until she returns the next day for another early shift.  Everything is the same: the cold, the darkness, and the figure in the same location.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Sarah is sure it’s the same person.  Of course, maybe it really is just someone taking a cigarette break at the same time.

Sarah’s schedule falls into a routine of waking very early and going to work all week and into the next.  Sundays are her days off and every other Wednesday.  Two weeks in, Sarah can make you a half-caf, soy, extra hot, no whip, one extra shot mocha or any other drink you might want, but she’s no closer to understanding why the same person sits in the exact location every day she comes to work.  Crazier still is that the person is there when she leaves in the early afternoon, by which time Sarah can see it’s most likely a woman.  A woman with really short hair that Sarah doesn’t find flattering.  Why isn’t she at least wearing a hat?

Sarah’s kept quiet at work ever since Janice told her not to talk about things she didn’t understand, but she can’t take the silence anymore.  Well, it’s not really silent at work, not with the in and out of customers and the steaming of milk and the clang of metal.

During a slow moment, Sarah turns to Janice and asks, “Do you know anything about that woman outside?”

“What woman?”

“You know, the one who sits at that picnic table every day.  Don’t tell me you haven’t seen her.”

“Oh, her.  She’s always there.”

“Does she ever stop in and get coffee?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hmm.”  Sarah isn’t convinced.  It’s like this mystery woman is there but not.  The workers know she exists, but they pretend she’s just part of the ornamentation and overlook her like a spot on the floor.

The questions start in Sarah’s mind, and she can’t shut them down.  She needs to know more.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new excerpt every Saturday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for FREE July 1 & 2 or for only $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful











Where Do I Get My Writing Ideas From?

Cynthia Hilston - Author & Blogger

This is one of the questions writers often get asked.  For some writers, they have a dream that inspires a novel.  For others, it’s music.  They hear a song that gets their mind churning, and bam, a story evolves.  Yet for others still, the book comes from personal experience, from real life events that are fictionalized.  There’s really no limit to where a writer gets their material from.

For me, my first bouts of inspiration came from other people’s stories.  I was a writer of fan fiction for many years before writing original stories, so I played with other people’s characters in their worlds, only adding my twists to things.  That was good practice, all fine and dandy for honing my writing and getting people to read my stuff, but it was never going to amount to making a living out of being an author.  No one should profit off…

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Where Do I Get My Writing Ideas From?

This is one of the questions writers often get asked.  For some writers, they have a dream that inspires a novel.  For others, it’s music.  They hear a song that gets their mind churning, and bam, a story evolves.  Yet for others still, the book comes from personal experience, from real life events that are fictionalized.  There’s really no limit to where a writer gets their material from.

For me, my first bouts of inspiration came from other people’s stories.  I was a writer of fan fiction for many years before writing original stories, so I played with other people’s characters in their worlds, only adding my twists to things.  That was good practice, all fine and dandy for honing my writing and getting people to read my stuff, but it was never going to amount to making a living out of being an author.  No one should profit off of someone else’s creations, unless, of course, the original author gives permission or the stuff is public domain.

But let me get to the point of where I get my ideas from when it comes to writing my original stories.  My first original story, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is based off of my late grandma’s life, so that answers that question easily.  I will go into more detail regarding the creation of my first novel in July’s blog post, since I feel this story deserves its own telling.

When I was writing Hannah’s Rainbow, I honestly didn’t know if I’d write more books.  Of course, I wanted to do so, but I didn’t know if I actually had any more stories in me to tell.  Shortly after finishing Hannah’s Rainbow, while my beta-readers were going through it, the comments from one of the women in particular struck me.  She really liked Harry, who is Hannah’s brother.  In the book, Harry and Hannah develop a close friendship once they reach young adulthood, despite not being on good terms when they were children.  They share an understanding of each being in the shadow of an older sibling of the same sex as them, and Harry and Hannah are only two years apart.  Harry’s character has an important role in part of Hannah’s story, but since it is Hannah’s story, as Hannah gets older, Harry is cast to the sidelines.  Although he makes a few appearances later in the book, Hannah now has her own family: a husband and kids, and eventually grandchildren.

pablo (1)But Harry…what was his story?  One of my readers wanted to know more.  Harry is an alcoholic whose actions result in severe consequences for him because of something terrible he does at age 21.  He doesn’t see his family for years.  What happens during that time?  When he returns to his family in Hannah’s Rainbow, he tells them some of what happened, but this was an opportunity for me to really explore Harry’s story.  So a spin-off evolved.  Harry’s story is called A Laughing Matter of Pain, and not only does it explain what happens during his absence from his family, but some of his adolescence is covered, explaining how he becomes the man he is.

I began to write Harry’s story in earnest a year ago (June 2016), but would you believe that about three weeks in, another story idea struck me?  I have Hannah’s Rainbow to sort of thank for it again, but it’s more my husband whom I should thank.  There is a part in Hannah’s Rainbow where Hannah has just moved into a new house and has a young daughter, but her husband has been drafted during World War II.  That part lagged when I was writing, and when talking with my husband, he suggested giving Hannah an eccentric next door neighbor.  We joked about the neighbor being obsessed with rocks and talking about them incessantly (based off someone we know in real life who does this sometimes).  I imagined a young woman moving into a house by herself and having such an odd next door neighbor, but what if, instead of him talking about rocks, his yard is covered in rocks?  Nothing living there as far as plants go.  Why is there nothing living?  He is a widower.  He seems a little crazy.  This young lady is alone.  Why?  I started fleshing out these characters and created Lorna and Tristan for my story, Lorna versus Laura.  I began writing that story in tandem with Harry’s story, and guess what?  Lorna’s story began demanding more of my attention.  Her story just flowed out of me, so Harry’s story took a backseat for a few months while I finished the first draft of Lorna’s story.pablo (3)

I have since finished both Lorna versus Laura and A Laughing Matter of Pain, but they are not yet published.  I am currently working on books four and five, Arianna and Mile Marker 139.  Both of these books were born out of conversations I had with others.  

For Arianna, a good friend and I were discussing telemarketers one day.  We wondered what the job must be like when a customer wants to talk the ear off of the agent who’s calling, or maybe the agent is used to being a type of therapist to lonely customers.  That got me to thinking about using that for a book, but as I fleshed out the story of Arianna, the book became less and less about her new job as a telemarketer and much more about her trying to reinvent herself after her parents’ deaths.  A common theme among my stories has become broken characters who are trying to rebuild their lives and those in their lives who are along for the journey.  Romance is involved, although that is not usually the primary genre of my stories.

milemarkerIn Mile Marker 139, for the title, you can probably guess that this story involves a highway.  Mile marker 139 is a real place along the Ohio Turnpike, and there is a rest area there.  My husband has a fascination with rest areas, thinking that they would be neat places to people watch, to just drive to on some lonely night, sit, and look around.  That conversation about rest areas got the gears in my head turning.  What if there is a mysterious lady who shows up at a rest area every night at the same time?  Most people don’t notice her.  They’re just passing by, but there are people who work at the rest area.  They would see her.  The story revolves around three characters, a janitor, a barista, and a trucker, and how their interactions with this strange woman echo truths in their own lives.  As the story unfolds, the truth about Shelley (the mysterious woman) comes out.

What’s in store beyond that?  Book six will be a modern-day adaptation of Jane Eyre, which is my favorite book.  Book seven will be based off of a recent dream I had about a woman in the early twentieth century who is a writer, but her passion is discouraged because of her sex and her low class association.  

As you can see, my ideas come from all over the place!  I guess I am not the most organized writer in the world, but my chaos somehow works for me.

If you’re a writer and you’re having a hard time finding inspiration, here are my suggestions:


  • Take a walk in the woods
  • People watch
  • Write a short story or even just a page with dialogue between two characters
  • Pretend to interview a character
  • Take an interest of yours and think about how you could make it into a story
  • If you love music, create a soundtrack for a story and go from there
  • Write a poem
  • Just journal about what’s on your mind
  • Read lots of books
  • Get a full night’s sleep and try again tomorrow
  • Invest ten minutes a day to sit down and just write


This list isn’t exhaustive, and I’m sure you can find other suggestions on the net.  There are people who are much more qualified than me to give suggestions on where to find ideas for writing a story, but this is just my little list.  

I’ve shared with you my crazy sources of ideas.  Maybe it helped spark something for you?  Or maybe you’re a writing fool and don’t need my help.  Whatever your situation, I wish you the best in finding inspiration, keeping it, and writing it down.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog at the end of every month and a book review blog the 15th of every month.

Please note: Since the last day of June falls on a Friday, I’m posting this in place of my usual character profile on Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available FREE on July 1 & 2 or for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful


Here’s the Reality Check For Writers

A Writer's Path

by Doug Lewars

According to Forbes there are between 600 thousand and a million books published each year and roughly half are self-published. The average number of sales per volume is less than 250.

That’s not encouraging.

Of course I have no idea where Forbes came up with these numbers. Still, they tend to be pretty careful about what they publish so let’s assume the numbers are real. Now, if you are capable of writing, editing and publishing say, two books per year, and if you want to earn a conservative income of say, $30,000, then you would need royalties of $60 per volume. Given that publishers rather like taking their cut, your book would probably need to be priced around a hundred dollars. Better make that next book non-fiction.

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Poetry Tuesday – Yesterday’s Ashes

Pictures merely tell the rumor of a half-remembered story,

A book with pages tattered and worn, yellowed with age,

The ink faded and dull, dying to eternity.

Memories fall away like rain dropping down glass,

Fogging the view, warping the truth, and sliding to death.

All is fleeting and passing like a silent train in the night,

But there are no stops but one;

Only the moment of now is the single real thing.

All else is dusty vanity drowning in yesterday’s ashes.



Bizarre Things People Say to Authors

A Writer's Path

by Lev Raphael

Nobody tells you that when you publish a book, it becomes a license for total strangers to say outrageous things to you that you could never imagine saying to anyone.

I’m not just talking about people who’ve actually bought your book. Even people who haven’t read your book feel encouraged to share, in the spirit of helpfulness.

At first, when you’re on tour, it’s surprising, then tiring — but eventually it’s funny, and sometimes it even gives you material for your next book. All the comments on this list have been offered to me or other writer friends in almost exactly these words:

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