As a self-described hopeless romantic, it's no surprise that Ellicott City resident Stephanie Verni recently published a love story.
Earlier this year, Verni, 47, added author to her already extensive résumé, which includes her current position as an assistant professor of business communications at Stevenson University, where she teaches courses in magazine, feature and public relations writing. Before that she spent 13 years as a publishing professional for the Baltimore Orioles.
Writing a book was a lifelong goal for Verni, and her debut novel, "Beneath the Mimosa Tree," is about two childhood friends who eventually become lovers. Based primarily in Annapolis, the story follows the main characters, Annabelle Marco and Michael Contelli, through their adventures in New York City and London during the 1980s and 1990s.
"The book is ultimately a story of forgiveness," says Verni. "It's about two people who are very young. They're only children, and they're next-door neighbors. Their parents are best friends, so they're destined to be together."
Verni began writing in her teens, and when she left the Orioles organization she set out to make her dream a reality. She enrolled in a master's writing course at her alma mater, Towson University, where "Beneath the Mimosa Tree" was originally a short story for one of her classes. Twenty years later, it has become a full-fledged novel.
Even though Verni grew up in Annapolis and she's Italian, just like the main characters, she insists "Beneath the Mimosa Tree" is not autobiographical. The inspiration for "Beneath the Mimosa Tree" came when Verni's grandmother passed away and she went to New Jersey for the wake.
"And in came the family that lived next door to my grandmother. They had a little boy I played with when I was 5 named Michael," she says. "I was driving home and I had this assignment, so I decided to write a story about two people who lived next door to each other. The idea just came to me."
Later, Verni enrolled in National University's master of fine arts program for creative writing. She decided to take online courses to suit her busy lifestyle.
"My life for 18 to 19 months was teaching, going home and dealing with my family," says Verni, mother to 12-year-old Matthew and 10-year-old Ellie. "From 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., I'd lock myself in my office. It was crazy, but it was rewarding."
"Beneath the Mimosa Tree" was the thesis for Verni's second master's degree, which she obtained in April 2011. She has spent the last year revising the novel and honing her male voice, as the story alternates between the two main characters. Ultimately, Verni decided to self-publish her book.
Since Verni published her book in March, news of the book has traveled mostly by word of mouth and social media.
"Beneath the Mimosa Tree" is available online for $9 at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but copies also are available at the Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley and The Blue Door in Pasadena.
In addition to writing novels and short stories, Verni maintains a blog, Steph's Scribe, which she updates several times a week.
"I want to write stories about people, love and forgiveness," says Verni. "I enjoy that."
For aspiring writers, Verni's advice is simply "just write it."
"I tell my students all the time, you have to read and know what you like to read," she says. "And you have to have focus. The hardest part about writing is committing to it."
But she also warns writing and editing can be a long, arduous process.
"I took my time with this novel," says Verni. "You have to take your time with it. You can't rush it."
Because Verni is a hopeless romantic, she guarantees her stories will always have a happy ending.
"Toni Morrison once said, 'If there's a book you really want to read, go write it,' " says Verni. "I want a happy ending. I want the characters to be real and for people to relate to them."