What I am Reading – The Other Woman

Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.” ― Meg Cabot


This week I am recommending a mystery for you from Hank Phillippi Ryan. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a book signing last week at the Nashua Public Library for The Other Woman.

Hank Phillippi Ryan is a well-known television journalist in the Boston area currently doing investigative reporting for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She brought with her lots of star power – she’s earned 27 Emmys – dazzling the audience who had braved a very rainy Thursday night here in Nashua to hear her speak. I am a Massachusetts girl, born in Somerville, the daughter of Boston-born parents and raised in Littleton. As I told you in an earlier blog post, I love books set in places I know. The Other Woman takes you from the Esplanade to Springfield and back again with stops along the way without a misstep. Ryan gets Massachusetts.

The main character, disgraced television news reporter Jane Ryland, reduced to reporting for a second string Boston newspaper, has been assigned to get an interview with Moira Lassiter, the wife of one of the candidates in the Massachusetts Senate race. Jane is more than a tad over-qualified for her job and in doing her background research she can’t help but notice that a certain woman in a red coat is everywhere Governor Lassiter is. Convinced this is the other woman in the handsome candidate’s life, Jane persists in chasing what she believes will be a scoop that may restore her reputation as a news reporter.

The Other Woman plays out against the subplot of The Bridge Killer who may or may not have serially killed three women and then dumped them under a convenient bridge. The situation causes a growing sense of unease in Boston, a city whose residents are no strangers to serial killers. The detective in charge of the investigation, Jake Brogan, would like to have more than a professional relationship with Jane, who reciprocates the feeling.

I have been reading mysteries since I was a preteen – a long time.  I pride myself on being able to finger the bad guy or guys by the end of the fourth chapter. Ryan stumped me almost until the end of the story with the twists and turns of her plot and her numerous potential other women. The Other Woman is a wonderful kickoff to her promised series.

The Other Woman quite rightly received a Mary Higgins Clark Award for 2013. Hank Phillippi Ryan’s experience in the world of news reporting comes shining through providing the story with clarity and credibility. If you like a great mystery,  I think you will enjoy it.


Great read for a hot summer day.
Great read for a hot summer day.



Why Create a Series?

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. — Sylvia Plath

I am a huge fan of series. I think this is because my love of reading began with them: The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Five Little Peppers, The OZ books, Sherlock Holmes, Cherry Ames. I could go on and on. Once I discover characters I love, I want to read more about them. I eagerly await the next books from the authors whose work I follow hoping they will bring back familiar characters. Remember, the Harry Potter books are a series.

My goal is to write a series of books about the lives of several multi-generational characters living in a small city similar but not exactly like the one I live in – Nashua, New Hampshire. It was with this in mind I launched what I called The Lynton Series. Lynton is the city where most of the action in my books takes place. Why make up a city in which to set your novels when you have so many real cities available to you?

I love novels which evoke a strong sense of place such as Tana French’s Dublin, Linda Barnes’ and Robert Parker’s Boston. Readers love being where the action in the story takes place. The reason I decided to make up my own city – Lynton, New Hampshire – was because I thought it would be fun and it removes the imperative of making sure I put the First Church on the correct corner. People are very protective of places they know.

Lynton is a small city in southern New Hampshire that has lot of the traits seen in Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. Formerly a mill city, it has struggled to find its purpose now that the mills are closed. Even though it is a city, among the businesses and institutions on Main Street, there is a small town feel and camaraderie. I loved creating McGonagles, The Boulangerie, The Sheerin Gallery, Namaste, Caroline’s Kitchen and, of course, Coel Agus Craic. I will be adding a few more businesses to downtown Lynton including a jewelry store and an Italian restaurant as the series continues to grow.

MacCullough’s Women, the first novel in the series, centers on the comings and goings at an Irish bar and restaurant – Coel Agus Craic – which has been on the corner of Dock and Main Street for thirty-six years. Many of the characters in these novels grew up together in Lynton: Brid Sheerin and the undertaker, Jerry McKenna, went to grade school together as did Neil Malone and the jeweler, Jack Blaine, who you will meet in the second book of the series – Francesca’s Foundlings.

Francesca’s Foundlings is about a vintage doll shop that Franny MacCullough opens on Main Street. Many of the characters from MacCullough’s Women will appear in this story including Franny’s own foundlings: Neil, Brid, Sofia, Brendan and Lilah. You will also meet some new characters like Cookie Kennedy who has a much bigger role in the yet to be named third book in the series.

The fourth book is still in my head and as a true “pantser” – a writer who flies by the seat of her pants – I only have a vague idea what it is about although I think one of the cameo characters from Francesca’s Foundlings, Mara Sorrento, is going to have a starring role.

I am asked all the time how the second book, Francesca’s Foundling’s, is coming. I am on track to have the first draft done and out for first review by the end of June.  I hope to have the book available in time for Christmas.

Pictures from the Lynton Series.
A peek at Lynton

What I am Reading – Tapestry of Fortunes

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.” ― Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society


My recommendation for you  today is a radical change from last week. I am recommending Tapestry of Fortunes. I have always loved Elizabeth Berg’s books. I think it is  because she is writer who brings the bits and pieces of her own life experiences into her writing. A nurse before she became a writer, her background informs and influences many of her books, perhaps most notably Talk Before Sleep, her poignant novel about a woman dying of breast cancer. You see it here in this latest book as she describes her main character’s work as a Hospice volunteer. Her books are about women facing issues most women can relate to. Her plots are not complicated but her characters are always layered and never boring. It doesn’t hurt that we are the same age, which places us well beyond cute and perky and encourages me in my own efforts to write books women will enjoy reading.

 Tapestry of Fortunes addresses issues most women will deal with at some point in their lives: the need to downsize and let go of possessions that no longer make sense, to let go of people we love, try something new, forge new relationships and look back to where we have come from perhaps to return there.

Cecilia Ross, the main character, decides after the death of her best friend to sell her home, downsize her life and move into old Victorian in St. Paul with three strangers. Each of these four women is attempting to understand the personal tapestry she has woven with her life. Each is trying to make sense of where she is now while at the same time to rectify a mistake from the past. Lise wants to figure out where she went wrong as a mother. Joni is searching for a career that will make her happy. Renie desperately desires a “do-over” from a mistake she made in her teens. Cecilia needs to find out if she can rekindle an old love.

This is a happy book. It will make you smile. It is not literary fiction which I rarely read anymore but rather the kind of book it’s okay to get sand in when you fall asleep on the beach. What shines through, is the inherent generosity of women toward one another despite differences in social class or age.

If you missed Talk Before Sleep (1994), I urge you to read it. A funny and at the same time sad book about how the strength of a circle of women guides a friend through the ravages of breast cancer.


I hope you enjoy it.
I hope you enjoy it.




The Art of Doing Just One Thing

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.” 
African proverb

The first of March, I left my job after twenty-three years in corporate training to transition into full-time writing. If you had asked me what I thought that meant I think I might have said,  “I will be able to write full-time without interruption.”  Or something like that – of course I was wrong.

I was lucky in that the decision to leave was mine. I was not kicked to the curb. My managers and my colleagues were very gracious and said they would miss me. I miss them, too, but I don’t miss the need to be awake and engaged for early morning calls with Europe mornings after nights when I had been on the phone with clients in Asia until long after midnight

I began to work full-time in my thirties. I was a single mother of a teenager. We had numerous animals – I think the count at that time was five – and lived in a two hundred year old house with a great deal of charm and two hundred years of dust in the wide pine floors. It was a lot of work to attempt to keep it clean. I was very fortunate to work for a company willing to pay for my graduate degree. Once a week for four years, I drove the thirty plus miles into Boston to attend class at Boston University. Multi-tasking became second nature to me. I needed to multi-task, as so many working mothers do, in order to survive. I am not sure that I ever did it well, but it became second nature to me. It was a habit I carried with me into the current world of Social Media, texting, emails, and Twitter.

Here is what I have discovered since leaving my job: When you become your own boss you can do whatever you want. I have also learned to my chagrin that enforcing your own hard deadlines is tough. My goal was to finish the first draft of Francesca’s Foundlings, which is the second book in the Lynton Series by June 31. I realized this weekend, in order to do that I am going to have to learn a new skill: The art of focusing on just one thing or single tasking.

This means I need to do the following: Turn on the computer (and not look at email, NPR’s homepage, Twitter, my online bank statement, Amazon, or Facebook – all can be huge time sinks), open the word document of my manuscript and WRITE.  This also includes NOT answering the landline, my cell phone or the doorbell.

The second thing I have learned is this: I can’t write creatively all day. I follow several writers on Twitter, Facebook and their individual blogs. Some of them use time to block out their writing period and others use either a page or word count. Currently, my strategy is to write from nine to noon and edit or research (which includes reading Twitter, Facebook and blog posts) from four to six.

I use my evenings to catch up on my email, bill paying, talking to my husband and Words with Friends.

I am always asked, “How’s your new book coming?”  I plan on filling you in on that in my blog post next week. The short answer is pretty well but you have to wait until next Monday to hear about that.

If you have any tips on how to single task I would love to hear them.








What I am Reading – Reconstructing Amelia

“I still maintain that the times get precisely the literature that they deserve, and that if the writing of this period is gloomy the gloom is not so much inherent in the literature as in the times.” ― Bill Styron

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight is a difficult book to read and may leave you feeling very sad. So now I have warned you. I think it is an important book because it is a cautionary tale for the times in which we are living.

This is the story of a single mother (Kate Baron) and her daughter (Amelia). Kate is a rising star at a New York City law firm and Amelia is an honor student with a bright future attending a prestigious private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is headed to a selective summer program at Princeton. Both do their best to excel. Kate strives to make sure her daughter’s future is secure only to tragically lose touch with her in the present.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of mother and daughter. Kimberly McCreight very effectively uses social media in the form of text messaging, Facebook, blogging and online videos to move the plot forward. In doing so, she drives home the terrifying fact that in today’s world of cyber bullying there is no place children are safe. You many never look at a gaggle of teenage girls madly texting away on their cell phones in the same way again.

Reconstructing Amelia impresses me as a writer because I found the voice of Amelia to be so true. McCreight takes you into her world: the parties, the boys, the academic competition and the girls. Any reader who is, or once was, a girl, can immediately relate to Amelia’s desire to be accepted. The inherent cruelty of girls in a group is instantly and painfully recognizable as is the reality that even the nicest girl can be mean or do something very stupid in the effort to belong.

Kate learns, as so many of us do, mistakes we make in our past have a way of following us through life. In the real world, there are no “do overs”.

Some of the plot twists ask a lot of the reader, but I believe the characters of Amelia and Kate more than compensate for that. McCreight keeps you hanging on their fates throughout the book. Kate Baron does things that at times make me want to shake her; I also understand why she does them. She loves her daughter and misguided though she may be, that remains apparent to the reader, if not always to Amelia.

Amelia Baron has lingered in my mind long after I finished this book. As a reader, there is no higher compliment I can pay to a writer.

I hope you find the book worth reading.

Picture of Reconstructing Amelia



I’m Back

You need three things to become a successful novelist: talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two.” ― Michael Chabon

 I have decided  — I admit with some trepidation — to start blogging again. Blogging is one of those things that you often hear people say brightly at social events, “I think I might like to do that.”  I know I have said it before in this blog, but it’s worth repeating. Blogging is not for the faint of heart.

You would think that writers would excel at blogging, wouldn’t you? I mean what is it but writing? It turns out as a general rule writers approach blogging with reluctance and a certain amount of resentment. How do I know this, you ask?  I have spent the last five months reading blogs in an effort to crack the secret of being a successful blogger. I focused on writers whose books I like to read. One of the new rules of being a writer is we are all supposed to have blogs. We are also supposed to be thin, young and very photogenic which is even harder to pull off then writing a consistently good blog.

I discovered that with few exceptions, writers have a tendency to break the first rule of blogging — they blog whimsically rather than on a set schedule. Some (like me, I am sorry to say) can go months without a new post appearing. This is very bad blogging behavior. Every course/book on blogging tells you so because it annoys your readers. Guess what?  Take it from me, it does.

Why don’t writers follow the rule? I have read this in numerous places while doing my research. Writers very often resent having to take the time to blog because they would much rather spend their time writing their books.

I may be especially stubborn but I don’t drift away from the offender like the blogging police say I should. I keep checking, often to be disappointed. Fortunately, those writers can’t hear what I say when I discover yet another day has passed without a new post. On days there actually is a new post and I am delighted because when writers do write a blog post, it’s almost always good.

There are exceptions — writers who blog without fail on the schedule they told you they would.There are writers who manage to produce an excellent blog post every day. I think those writers might have “people” who write their blogs. Some writers can afford to employ “people” who manage their social medial commitments.

Unfortunately, I am the only person in this office. I do have a dog, a cat, a goat, a mouthy mandrill named Simon the Snark (who has appeared in this blog before) and a fairy whose name is Kren who also hang out here with me. None of them ever produces a blog post or much else.

One of my "people"
Sullivan the Goat – One of my “people”


My plan is to start with a post on Monday that covers topics such as: my novel in progress, my characters, my writing practice, what’s going on in the world of publishing and whatever else presents itself. There might even be a good recipe or two thrown in. On Fridays, I will recommend a book. I prefer the verb recommend because I don’t really do book reviews. I read a lot of books and I only recommend a small subset of them. I don’t like to condemn the ones I don’t like because I know what it takes to write a book.  It’s like telling someone their baby is ugly. You are smart enough to figure out what’s wrong with a book without my help. I enjoy sharing with you the books I have found to be worth reading.

Please feel free to comment.  See you on Friday.