Finding the Story: Historical Fiction

When I think about the process of writing a novel, I’m reminded of Michael Angelo’s famous description of sculpting—that the figure resides within the stone, and his job is to free it. Each novel (for me) starts with an unwieldy boulder of an idea: some kind of premise, theme, character, time or place, and before I can turn it into a viable book, I must discover the story. To do this, I work to answer three key questions: what is the main conflict, who are the key characters critical to the conflict (not their names, but who they are as people, how they think and how they change), and what are the defining moments/scenes/turning points around which the drama revolves? That’s the story. 

Biographical fiction presents its own unique challenge. Much like writing a memoir, when sorting through the particulars of an entire life, the trick is to find the small and large moments that, when strung together, create compelling drama. For Leaving Coy’s Hill, I started by learning as much about Lucy Stone’s life as possible, and to make sense of it, laid out the expanse of it visually. The different colors represent various angles on the material: basic facts, key life events, possible scenes, and important themes. After many an hour staring at this wall, the shape of the story emerged, a truly immersive tale of one woman’s quest to live a life of consequence and live it by her own rules. I can’t wait to share it with all of you!  

One year post-publication!

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Fill the Sky was published. WOW– what a year it has been. October 20th, 2016 seems like a very long time ago. After all, it marks a moment in time when I naively thought a woman candidate would be a shoe-in for the white house, a time before this country put a Twitter-in-chief in office. Can you remember back to those halcyon days?? To say that that momentous event depressed me and almost everyone I know is a major understatement, and it had an equally devastating effect on fiction book sales nation-wide. Not the easiest way to bring a book into the world! Nonetheless, Fill the Sky and its author have been welcomed with open arms into countless bookstores, living rooms, dining rooms, and conversations, and for that I am oh so grateful. A quick recap of the year includes my great friends on the West Coast circling the wagons in Portland, OR at the end of that fateful November and inviting a host incredible people to come meet me and hear the story behind the book, an equally warm reception in Boulder and Denver, an incredible party thrown by my sister in Vero Beach, and one by my dear friend in Barrington RI. The book caught the attention of a host of book bloggers eager to spread the word about an unusual tale in a fabulous setting. It was selected as a Top 10 Debut of 2016, won one fiction award and was short-listed for two more. In the category of living my true dream, I have had the great pleasure of joining countless book groups and hearing first hand insights from readers, letting me into the incredible world of THEIR interpretation of the book. And it is ongoing. I was just at a fabulous book group last night and have two more next week. It is a slow burn, but a beautiful flame. I read somewhere that the impact of a book is 50% author and 50% reader. The book can’t really come to life without the reader’s own imagination, emotions and lifetime of personal experiences overlaid onto the words on the page. So the experience is a little bit different for every reader. Hearing what that experience has meant to such a wide array of readers has been and extraordinary gift. Thank you all! One of my favorite moments came when someone pulled me aside, told me that she had been trying for years to understand and support her best friend’s struggle with an extra-marital affair. She had highlighted a particular sentence in the book and said to me, “When I read this, I finally got it. It has helped me understand it all and now I feel I can be a much better friend.” BAM. That’s it. That is what success is for me. What a wonderful ride! Happy 1st anniversary book! I’m ready to take another trip around the calendar with you and see where we end up.

Bringing a book to life through voices

HeadphoneBookIt’s hard to describe what a wonderful adventure it has been to hear my book come to life as an Audio Book. I should tell you that I have become an incredible fan of audio books over the last few years. I have been known to sit in my driveway for an extra 12 minutes after a 4-hour drive, just to get to the end of a great chapter. And when I head out for my daily walk, I now swap out music in favor of listening to a book. It’s a completing engrossing experience. Just like when we used to have books read to us as kids, our minds still have to do the magical work of piecing together the picture that is being described, of sculpting each character’s features, imagining the texture of the world each character inhabits. But we also get the benefit of the book being “acted out” for us: dialogue infused with emotion, the emphasis of a particular word giving it more weight. And you should also know that my ultimate dream is to have FILL THE SKY one day become a movie– so an audiobook is like the first step in that journey of turning ink on a page into something with extra dimension.

So the process goes like this. I had the good fortune of listening to multiple talented actresses audition for the part by reading a 3-5 minute script– a few key scenes from the book that represented the range needed for the full novel. The talent was impressive and I sensed quickly that the book would take flight in an audio version. Only after I chose the actress I thought best suited the material did I learn that she is a healer! Of course, there are no coincidences. How perfect that someone who could closely connect with the material would be at the helm. As Joline would say, nature supports!

I then had the privilege of hearing the book unfold chapter by chapter as it was recorded. It had been a long time since I had read the book start to finish, and the spoken words put me right back in Ecuador with my three favorite imaginary friends, Tess, Ellie & Joline. I’m thrilled to announce that it is now available via Audible on Amazon http://amzn.to/2qCFv10 and through iTunes.

My thanks to Valerie Gilbert for doing a wonderful job with the book. I hope you will give it a listen & enjoy!

The never-ending process of writing a novel

At every book store reading or book group discussion of Fill the Sky I have been blessed to attend, there are a few editingquestions that come up every time: “How long did it take you to write the book?” “How many drafts did you have to write?” and “What is your process?” The short answers are that it took me 3 years to write Fill the Sky, that I have no abacus sophisticated enough to count the number of drafts, and that my process is still…well… in process. So I often tell this story instead… one gal’s painful experience of revision on the way to publication. This is from an essay I wrote called “The First Time My Book Was Done,” which first appeared in The Quivering Pen: I have always been a big believer in revision, so by the time my first manuscript was done, it had been through countless iterations. I had work-shopped almost every chapter, revisited tricky scenes with my writing group, and incorporated feedback on the entire manuscript from three trusted readers. The changes along the way ran the gamut, from adding additional points of view, to removing whole pages of exposition, pretty paintings that were hard to destroy but had no impact on the characters in the room. Then I spent several months honing and polishing. And finally, I was done. That is, until I started over. Read the full post here from “Quivering Pen”

Soul Retrieval: How a shaman inspired me to write

Only three days into my time in Otavalo, I began to understand that traditional Ecuadorians revere one thing above all else: Pachamama, or Mother Earth.  They believe she holds all answers within the branches of her hands, her mountainous breasts, and her river veins. They touch her skin by walking with bare feet on her rounded back, and they show their gratitude to her constantly—tipping a water bottle toward the soil, mid-hike, mid-conversation, to offer her a sip of water before taking a drink themselves, or laying a crushed cocoa leaf on the ground for her before chewing their own.

The emotional connection many Ecuadorians have with the earth was brought to life for me when I met Mama Concha, a revered shaman who lives just outside Otavalo. A stout woman with a kind smile and a face the color of honey, she struck me immediately as the personification of Mother Earth—wise, nurturing and powerful. She moved with a slow shuffle, her white lace shirt tucked into a long gray skirt, her waistband lost under the hang of her bosom. Her eyes were wise and girlish at the same time, her embrace loving and fiercely strong. I trusted her immediately and wondered what I might learn in her presence.

I had come to the Andes hoping to gain some insight into my future… Continue to full post from Read Her Like an Open Book.

October 27, 2016

I call this post my “tribute to independent bookstores.” I have been blessed with lots of support for the launch of my book from many corners of my life. I’d like to point out the particular support of independent bookstores. For most owners of these beloved establishments where we readers are able to enjoy browsing the shelves, holding a book in our hands, and inhaling the crisp smell of those just-cracked pages… running the store is often a labor of love, something that makes a community far richer because of the camaraderie, communication and understanding that blooms around books. Running author events is an extra dose of work that doesn’t always bear fruit. I am indebted to the bookstores who have signed up to support me during my book tour, particularly my home-town bookstore, Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset, MA. I’d also like to thank the following excellent establishments:

With Rich Marcello
With Rich Marcello
Wellesley Books (Wellesley, MA) for the fabulous signing on Oct 25th
Willow Books (Acton, MA) for supporting the Common Stories Author Series in Harvard, MA
Broadway Books (Portland, OR) — reading on November 15th
Boulder Bookstore (Boulder, CO)– reading on November 17th
BookBar (Denver, CO)– reading on November 18th
Many thanks to you all!

October 20th, 2016

PamLaunchHow to describe LAUNCH DAY! So exciting to wake up and finally have my debut novel officially out into the world. First of all, seeing the book on a shelf in a real bookstore is a huge thrill (thank you to my hometown bookstore, Buttonwood Books!). The luck of the alphabet put me right below Richard Russo and directly beside Barbara Shapiro. I’ll take that positioning any day! I was actually down in NYC for the launch and was lucky enough to start my day with my oldest friend, who invited a group of lovely women to her apartment to introduce them to me and my book. What a treat to be able to sit in a living room, talk about the book, read a few passages, and have them all go home with my book in their hands! I was then treated to a wonderful event at Edelman (the PR firm) who invited a group of employees to step out of their project-mode for an hour and listen to me and Debra Copaken (also an author) discuss the process of writing a book and where creative inspiration comes from. My day ended with a tweet that the Barnes and Noble at the Prudential Center in Boston has selected Fill the Sky as their staff pick of the week. What a day. I am very grateful!

October 13, 2016

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My book hasn’t technically launched yet (one week from today!) but I have already been blessed with 3 wonderful events to give the book a head start. The first was a party I threw, complete with 3 of my favorite women reading the parts of Tess, Ellie and Joline. Thank you Janet, Eve and Mary for your wonderful renditions of my favorite imaginary friends! The room was full of so much love and support, it was impossible not to feel buoyed by everyone’s well-wishes. The second was a wonderful panel at Trident Books in Boston with Lisa Duffy, Michelle Hoover and Sally Cabot Gunning. The third happened just today, a panel called “Coffee with the Authors” hosted by my beloved local bookstore, Buttonwood Books, in Cohasset. It was a thrill to read beside Louise Miller (if you haven’t yet read “The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living” you must) and Ann Hood, who I have so long admired. Her latest, “The Book That Matters Most” will strike a chord with all book lovers.

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As I enter into this territory of officially releasing into the world this work of fiction that lived only in my head and my heart for so many years, I’d just like to say a heartfelt thank you to my family and all my friends who have cheered me on and made me feel like I could actually do this thing called publish a book! As Louise said this morning (she started her book at about the same age as me—let’s just say we didn’t come to this writing thing as young chickens), for anyone who has the dream of trying something creative, it’s not too late, and it’s not worth waiting any longer. Give it a try. You just might be surprised what you are capable of!

September 24, 2016

The first “message in a bottle” from the Fill the Sky book blessing was found! The bottle did not have to travel far on its journey, but seems to have landed in just the right hands. Having safely crossed the currents lorded over by hundreds of seals in Chatham, the bottle made its way from South Beach to North Beach where it was picked up by Linda B. Turns out that Linda and I both spent many of our childhood afternoons on that beautiful spit of sand between the bay and the ocean. She hadn’t been back in years, and said the bottle added to the joy of her day. The note inside was written by my friend Nancy, and expressed her hope that the book will be read with an open heart and an open mind, and bestow some of the magic of Ecuador upon the reader. Amen to that!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pictured here are a few of the original Pachamama Sisters, that group of brave gals IMG_3599who came on my first trip to Ecuador—the journey that served as the inspiration for Fill the Sky. None of us knew exactly what we were getting into, but all of us were drawn, somehow, down to that sacred place. Inspired by nature, the shamans and each other, that trip set us all down various paths of transition, and bonded us forever. I was so lucky to have had this group come to Cape Cod for a book blessing this past weekend. Each of us wrote out our intentions for the book, placed the messages in a bottle, and set them out to sea. My intention? That this books finds just the right people in the world who will enjoy it, embrace it, and pass it on. Good luck, book!