The 85K90 Challenge


January usually brings a feeling of renewal. The days are getting longer (they are!). It’s a new year. We have a chance to start fresh, whether that involves your eating habits, exercise routines, spending and saving and investing, or, for me, starting a new novel, January is an opportunity.

As some of you know, I try to complete a novel every year, and because the Association of Rhode Island Authors, a 300+-member group to which I belong, holds its annual RI Author Expo each December, I like to debut the new novel at that time. So January is a chance for me to get started.

This year, I’ve decided to participate in the 85k90 Challenge. Haven’t heard of it? If you’re a writer, or aspiring to be one, this is a terrific place to start. Started as a small Facebook group in 2016, the idea is simple – write 85,000 words in 90 days (January, February, March). I like the year-long plan, because it helps me to plot out the months. Unlike NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which asks you to write 1,000 words a day for a month (usually November, although there’s one in the summer, too), this 85k90 project is more realistic.

First of all, 30,000 words is not a novel, it’s a novella. I participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and I finished, but I was nowhere near done with writing. This year, if I can write (at least) 85,000 words by the end of March, I’ll be ready to step right into first edits. That’s the plan. Second, thirty days goes by quickly. If life interrupts your writing schedule, it’s difficult to catch up. With 85k90, you have more time. You’re still writing about 1,000 words a day, but there are many days when you’ll write more than that, and it gives you a little cushion for the days that maybe you can’t get to it.

The founder of 85k90 is Julie Valerie, a friend and fabulous writer. I’m so grateful to her for her vision and dedication to this project, and I’m right on track to get the new novel written.

And here’s a tiny bit about that new book – It’s going to be a sequel of two different novels. Yep, I’m writing a sequel to April in Galway and combining it into a sequel to A Jingle Valley Wedding – and it’s working!

jingle april

With All the Madness in my Soul


springsteen1

I’ve mentioned to a few people that it’s worth subscribing to Netflix just to watch “Springsteen on Broadway,” his almost one-man-show that ran at the Walter Kerr Theatre from October 2017 until a couple of weeks ago. On the day it ended, December 15, Netflix picked it up. And either before or after you watch this program, read Michael Hainey’s article about Springsteen in Esquire magazine. Even if you think you know Springsteen.

As a songwriter, he’s on par with Bob Dylan. As a performer, I’m not sure there’s anyone better alive today. Springsteen’s fans will recount their attendance at his legendary concerts.

He’s 69 now (and before you catch your breath on that, remember, as I did, that we’re all older) and he stands before you, the longtime fan, the new fan, the casual observer, and talks about his life. About his hometown, Freehold, New Jersey, the place he couldn’t wait to leave. About his parents, especially his father, who viewed the quiet, sensitive boy as a sissy. About the father-son relationship (“he was my hero, and my greatest foe”). Spoiler alert: it turns out okay in the end, and it might should make you cry a little.

His first breakdown occurred when he was thirty-two, years after he’d already enjoyed tremendous success (six million copies of Born to Run sold in the U.S.). It was hard to explain. He says, “All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier . . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . .”

As a society, we’re talking more about mental illness these days (thankfully), and Springsteen’s candor must be helpful. As Hainey writes, “Springsteen’s desire to share his demons, and to argue for the need he believes all of us have to confront our own—this is one of the show’s great powers. We ignore our demons, he says, at our peril. . . . This is the work of a man revealing his flaws so that he can inspire us to redeem ourselves.”

Hainey and Springsteen discuss pieces of lyrics (brilliant lyrics) that are so much a part of Springsteen (about the line ‘the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted,’ Springsteen says, “Everybody carries those things with them. It’s a line that always penetrates. It still penetrates for me when I sing it each night.”)

And finally, those two lines from “Born to Run,” – “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness/I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul”

He was only 24 when he wrote those words, years before he had his first breakdown. And they’re possibly the most self-describing lyrics he’s ever written.

Go watch “Springsteen on Broadway.” And let me know what you think.

We’ll Muddle Through Somehow


broken

For many, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Some folks find joy in the frenzy of the season. But for others, there’s the exhaustion, the feeling of overwhelm at trying to do it all, in a limited amount of time. Clean, decorate, shop, wrap, bake, toast, mail, smile…. No wonder you’re stressed out.

And for many people, this is a sad time of year. Maybe it’s due to loss – of loved ones, pets, friends. Financial worries. Not enough sunlight (yes, it’s a thing). The loss of meaning in an ever-increasing material world. Or perhaps it’s something harder to pinpoint but can only be described as an all-encompassing feeling of melancholy. We’re living through harsh times, let’s face it. All of this can make you wish you had a river you could skate away on.

Social media is peppered with photos of smiling faces and sparkling trees. Of course it is, no one ever wants to share a photo of themselves feeling blue. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling festive! Celebrate! But if you have a friend or co-worker who opts out of the festivities, just accept it. Let it pass. Because for those who struggle through this time of year, all they wish for is to muddle through, somehow.

What I Read this Year


Not enough! So many books, not enough time. But perhaps there are a couple of books on my list that didn’t make it onto yours, and maybe you’ll want to add them to your TBR pile:

fire and fury Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff lived up to its hype. I don’t know that there was anything startling in it, because this administration has been reported on every day. And by now, there’s just so much more…

Galway Stories Galway Stories by Kevin Barry and Mary Costello really helped me understand more about Galway, the setting for my most recent novel. Sometimes gritty, sometimes delightful.

No Excuses No Excuses by Yolanda Alvarez. Let yourself be uncomfortable as you read this stark memoir. My bet is that your upbringing was very different from the author’s. Still, in spite of all the negatives that can be associated with Alvarez’s childhood, she survived. And thrived. And succeeded. Her story will fill your heart.

The Paris Wife The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. This book is about Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley Richardson. Written mostly from her perspective, this is a must-read.

This Unfamiliar Road This Unfamiliar Road by Jill Fague. Fague’s first-person account of her battle with breast cancer will move you. With clear and honest writing, she details not only the procedures but all of her emotions.

Thirteenth Star Under the Thirteenth Star – an anthology of writing by Rhode Island authors is the Association of Rhode Island Authors’ second annual anthology. Inside you’ll find a variety of selections from some of Rhode Island’s best.

corey I’m Still Here by Corey Calligano. Another young woman who battled breast cancer. Calligano writes in an honest voice, holding nothing back. A brave and compelling journey.

Damiani Il Bel Centro by Michelle Damiani details her family’s year abroad in the small town of Spello, Italy. Written with humor and introspection, you’ll follow the Damiani family from their home in Virginia to their new home in Italy.

Whitman Have Mercy by Barbara Ann Whitman. Using her extensive knowledge as a family support counselor, Whitman created a novel based on a young girl in the foster system. You’ll feel as if you know Mercy as she navigates the complex road to adulthood.

Matilda Messing with Matilda by Cat Lavoie. Lavoie is one of my favorite romantic comedy authors, and for a sweet escape, pick up this one. Actually, read everything Cat has written!

How to Walk Away How to Walk Away by Katherine Center. Give me a book about hope and despair and I’m hooked. This one ticks all the boxes, with wit, raw emotion, pain, heartache, and ultimately, love and acceptance. Probably the best book I read this year.

North Haven North Haven by Sarah Moriarty. I’ll admit, I picked up this book because I lived in North Haven (Connecticut) for a short time as a small child. This story, however, has nothing to do with Connecticut and everything to do with an island in Maine and a family vacation home. It’s a great summer read.

Hood The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood. Hood’s early works are magnificent, but like The Obituary Writer and An Italian Wife, this one left me less than thrilled. It’s somewhat autobiographical, and the ending was so far-fetched I was left disappointed.

Stranger Stranger or Friend by Silvia Villalobos. This thriller will grip you from the beginning. The writer uses tension skillfully in her scenes, and if you’re a murder-mystery reader, grab this one.

Mai Crossing the Bamboo Bridge – Memoirs of a Bad Luck Girl by Mai Donohue. You’ll find it difficult to pause your reading of this riveting memoir. From her forced marriage in a Vietnamese village to her escape and survival, against extreme adversity, you’ll come to admire this remarkable woman.

truth The Pendulum’s Truth by Leigh Brown and Victoria Corliss. The writing team of Brown and Corliss make team-writing work so well, you’d think they were just one person. They convey emotion with excellence and tell a great story that you’ll truly enjoy.

How Hard How Hard Can it Be? by Allison Pearson is a laugh out loud funny, brutally honest account of how women of ‘a certain age’ find themselves being pulled from both directions. So relatable to women dealing with work, kids, aging parents, and marriage.

Fear Fear by Bob Woodward. I probably didn’t need to read another book about the chaos in the White House, by the chief chaos creator, but it’s Bob Woodward. This account of the Trump presidency is spot-on, but it’s not like you’re going to feel any better after reading it.

print A Printer’s Choice by W.L. Patenaude. I’m not typically a reader of science fiction, but I was thoroughly engrossed in this well-written novel about the classic battle between good and evil.

A Place of Springs A Place of Springs by Hannah Colby. Colby’s big book was years in the making, and her dedication to scene and detail is evident. An epic tale of love and loss, despair and hope, against a backdrop of the horrific Bosnian War.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen. How I missed this one is beyond me. No wonder she’s one of my favorite authors.

Well, that’s it! How about you? What was the best book you read in 2018? What book are you looking forward to?

November #Book-a-Day Giveaway Preview


books

Once again this year, I’m hosting Rhode Island authors on my blog during the month of November. Representing a variety of genres, I’ll showcase a different author each day, and every day you have a chance to win either an ebook, a print book, or a gift card. What better way to spend November?!

Here’s the lineup for the month of November:

  1. Barbara Ann Whitman
  2. Tabitha Lord
  3. Denise Flagg
  4. Dana Gambardella
  5. Dana Vacca
  6. Tara Williams
  7. RK Bentley
  8. Mai Donohue
  9. Christine DePetrillo
  10. Jan Cornell
  11. Donna McCarthy
  12. Hilary Salk
  13. Hershey Rosen
  14. Michael Hartigan
  15. Vanessa Paniccia
  16. Dr. Michael Battey
  17. Matt Espeut
  18. Corey Calligano
  19. D.R. Perry
  20. BJ Knapp
  21. Lena Lane
  22. Karen Petit
  23. Paul Caranci
  24. Julien Ayotte
  25. Pat Hinkley
  26. Mark Perry
  27. Karen Gasperini
  28. Alison O’Donnell
  29. Martha Reynolds
  30. Leigh Brown & Victoria Corliss

That’s quite a lineup! Each day you’ll have a chance to win something (the blog post will tell you what’s up for grabs) simply by commenting on that post. Make sure you comment, because there’s a big prize at the end, and everyone who comments throughout the month will be eligible. You have up to 30 chances to win! More importantly, here’s a chance to discover a new author or revisit one of your favorites.

The 30 days of giveaways in November culminates with the Sixth Annual Rhode Island Authors Expo on Saturday, December 1, 2018. Hope to see you there!

Forty Years Back


Nice, France

Forty years ago today, I boarded my first airplane and began a year abroad that would forever mark my life. The thirty or so students who went with me might well have the same thought – we all were impacted by a year in Switzerland, with no internet or cell phones.

My first novel, Chocolate for Breakfast, was (very) loosely based on that year. Like Bernadette Maguire, I was 20, naive (yes), and hopeful. Unlike Bernadette, I did not have an affair with a married man, nor did I get pregnant with his child. 😉 I recall explaining that to friends, who took my storytelling literally.

I’ve returned to my beloved Switzerland often – in 1981 to work as an au pair (there’s a book I should write), again a few years later, multiple times in the 1990s, and most recently in January 2017, where I was inspired to write Villa del Sol.

But the year that began on 28 September 1978 was my year. I don’t have any Cardinal beer to drink, no Giandor chocolate bar, and the Café Chemin de Fer is now, I believe, an Indian restaurant. Things change, even in Fribourg, Switzerland.

“Mesdames et messieurs, it is time to go sleep!” 🇨🇭🇨🇭🇨🇭

It is the heat. And it is the humidity.


Nearly September. 95 degrees today. Heat index 104. Just like yesterday.

So who else is cranky? I know (at least) three people who live without air conditioning. I don’t know how they live, though. Our thermostat is set at 74 and I’m hot. But I’m grateful for A/C, especially at night.

I’ve never liked summer best. Fall is my favorite. How about you? Depending on where you live, you might not experience four distinct seasons. But by September, the sun rises later and it’s dark by 8:00 now, so I want that cool air to follow.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished the second round of edits for my new novel, so now it’s off to my trusted readers, who give me honest feedback. I sometimes can’t see a plot hole or a character who uses repetitive language, but they can! I’m still on track to have this book ready by December 1 – the day I’ll be at the Rhode Island Authors Expo!

Until then, I’m reading a lot (what are you reading?). I loved How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and Crossing the Bamboo Bridge by Mai Donohue (her memoir of growing up in Vietnam – you won’t be the same after reading it). I’m almost done with How Hard Can It Be? by the hilarious Allison Pearson, just started Alternate Side by the wonderful Anna Quindlen, and The Pendulum’s Truth by the very talented writing team of Leigh Brown and Vikki Corliss. Vacation next week means lots of reading!

Autumn will get here, eventually. You won’t hear me complain about the cold. Not me.