Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Seven Tips to Keep You Motivated by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

It’s November 1 and that means one thing to writers: the first day of National Novel Writing Month(NaNoWriMo). For those of you who’ve been living in an underground bunker for the past few years, this is where thousands of writers get down to business to try and write a novel in a month (or at least 50,000 words of one!). In 2011, 256,618 writers participated and 36,843 crossed the 50K finish line.

I’ve never participated—I suppose every month is NaNoWriMo for me—but I think it’s an excellent idea. Don’t so many wannabe writers complain that their dream is to write a novel but they just don’t have the time? With NaNoWriMo you know that thousands of people are hunkering down, cranking out their daily 2000 word count and that’s a great motivator to finally get that novel started.

But what about staying motivated during NaNoWriMo? Or what about staying motivated whenever you’re writing a novel? Sometimes it’s just not easy to keep up the pace, no matter how much writing experience you have and no matter what the deadline. Writing is hard work and it can be daunting—there’s no doubt about that. So here are a few tips that might help you keep going:

1. Set at timer for 10 minutes, 25, 45 or whatever, turn off all distractions and just write. You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with under self-imposed deadlines.

2. Try writing at a different time of the day or even a different location. Changes like this can sometimes kick-start new creative impulses.

3. Read the opening chapter of a novel in a different genre from what you’re writing. Or read the first chapter of a “competing” novel. It’s so easy now to find excerpts of books online and you might discover a new writer you can learn from or realize that your story is better than what’s out there!

4. Take a day off from writing. Lots of people say to write every day, but a break can do wonders for your creativity. Just don’t take off a whole month!

5. Go to a favorite cafĂ© and do some people watching. Listen to conversations, observe behavior. Bring your laptop and/or notebook, look lost in thought and no one will realize you’re eavesdropping.

6. Watch a movie and notice its structure and character development. Does it hook you immediately in to the story? Are the characters three-dimensional or caricatures? If you think it’s a bore, why? Watch actively instead of passively and take notes. Apply what you learn to your own novel. You just might make some important discoveries.

7. Read your favorite magazine or blogs about writing. Get inspired by a fellow writer, or even a little envious, and you might find yourself back at your desk in no time, ready to type your brains out!

Girlfriends, what keeps you motivated?

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, "Midori by Moonlight" and "Love in Translation" (both published by St. Martin's Press), and the e-book novels, "FallingUphill" and "His Wife and Daughters," and e-book short story, “The Girl in the Tapestry.” She's also the author of the nonfiction e-book, "Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband." Her short story "Love Right on the Yesterday" appears in the anthology "Tomo," published by Stone Bridge Press, and her essay "Burning Up" is included in "Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen ofPop." Wendy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches for Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio. She also does private manuscript consulting for novels and memoirs. Follow her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga and visit her website at:

Girlfriends Halloween Spooktacular-Win The Other Woman

On a day filled with goblins, ghosts, and ghouls we wish you a happy and safe Halloween.

Leave a comment about your best, worst, or most interesting Halloween costume. Two winners will be selected by to win Hank Phillippi Ryan's latest bestseller, THE OTHER WOMAN!

THE OTHER WOMAN is in its third week on the top ten of the Boston Globe Bestseller list (hitting number 2!) and is now in a second printing! It's an Indie Next Great Read and an RT Top Pick. The Booklist starred review called it "A perfect thriller..." and the starred review from Library Journal says: "Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized by this..."

Hank Phillippi Ryan--who in her day job is a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Boston--has spent the last three days covering the storm--starting before dawn! And she has no power at her house! But she does have the power to give a signed copy of her newest thriller THE OTHER WOMAN to two lucky commenters!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Spooky Story: My Interview with Theresa Caputo

by Saralee Rosenberg

On this Halloween eve, what better time to share a true story about a woman who speaks to the dead? Not just on the candy and costume holiday, but every day of her life. And oh how the dead talk back.

Her name is Theresa Caputo, and if that rings a bell it’s because you know her as the star of her own reality show, Long Island Medium (TLC, Sundays, 9PM EST)

I recently had a chance to interview her for the December issue of Long Island Woman magazine and was delighted to discover that she is a warm, gracious and honest person. She also sat patiently as we discussed her life as a medium, her good-natured family and her sudden rise to stardom.

Afterward, everyone who knew that I was meeting with her wanted the scoop. What was she really like (Loved her!!) Did she pick up anything about me (Yes)? Does she really use as much hairspray as she says (Actually she uses more).

But what made this experience so (literally) hair-raising was how many strange things happened before and during our talk.

En route to her home, my GPS behaved as if it had been possessed by the Department of Wrong Moves. The navigation inexplicably sent me on a wild goose chase down local roads that sent me in the opposite direction I needed to travel. Then, the top of my trusty cassette recorder somehow popped off, rendering it useless. Then a sudden, from-out-of-nowhere downpour caused her publicist in NYC to show up two hours late, delaying the start of our interview.

It left a lot of extra time for us to get to know one another and for me to discover that Theresa Caputo does not play a medium on TV, she is the real deal. From the minute she entered the room, waves of energy surged through my body as if I had been plugged into an electrical socket.

Talk about good vibrations!

Though she barely knew my name, she immediately told me that my grandmother was my muse (I have always believed that). Then she told me that I was not a writer. I said, “That’s right. I’m a designated typist.” She laughed and said she was glad I understood that whatever I wrote was channeled. Understand that she thought I was a local reporter. She had no idea I was a novelist. Then she told me that she was connecting with me a lot of different levels and wondered  if I knew that I also had the ability to speak to the dead (I do know that).

A few minutes later the interview began and I asked if there was a famous dead person that she would like to interview. For some reason, I had written down Abraham Lincoln next to the question but didn’t mention his name. Then she responded, “I’ve channeled Abraham Lincoln. It was amazing.”
When I showed her my notes she jumped from her chair and screamed, “Ohmigod, what is happening here?”

No idea! But we had a good laugh and several other close encounters that convinced me that in the physical world she is a medium, though in the spirit world she is by all means an extra large!

As for her thoughts on speaking to the dead, she said, “Nobody needs a medium to communicate with loved ones. Just pay attention to all the signs and symbols around you and you’ll understand that loving messages come through for you every single day.”

Happy Halloween indeed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NaNo WriMo T-3 Days

by Maggie Marr

I have a love hate relationship with NaNo WriMo. I've participated three times and not yet finished.

The first year I was interrupted by copy-edits on an already completed book and dropped out. The second year I completed the necessary 50 k words but didn't send in the manuscript to be verified--why? I don't remember. The third year I signed up, began, but then realized that the spitting out of 50 k quickly just wasn't going to be conducive to that manuscript so while the manuscript was eventually completed and in fact became the book Courting Trouble (Available November 2012)I didn't completed NaNo WriMo.

This year I will sit out NaNo WriMo--I think. I am in the midst of heavy research for my next book and I just haven't yet heard 'the voice' that tells me the tales that I write. But as I type this I ponder all those other works-in-progress I have and wonder...'hmm maybe I should NaNo and finish that book.'

Here are the things I've discovered in my NaNoing attempts.

1. Don't rewrite during NaNo.

NaNo is for spewing out words. Sitting down and cranking them out. Save the perfectionism for the months of edits you will do after November.

2. Don't second guess yourself.

You don't have time to second guess. Keep moving. If nothing else NaNo forces you to keep typing regardless of the fact that your hero who was named Henrietta in chapter 1 and was a scientist, is now in chapter 12 named Charles and works in a retirement home.

3. Check in with other NaNo'ers

Misery loves company. And by day 21--at the NaNo pace--there are a whole lot of miserable writers in the NaNo world.

4. Write

As all writers know the most difficult part of the job, some days, is actually gluing your butt to the chair and making your fingers do the tippity-tappity dance on the keyboard, but the only way to finish a book is to write one.

5. Don't expect this spew to be any good.

See 1 and 2. There is one way a writer makes their work good and it is called editing. Which is an entirely different post that you can read here.

So good luck and godspeed to all you brave NaNo'ers. Keep in mind that for me,
and a number of writers that I know, (and commiserate with) writing a good book is a marathon with draft after draft after draft. NaNo WriMo is a sprint--enjoy the fast-paced run and don't even think about all the work that you still need to do once NaNo WriMo is done.

Maggie Marr is an attorney and the author of Hollywood Girls Club, which Kirkus called 'a titillating debut', Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club which Publishers Weekly called 'fast and sharp', Can't Buy Me Love which RT Book Reviews called 'a great story', and her upcoming release Courting Trouble. She is a producer with Dahooma Productions and also writes for film and tv.

Girlfriends Sunday Book Review

THIS IS NOT A TEST, by Courtney Summers

Reviewed by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Here's the official description:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

There's been a lot in the press recently about adults reading YA. Since I started added YA novels to my writing resume about a half dozen years ago, I'd say I read 50/50 between adult and YA fiction. One problem adults that don't read a lot of YA have is: How to find the ones that work well for an adult readership too? And then when it comes to the zombie apocalypse, finding the right book becomes exponentially harder.

I have to admit, I don't have the zombie gene. I don't get the attraction. I don't watch that show on TV that my husband loves; I don't even like running across pictures of that show in my TV Guide!

And yet, I love Courtney Summers's writing and I loved THIS IS NOT A TEST. Perhaps it's that Ms. Summers is wise enough to leave most of the grossness outside the hermetic shelter she places her characters in so that what remains is sheer gripping psychological drama? Or maybe it's that Ms. Summers rocks so much, she rocks anything she attempts? Whatever the reason, I absolutely loved this book, my 12-year-old daughter loved this book, and I'm confident you'll love this book. Really, it's the only zombie-apocalypse book you'll ever need.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 26 books for adults, teens and children, the most recent of which is the romantic comedy for adults, PURSUING THE TIMES. You can read more about her work at or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBaratzL

Friday, October 26, 2012

Saturday Book Giveaway: The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay

By Karin Gillespie

 Here are four things I discovered about author Juliette Fay while trolling the Internet:
She once co-founded a childcare center for children of homeless families.
2.     She isn’t a clothes horse except when it comes to pajamas. She likes soft and pretty sleepwear.
3.     She once wrote a trunk novel about a couple stuck in an elevator and it was called the “Hyperventilating Pants-Wetter Society.”
4.     She is afraid of live chickens.   

She also has a brand-new novel coming out this week called “The Shortest Way Home,” and if you leave your email address in the comments, I will be delighted to pick an address at random and send you the advance copy. Must enter before Monday at noon.

You likely know Juliette from her novel “Shelter Me” which was a huge Target success, and she also has another novel, “Deep Down True.” Juliette has been blessed by the cover Gods; and her novel “The Shortest Way” is no exception. A German shepherd is looking longingly inside a lovely house, and I can’t stop admiring it.

The novel is about Sean Doran, who is coming home to Massachusetts, after having spend twenty years in third-world war zones and disaster areas. There he deals with a steely aunt, a dramatic sister and a quirky nephew.

The Library Journal gave “The Shortest Way Home” a starred review saying, “Fay is one of the best authors of women’s fiction, and her novels are not to be missed.”
Sounds like a good one.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo Fail

Every year for the last several years, I've signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and failed.

In case you don't know, NaNoWriMo occurs during the month of November and participants all have the single goal of writing 50,000 words. That's about 1,600 words a day.

My friend Rachel Herron (Check out her website at sold her NaNoWriMo novel, by the way. She's a wonderful writer.  So am I, I swear! but I remain a NaNoWriMoFa.
I even failed the two years I was invigorated, inspired, and pumped up by attending talks by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. He spoke at my Uni when I was in grad school, and a few years later, at my RWA chapter. He's an inspiring speaker, so if you ever get the chance to hear him, GO!

I have copious excuses, of course. Some of them are lame and some of them are really good.  When I was in grad school, my son was quite young, I was working full time, and I was under contract for more books. I was quite busy and I had my schedule worked out to the point where every moment was spoken for. There was no wiggle room for adding stuff. 

A couple of years I was writing a book anyway, but when November hit, both times I was in the Deleting Crap Phase and I ended up with negative word count. And a way better book by the end of December when I was in the Writing Way Better Stuff phase.

One time I was prepared for a rocking November only then one of my editors sent revisions on time and I ended up setting aside the book while I did my revisions. After two weeks off from writing the next project there really wasn't any way to make up the lost NaNo Time.

Then there was the year when I tried, but, well. Ahem. hey! Look over there! I made my word count but not the NaNoWriMo word count. My excuse is that I was... um... doing stuff! Important stuff.

Last year I was going be a winner for sure, and then I ran out of steam because my book was due some dumb date like December 30 and I was desperately panicked that this was the time I was going to fail not at NaNoWriMo but at actually writing a good story. My goal then was the best possible story I could get out of my hot mess, not word count. Until, imagine my horror, I discovered I had written not one but two, TWO! wedding scenes. Yes. My hero and heroine got married twice.

I felt like crying, only there wasn't time. I had to turn in my book on time and that meant I had to ::waving hands and magical incantations:: fix the damn book which I did. I turned it in on time. It wasn't until I had my revision letter and was looking at the book for the first time in several weeks that I thought, Huh. This is pretty good! I have no recollection of writing much of it. I was in a fog. It was a book that required remarkably little revision.

Am I depressed by all my NaNoWriMo failures?

No. Absolutely not.  I LOVE getting the emails and hearing from and about fellow Nano-ers. November always feels to me like the Month of Fun Writing.  NaNoWriMo reminds me about the fun of writing, about the value of getting words on the page and that there is a point in a project when it's not just getting down the words, it's about deleting the ones that don't belong and replacing them with ones that do.

I'm going to sign up for NaNo again this year and whatever the outcome, I will be a winner.

Be my NaNoWriMo buddy! I'm cjewel. We'll be winners together.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happiness is a Good Book...By Jenny Gardiner

I am always looking for book recommendations. Particularly after finishing an amazing book. One of those books that lingers, that leaves you re-living it, questioning it, pondering it, wishing you'd written it. So I decided to post a list of books I've really enjoyed lately, in case some of you might be like me, always on the lookout for a new favorite book. I'm not going to review anything, just maybe make a few comments, or not, as the spirit moves me. Feel free to link and read on yourself! So here goes: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. This book is just the perfect novel. Trust me, you'll love it. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Crazily compelling non-fiction that reads like a fast-paced novel. Set in a squatters slum in Mumbai, it's such a compelling read, you will be engrossed. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Completely engaging story set in pre-World War II Manhattan, fabulously told and incredibly well-researched. Prose is absolutely divine. Split: A Memoir of Divorce by Suzanne Finnamore. Who'd expect to LOVE a story about a divorce, but I'm telling you Finnamore's downward spiral when dumped by her husband is funny and poignant and will keep you turning the pages. In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard. Adored this coming-of-age story in which a whole lot of nothing happens but does so in such a beautifully-told way, you won't realize it! The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Mysterious and fantastical novel about a duel, of sorts, to the death, of sorts. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. Anyone who has scratched their head at how a book becomes a bestseller will love this smart-alecky and well-written story about an author who will gladly compromise his dubious morals to achieve literary success. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Bray hilariously skewers pop culture, reality TV and much that is wrong with our culture. You'll be rooting for these beauty queens to prevail. The Gap Year by Sarah Bird. Any mom who has sent a child off to the next stage in their life will relate to this beautifully-written and emotionally satisfying novel. I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. David Cassidy tween crush. Need I say more? Fabulous story about two Welsh girls desperately in love with teen idol David Cassidy, intertwined with the heartache and agony of negotiating the world of cutthroat tween girls. Loved it. So hope you'll enjoy these books as much as I did! And I'd LOVE to take recommendations from you--I'm always always always looking for the next fabulous read! Thanks! The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. A little slow and contemplative but sweet and redemptive. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. I won't say this is un-putdownable, but it's an enjoyable read and proves once again that Rowling has writing chops and is a gifted storyteller. She's so talented at taking a large cast and weaving them together very successfully.

  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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 find me on my website

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To Sequel Or Not To Sequel

By Ariella Papa Author of Momfriends 

Right from the very beginning people have been asking me if I’m ever going to write a sequel. And I’ve always said no. I answered this question defensively as more of a reader than a writer. It makes me mad (mostly) when authors try to tell me how the characters went on after I closed the book. I have my own ideas and that’s how I want it to be. The end.
So no, I would not be writing the Electric Boogaloo to any of my books.
But of course I live with someone who tells me all about the world of comic books and how characters can live in these worlds without necessarily being the focus of the story all the time. So my first three books existed in the same “universe” where characters from each book might make a cameo without giving away too much or supplanting what the faithful scholars of the Papa library had already determined was the future for their heroines.  
And yet now I have this pull to write a sequel to Momfriends. Maybe it’s because I feel like those three women have a lot more to say or I because people keep telling me funny “momstories” that I think are relevant and universal.
It’s also because it seems like it should be the natural progression. Keeping all my books in a similar genre is what I’m supposed to be doing as an author trying to build her brand.
But we girlfriends seem to have an aversion to doing what we’re supposed to be doing. (Anyone walk their duck lately?). I’ve got this other novel that’s almost all set to come to a digital device near you. It isn’t like anything I’ve ever written before and it doesn’t seem to be following the natural progression at all.  And we all know promoting something new is all consuming and not the most conducive to sequel writing.
And then when I try to sit down and write, it’s not the world of three thirty-ish Brooklyn moms that I want to inhabit – no, that would be easy. The voices that come to me are some fifty-year old hippies who live on a farm in Vermont and keep bees. What?!?!?!
But really it seems like I should be writing the sequel.
So my questions for you all are: To sequel or not to sequel? What has your experience been as authors and as readers?
Ariella Papa is an author most recently of Momfriends and Turn of the Century Stories

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Shocking Truth About Writer's Block

And How To Cure it Before National Novel Writing Month Begins
By Cindy Jones

The affliction known as Writer's Block is about to go viral with National Novel Writing Month around the corner.  A week from now, writers everywhere will sit down at their computers, stare at the blank screen, and update their Facebook status with a complaint about creative paralysis.  By mid-November,Writer's Block will reach epidemic proportions.  But is it really writer's block?  And can it be cured?
Writer's Block occurs when emotional or intellectual demands divert mental energy.
We had a death in the family two months ago.  The sudden overwhelming grief left only enough mental energy to write the obituary.  My work-in-progress went into limbo and upheaval dominated my life.  But slowly, time heals and balance returns.  I know because Writer's Block has obstructed progress at other times in my life when the emotional or intellectual capacities of my mind were overloaded.  The demands of a full-time career, the holidays, marital spats, and last minute Middle School emergencies all took their toll on my word count.  The cure for this strain of Writer's Block is to wait it out.  Creative energy will be restored once the crisis passes.

But the plague about to sweep the nation will be described differently.
Symptoms include a white page, a seated writer, and paralysis of imagination.  
Do not call a doctor.  You can diagnose this strain of Writer's Block at home with the following question:  Did you have a story in your mind when you sat down at the blank screen?
A writer does not sit down at a blank screen until they are ready to download the story already created in their imagination. 
Me journaling in Samuel Johnson's house in London.  
 Anne LaMotte developed two technical terms for the product of the writer's download:  "brain vomit" or the "sh*tty first draft".  In order to download a story, the story must be present in a writer's mind.  If it is not present, there is nothing to download.  Hence the writer staring at the blank screen may simply be unprepared to write.  Get up.  Leave the blank page and find something productive to do.
The shocking truth: Most cases of Writer's Block are due to lack of preparation. 
So how does a writer create a story to download?  The answer would require another blog post so let's just say writers explore premises where characters act under pressure and they use ideas from memory and imagination, research, insights, and observation, working out the details in their head.  Be open to ideas that come to you during the day but do not return to the blank page until you have something to download.

you are not suffering debilitating emotional or intellectual challenges, and if you have made a serious attempt to cultivate a life of the mind, and if you still find yourself staring at the white page,
perhaps your day-dreams are short-circuiting.  
Which brings us to another type of Writer's Block.  Story ideas come to me while I am in daydream mode.  That is, while I am engaged in an activity that allows my mind to wander.  The very best ideas come in the shower, hence the wet trail from bathroom to computer.  I also develop stories while driving, cooking, and listening to others talk.  The downside is I pass destinations, burn food, and annoy people when I zone out.  Here is a simple test to determine if you are short-circuiting daydreams:
  • do you wear ear buds while exercising?
  • is your TV on while you cook dinner?
  • do you play music while driving?
  • do you check Facebook at red lights? 
 If you answered yes, a constant stream of distraction may be interfering with your capacity to receive ideas from daydreams.  The cure?  Unplug yourself and be quiet until you can hear your own thoughts.

The good news for NaNoWriMo participants: October is not over.  You still have time to prepare.  As you clear your desk for National Novel Writing Month, don't forget to spend the rest of October developing an imaginary world full of characters under pressure.  And when the 30 days of November begin, make sure you can hear yourself think while you fill that blank screen with brain vomit.

Cindy Jones is the author of My Jane Austen Summer.  Follow:

As a Writer, Sometimes - You Just Need to Walk Your Duck...

I don't remember where I saw this photo.  I just remember that the minute I did, I 'got' it.  Total understanding immediately.  Sometimes, you just have to walk your duck.

Okay, to me that makes sense, but maybe not to you...yet.  Let me explain.  In the 'old days' of being a published author - you could only walk your dog.  Publishers wanted things a certain way.  They wanted authors to be mainstream...follow trends, but not too much.  Don't think outside the box.  I have to give my first publisher some credit, in that they were okay with me walking a goat, or maybe on rare occaisions - a cat.  But still - no duck.

But the stuff I write is kind of weird.  My series of humor/assassin books were just this side of outside the box.  When I pitched the other stuff I wanted to write:  Absurdist sci-fi humor, British nerdist romance, funny Ben Franklin time travel...well, they didn't like it. 

It was like they were saying, 'Don't walk the duck.  Why can't you just walk a dog like everyone else?'  But I wanted to walk the duck.

I also wanted to remain published, so I put aside the weird stuff I wanted to write and tried several other ideas on them.  They all foundered because my heart wasn't in them.  Meanwhile, really cool, edgy stuff like 'Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter' and 'Pride & Predjudice & Zombies' were topping the charts. 

It took 'firing' my publisher and the indie revolution for me to finally break out the leash and the duck.  But even though writing that stuff makes me very very happy now, I'm still a little sad that it took me so long to do this.  I felt like I should have fought harder...experimented with indie publishers...something. 

Fortunately, the duck doesn't mind that this walk is overdue.  He just slides his head through the leash, and off we go.

Did you have a duck you wanted to walk?

Leslie Langtry - Duck Walker

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Catalpa Tree

In the summer of 2005, I accidentally discovered the novel that changed my life as a writer. I wandered into an English W H Smith to check out the buy-two-books-get-one-free deal, and picked up a novel with these words on the cover: “A story about love, loss—and surviving them both.”

The novel was The Catalpa Tree, and the author was Irish writer, Denyse Devlin. Seven years later The Catalpa Tree remains one of my favorite novels, and the hero, Oliver Sayle, still lives in my head.

When the reader meets Oliver, he’s waiting to tell his best friend’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Jude, that she’s been orphaned. Sitting in the office at Jude’s Catholic boarding school, squirming as the senior nun watches across the desk, Oliver is trying not to feel intimidated. And he’s desperate for a cigarette. That was the moment I fell in love.

Oliver is Jude’s legal guardian. They’re always been close, but everything changes once they’re thrown together through grief and tragedy. Oliver has his own family and a young son, but Jude has no one else. From the beginning you know these two people are tied in a bond that is unique and isolating and not always healthy. Over the next seven years, they test each other constantly. The push and pull of their messy, entangled relationship creates an emotionally gripping page-turner. You cheer, you cry, and when you put the novel down, you have to know where these characters are ten, fifteen, twenty years into the future.

And this is why I Iove The Catalpa Tree: Ms Devlin peels back the layers of relationships, taking the reader deeper and deeper into every twist and turn, every conflict. Stephen King talks about excavating a plot; The Catalpa Tree taught me how to excavate the emotional lives of characters. When I discovered The Catalpa Tree, the world stopped, my life went on hold, and I thought, “This is how I want to write.”

I reread the novel a few years ago and tried to be more critical. I couldn’t. Once again I was swept up in the turmoil of Jude and Oliver’s relationship.

I no longer have the copy of The Catalpa Tree I bought in England. It fell apart like my favorite Dr. Martens. Now I have two copies: one that’s signed and sits on my desk, and a copy I graciously lend out—but only if people promise to return it unharmed.

The Catalpa Tree is published by Penguin Ireland and available in paperback and e-book through  If you like women’s fiction with a darker edge—it’s the best book you haven’t read.