On Writing History: the Blurred Lines Between Fact and Fiction

Today’s truth by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Note: I originally wrote this essay for a fabulous site called Biographile. If you’re not familiar with this site I highly recommend subscribing. They focus on biographies and memoirs and, like me, have a special fondness for all things history. I hope you’ll check them out.

Ariel Lawhon Collage

I’ve got a thing for unsolved mysteries. I blame this fixation largely on Agatha Christie and an adolescence spent reading whodunits. While my friends were sneaking out at night and drinking stolen Zima I was at home reading Murder on the Orient Express. Truth be told I’d still choose a good book over an illicit buzz. So it comes as no surprise that one morning ten years ago my attention was drawn to a link titled, “Has the Mystery of Judge Crater Been Solved?”

Of course I clicked. But what I discovered was not, in fact, the answer to one of the most baffling missing person’s cases of the twentieth century but rather the idea for a novel. Joseph Crater had only been on the New York State Supreme Court for a few months when he stepped into a cab on August 6th, 1930, and vanished. His disappearance was front-page news for years, thanks in no small part to his connections to Tammany Hall, infamous gangsters, and rumors of judicial corruption. It was everything a noir potboiler should be. But had that been all I would have finished the article and gone about my life. I would have never written the book. What captured my attention was not so much the missing judge himself, but his wife, Stella, and a bizarre ritual that I could not get out of my mind.

Every year on the anniversary of her husband’s disappearance Stella Crater went to a bar in Greenwich Village named Club Abbey. Upon her arrival Stella would settle into a corner booth and order two shots of whiskey. Then she would toast her missing husband. “To Joe! Wherever you are,” she would say, one drink held high. And then she’d drain her glass and leave the bar, the other shot of whiskey untouched on the table. Thirty-nine years she did this. Long after she had remarried and moved on with her life. Yet she never once missed that ritual.

All I could think, reading that article was: That’s not grief. That’s penance. And that thought was closely followed by a second: What if she knew what happened to her husband but for some reason couldn’t tell?

Stella Crater took up permanent residence in my mind at that moment. I had to understand who she was and why she’d chosen to keep that secret and what sort of person she’d become as a result. And of course I had to feed my secret addiction: research. It didn’t take long to discover that there were two other intriguing women in Judge Crater’s life: a devoted maid who worked for them at the time of his disappearance, and a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz who was long suspected to be Crater’s lover.

A wife. A maid. And a mistress. What if all three of them knew what happened to him but chose not to tell? Now I had a story.

But here’s an unfortunate truth: women often become the footnotes in history. As I read everything I could find about Judge Crater’s disappearance I noticed an interesting trend: writers got so swept up in various testosterone-laden theories of what happened to the judge that they never turned their attention to the women he left behind. Yet I believe that if you want to get at the heart of any historic event, go ask the women who witnessed it. Women pay attention to the little details. They take note of relational complexities and small betrayals. For women history is personal. And this particular bit of history was very personal to Stella Crater. She wrote a memoir about her husband’s disappearance in 1963 (ironically published by Doubleday—who knew my novel would eventually end up at the same publisher?) and her version of events—often dismissed entirely by historians and armchair detectives as wildly naïve and melodramatic—became the beating heart of my novel. Mrs. Crater was a clever girl.

I was able to build Stella’s part of the narrative directly from her own words and experiences and frustrations. The maid and the mistress were a bit more difficult to reconstruct since their involvement in the case was limited mostly to historical anecdotes. But they are present, if you know where to look. Their narratives required a good deal of creative license but are supported by a few cryptic mentions in Stella’s memoir.

In the end no one knows what happened to Joseph Crater. The case was closed but never solved. No body was ever found. No suspects were ever named. Someone, somewhere knew what happened to the Judge but never told. So I used these three women to tell my version of what could have happened. I like to think that Agatha Christie would approve.

THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS is now available in paperback. Do let me know if your book club chooses to read the novel. I’d be happy to call in or Skype with you. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can contact me here.

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My Brother, My Editor, and The Silent Sister

Today’s post by Diane Chamberlain | @D_Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain Collage

My younger brother, Rob Lopresti, was a writer before I was. We’d been very close as kids but lived on different coasts as adults. Back when I was a social worker, I would go to the gift shop in the hospital where I worked and look through the mystery magazines on the newsstand. I’d feel a little thrill every time I’d find one of Rob’s stories inside them. Even though we lived 3,000 miles apart, seeing those magazines in the place where I worked made me feel close to him.

Fast forward thirty years (yes, thirty!). Rob has published nearly sixty stories along with a couple of novels, and my twenty-third novel is about to be released. We’ve reversed coasts—he’s in Seattle and I’m in North Carolina—but our writing still connects us and we commiserate frequently about the publishing world.

Rob and I write very different types of stories. About a year ago, he sent me a short story he’d written that was set in our hometown. I loved it. In a subplot of the story, a brother laments the disappearance of his sister. I won’t give away what happened to his sister, but I knew in a Diane Chamberlain novel, something very different—not better or worse, just different—would happen. My imagination was off and running. I would write a brother/sister novel! I loved that the idea was inspired by my own brother.

Imaginations are fickle things, however. I’d wanted my protagonist to be a young man whose sister disappeared long ago, but whenever I tried to picture him, he turned into a woman. I finally gave in and created a twenty-two-year-old woman, Riley MacPherson, as my central character. Well, there went my brother/sister story! I did give Riley a brother, Danny, but he’d been killed in the Iraq war a few years earlier. That felt necessary because I wanted to isolate Riley to increase her need to find Lisa, the sister who disappeared and the only remaining member of her family.

This is where my editor stepped into the picture. I’d written the entire book and typed ‘The End’ when she said, “Danny should be alive.” In my early writing days, my initial reaction to such an extreme editorial suggestion would be, “Noooooo!” followed by twenty-four hours of soul searching at which time I would realize my editor was brilliant. I’ve now evolved to the point where I can often see the brilliance within minutes. That was the case when Jen Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press suggested I bring Danny back to life. Together, Riley and Danny would search for their missing sister, each with a different motive . . . and very different plans for what they would do if they found her. Suddenly THE SILENT SISTER was a richer story . . . and ironically, I once again had the brother/sister novel I’d wanted to write. So thank you, Jen, for the suggestion, and Rob, for the inspiration, and I hope we’ll be sharing our stories for a long time to come.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Lisa Jewell

Today’s post by Lisa Jewell, one of our featured Books of Fall authors | @LisaJewellUK


This is my dining table. It is next to my kitchen where the tea and coffee are. It is also right next to a cosy radiator. And the chairs are really comfortable. I don’t need silence or privacy or bookshelves or whiteboards. Just a laptop and a table to put it on.

Lisa Jewell CollageAbout THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN:

“Clever, intelligent…wonderful” (Jojo Moyes, New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You).

Meet the Bird family. They live in a simple brick house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching just beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together each night. Everybody in town gushes over the two girls, who share their mother’s apple cheeks and wide smiles. Of the boys, lively, adventurous Rory can stir up trouble, moving through life more easily than little Rhys, his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet gangly man, but it’s their mother, Lorelei, a beautiful free spirit with long flowing hair and eyes full of wonder, who spins at the center.

Time flies in those early years when the kids are still young. Lorelei knows that more than anyone, doing her part to freeze time by protecting the precious mementos she collects, filling the house with them day by day. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She insists on hanging every single piece of art ever produced by any of the children, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy occurs. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, found new relationships, and, in Meg’s case, created families of their own. Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband, her children, and has been living as a recluse for six years. It seems as though they’d never been The Bird Family at all, as if loyalty were never on the table. But then something happens that calls them home, back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Delving deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the gripping story of a family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

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The Story Keeper

Today’s post by Lisa Wingate | @LisaWingate

Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate

In Appalachia, the air fairly whispers with stories. The tradition of preserving history through oral telling is part of The Story Keeper, which is set in the Blue Ridge in dual time frames, present day and 1890. On the most basic level, the novel is about an editor’s discovery of a remarkable untold story.

Hidden in Appalachia lie isolated communities where people live differently — like The Brethren Saints in the novel — secretive and undisturbed by outsiders. In these deep hollers, mysterious sub-cultures developed, like the true-to-life Melungeons, whose origins are a heated source of debate, even today. Who were the “blue eyed Indians” of Appalachia? Where did they hail from? How did they come to be living in the mountains, in houses and using the Maltese Cross as their sacred symbol, long before the first European explorers pressed in?

Some stories take me over as I’m writing. The Story Keeper was that sort of tale for me. I found myself sinking in, hearing and feeling and seeing everything from mists rising after a rain, to the clatter of ovenbirds, to the flash-fire colors of fall maples. I wanted to add foods that are truly iconic of Appalachia, past and present — the sorts of dishes that would’ve been brought to potlucks, both at the turn-of-the-century and during modern-day gatherings.

Bread pudding historically was a farm-staple dessert, popular because it could be created from ingredients most country wives had around — old bread, eggs, sugar, spices, cream, along with seasonal fruits and nuts. I never take this dish to potlucks without bringing along the recipe — someone is sure to ask. Served warm with ice cream and caramel sauce (make your own or buy prepared in the grocery store), it’s a surefire crowd pleaser… and a taste of Appalachian hospitality and tradition.


1. Peel and chop apples.

2. Melt 2T butter in bottom of baking pan, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

3. Layer in apples.

4. Whisk other ingredients (except bread cubes) in separate bowl.

5. Add bread to baking dish.

6. Pour liquid ingrédients over top of bread, taking care to dampen everything.

7. Bake until eggs are “set” and top of bread cubes are slightly browned.

8. Try not to dig in before the gathering… or… maybe that’s okay too ;) Serve warm with ice cream and caramel sauce.

* * *

The Story KeeperNot since To Kill a Mockingbird has a story impacted me like this.” — COLLEEN COBLE, USA Today bestselling author of Seagrass Pier

“Wingate is, quite simply, a master storyteller. Her story-within-a-story, penned with a fine, expressive style, will captivate writers and nonwriters alike.” – Booklist 

Successful New York editor, Jen Gibbs, is at the top of her game with her new position at Vida House Publishing — until a mysterious manuscript from an old slush pile appears on her desk. Turning the pages, Jen finds herself drawn into the life of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in the turn of the century Appalachia. A risky hunch may lead to The Story Keeper‘s hidden origins and its unknown author, but when the trail turns toward the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place Jen thought she’d left behind forever, the price of a blockbuster next book deal may be higher than she’s willing to pay.

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When Truth Makes The Best Fiction

Today’s post by our very own Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

We’re delighted to announce that Ariel’s novel, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS is finally available in paperback. Also, we’re somewhat in love with the new cover. Which do you prefer? The hardback cover? Or the paperback? Let us know in the comments below!

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

I’d never heard of Joseph Crater until I read an article about him in The New York Post ten years ago. I didn’t know that his disappearance was the biggest missing person’s case of the twentieth century or that he was a household name for almost fifty years. But in all of that, what intrigued me most was his wife Stella, and her strange yearly ritual. Starting on the first anniversary of her husband’s disappearance, she would go to a bar in Greenwich Village and order two drinks. She’d raise one in salute, “Good luck, Joe, wherever you are!” Then she’d drink it and walk out of the bar, leaving the other untouched on the table. She did this every year for thirty-nine years. After reading that article Stella Crater took up permanent residence in my mind. I’d close my eyes and she’d be there, in that corner booth, a glass of whiskey in her hand, practically daring me to tell her story.

The wonderful thing about writing historical fiction is that there is often an existing record of the people you are recreating. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there are pictures as well. Little glimpses into the past. After reading that article I began digging into the Crater story. I read Stella Crater’s memoir, THE EMPTY ROBE. And I read as many articles and biographies on Joseph Crater as I could find, namely VANISHING POINT: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JUDGE CRATER AND THE NEW YORK HE LEFT BEHIND. And slowly the pieces came together. Three women. One missing judge. And secrets none of them were willing to tell.

These are the pictures I kept on hand while writing THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS. Real people. Real events. Real places. Because sometimes the truth makes the best fiction after all.

Picture This WMM

* Starting top left and going clockwise: Stella Crater holding the missing person’s circular decades after her husband’s disappearance, the only known photo of showgirl Ritzi, Maria and Jude Simon (as I’ve always thought of them–no pictures of them actually exist), Governor Al Smith, Owney Madden, and Joseph Crater the year he disappeared.

You can see all the real characters in the novel on this Pinterest board.

You can read an excerpt of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS here.

* * *

WMM Paperback2“Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression.”–PEOPLE MAGAZINE

“More meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”–THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

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Book Review: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon 

Helen Giltrow’s debut novel, THE DISTANCE, is one of the She Reads fall book club selections. If you love thrillers and strong female characters and complex stories this is definitely a novel you need to pick up.

Helen Giltrow Collage

“There’s blood in my hair. Twelve hours later and I’ve still got blood in my hair.”

I can usually tell everything I need to know about a novel by its first lines. Occasionally it takes a paragraph or a full page to find the tone but I typically know within a sentence or two. And I often discern, by these lines, whether I will love a book or not. It’s not fair if you really think about it. And it’s not foolproof, but still, I find it helpful.

So when I read those first lines in Helen Giltrow’s debut thriller, THE DISTANCE, I was hooked. I don’t typically seek out thrillers but there was something about this one that fascinated me. Perhaps because the protagonist is a woman? Perhaps because she is a handler: of intelligence, of hit men, of secrets. Perhaps because she’s fearless? Or maybe I was simply elated to find a thriller that didn’t broker in the testosterone-driven tropes common to this genre. Regardless, THE DISTANCE was brilliant and I devoured it in two days.

Charlotte Alton is a London society woman trying to make a new life for herself. She has built a fortune as “Karla,” a shadowy figure who trades in information and makes people disappear: sometimes to protect them and sometimes for less altruistic reasons. But it’s a lonely life and she wants to move on. And for the last year she has succeeded in doing so, slowly putting distance between herself and this life of secrets and shadows. But it only takes a brief interaction with one of her former clients, an assassin named Simon Johanson, to pull her back into that dangerous world. Johanson needs “Karla’s” help to get inside an experimental prison colony and take out an inmate who doesn’t technically exist. But there’s a bigger problem: Johanson is the one person who can identify “Karla,” and she, for reasons she does not truly understand, is drawn to him. Without her help Johanson’s hit will be a suicide mission. And she is not willing to let that happen. So Charlotte Alton resumes the identity of “Karla” and together she and Johanson must discover why someone wants this inmate—a woman—dead, and whether the entire job is actually a trap meant to destroy everything that “Karla” has built.

As a reader I appreciated the tightly woven, intelligent, can’t-put-down pace of this novel. Clean, sharp prose. And I didn’t just like the protagonist, I respected her. But as a writer I appreciated that every character, every scene, every seemingly random detail matters. Nothing goes to waste. And the ending? I never saw it coming.

Helen Giltrow has the rare ability to take a larger-than-life premise and load it with emotional impact. This novel is big, but it’s also deeply personal. I loved it.

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You Were Meant For Me: inspired by a true story

Today’s post by Yona Zeldis McDonough |

Yona Zeldis McDonoughMost of my novels begin with a voice whispering in my ear, telling me a story, urging me to get it down—and to get it right. But You Were Meant for Me began in different way, with an actual incident that happened in New York City: a man found a newborn infant in a subway station and ended up adopting him.

I could not stop thinking about this story.  I kept wondering about the infant’s mother, and what might have driven her to an act of such desperation?  She did not leave her baby at a police station, hospital or firehouse—all safe havens. No she left him on a subway platform, a decision that could have had so many outcomes—all of them horrendous.  And yet, this is not what happened.  By sheer chance, dumb luck or, if you believe in such things, divine intervention, that baby was saved. At some point, I realized that I wanted—no, felt compelled—to write it.  But because I am a novelist, not a journalist, I made some changes.

In my version, the man becomes a 35-year-old single female editor of an upscale shelter magazine who is not thinking of a baby but whose biological clock is nonetheless ticking loudly. The caramel colored baby she finds in the deserted Coney Island subway station is a girl.  From the moment she takes the baby in her arms, she feels an immediate and powerful connection to her. And even after she brings the baby to the police station, she finds she cannot stop thinking about her and her persistent interest leads her to begin adoption proceedings because no one else has stepped forward to claim the child.

You Were Meant For MeI added other characters to the mix: the desperate mother who abandons her child, good-hearted photographer who falls hard for the food editor, and the biological father, a rising young professional who did not know about his daughter but once he learns of her, wants to do the right thing and claim her. And I also added a surprising secret that is revealed late in the novel. Hey, I told you I was a novelist, not a journalist, right?  But the essential elements of the story—the abandoned infant, the benevolent stranger, and the improbable new family that is forged by accident and cemented by love—all these things remained true to their source.

Every morning, there is a fresh crop of news stories that can so easily bring us to despair; the world is so often a harsh, unlovely place where everything that can go wrong does.  But every once in a rare while there is a story that flies in the face of that despair, a story that reaffirms hope, redemption and yes, even grace.  That story came to me by way of a friend’s telling; I grabbed it, and made it my own.


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How We View Characters, A Double Standard

Today’s post by Helen Giltrow, author of THE DISTANCE | @HelenGiltrow

Helen Giltrow’s debut novel is one of our book club selections for fall. It’s a tense, gritty, brilliant thriller and today Helen shares a few valuable insights on the double standards prevalent in how we view male and female characters–especially those whose work is illegal or immoral.

Helen Giltrow Collage

The ‘hero from the wrong side of the law’ is a well-established figure in crime fiction. The chances are you’ve met one, whether it’s in Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal or Jo Nesbo’s latest, The Son. My lead character, Karla, is another: a woman who sells secrets to criminals, or manipulates data on their behalf. You need the floorplans of a bank, or the contents of a government server? You need to disappear? You go to her.

She’s a professional who takes a cool, pragmatic approach to her business. It doesn’t bother her that it’s entirely criminal.

Of course, as with so many criminal leading characters, she has admirable qualities too. She’s fiercely loyal to the members of her team. She protects those who are vulnerable. And there are most definitely lines she won’t cross. She doesn’t deal with psychopaths or terrorists, and violence is alien to her; to get the information she needs she’ll work on people’s trust, she’ll manipulate technology, but when all else fails, she must fall back on her wits.

She has a strong sense of empathy, too; she tries to repress it, but it’s always there, and sometimes it slips out, drawing her into an involvement that goes way beyond the professional.

So it came as a surprise when I met someone who obviously found Karla troubling. The reason? ‘She needs explaining,’ they said, adding, ‘in a way that a male character probably wouldn’t.’

In other words, she’s not just criminal. She’s criminal and female.

Another reader – who personally liked and ‘got’ Karla – touched on the same point, but went further: ‘Some people might be more comfortable with Karla’s illegal activities if she had a mental illness.’ I was stunned – until I looked back at the female leads in the big crime novels of the last few years. Gone Girl: Amy’s a sociopath. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Lisbeth Salander’s borderline Asbergers.

So did those two readers have a point? Are characters judged according to a double standard, with different rules applied to women and men?

Cathy Rentzenbrink – interviewing Helen Walsh about her recent novel The Lemon Grove – would seem to think so. She summed up the situation thus: ‘A transgressive woman is a transgressive woman where a transgressive man is just a man.’

And perhaps for some – maybe not many, but a few – there are acceptable ‘female’ reasons for criminal behaviour. To mental illness we could add revenge; protection of a child; even simple lack of choice.

But Karla’s doing it because it’s her job.

And honestly – why not?

* Note: this article was originally written for Shots Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from Doubleday Books.

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What We’re Into: September Edition

This month’s edition of What We’re Into brought to you by Marybeth Whalen | @Marybeth Whalen (Because Ariel has been traveling and sick and on deadline and visiting with ALL THE BOOK CLUBS and the only thing she’s into right now is her pillow)

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

It’s officially fall– both in time and temperature– around here. Time for cozy afghans, soup and cornbread, football, apples and pumpkins. Red, orange and gold are the colors de jour. Evenings are spent on the deck with red wine and candlelight enjoying the mild temperatures, my husband and I unpacking our day together while the kids settle into their homework and nightly routines.

September has been about the transition from mourning summer to celebrating fall. I am fully embracing the season now. My Pinterest board of all things fall represents the things I love most about this season, so check it out if you want a little fall inspiration.

These two different fall home tours kept me busy on several evenings. I love peeking into other people’s homes, and this is a fantastic way to do just that. So many clever ideas.

And as for the foods of fall, check out this wonderful collection of fall slow cooker meals. Some good stuff here you’ll want to add to your menu plans soon!

NestOn the reading front, I downloaded the new middle grade book Nest by Esther Ehrlich to read aloud to my youngest daughter, but it hasn’t happened this month. I’m looking towards October for that to happen. It sounds like the perfect book to sink into in the fall. See if you agree:

A heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.

Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

Nest is Esther Ehrlich’s stunning debut novel. Her lyrical writing is honest, humorous, and deeply affecting. Chirp and Joey will steal your heart. Long after you finish Nest, the spirit of Chirp and her loving family will stay with you.

Sister Mother Husband DogI also enjoyed the memoir Sister Mother Husband Dog by Delia Ephron, an accomplished writer who also happens to be the sister of Nora Ephron. I recommend this book to anyone who loved When Harry Met SallySleepless In Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail, or anyone who has a sister. I read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn last year and enjoyed it immensely. So this memoir about the woman behind the book was all the more meaningful for me. I listened to it narrated by Meg Ryan, which made it all the more pleasant. It’s equally funny, thought-provoking and emotional– all the things I look for in a good read.

The new tv season premiered this month, and it looks like Monday nights are going to be the big tv watching night at our house. We all gather for Gotham, seeing as how we are all huge Batman fans. This was a show we were counting down the days to. I wasn’t wowed by the first episode, but am hopeful it’ll pick up in subsequent episodes. The premise is brilliant. How did Riddler and Joker and Poison Ivy become master criminals?? I can tell you the Whalens want to know.

I also binge-watched (for the first time I will add) the whole first season of The Blacklist in preparation for the new season. This was a show I felt I had missed out on but heard about too late in the season to really understand what was going on. So I was glad to find it on Netflix and indulged in many hours of playing catch up on a weekend I was too sick to do much else. The season premiere did not disappoint and I can’t wait to watch James Spader be his clever, funny, daring self week after week. The man in the hat is where it’s at.

All of this to say, I am now looking forward to Mondays! And that is no small thing.

Finally here are two random links to posts I enjoyed reading this month. Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and Love Anthony, among other books, shares some rules for writing I found insightful and wise.

And the debate on paper vs plasma continues. This post goes into how your brain processes the two. Good to think about.

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Author to Author, An Interview: Part Two

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

If you missed the first part of our Author to Author series, do read Tuesday’s post. We’ve invited Julie Lawson Timmer and Carrie La Seur to interview one another on She Reads this week and they’re talking about being debut authors, attorneys, wives, and mothers. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of first time authors and the way their worlds have changed now that they have published books. Today Carrie La Seur interviews Julie Lawson Timmer about her novel, FIVE DAYS LEFT.

We have a copy of FIVE DAYS LEFT up for grabs today.  See the entry form below for details.

Carrie La Seur

Carrie La Seur

Carrie: Hello Julie! I’m enjoying your book but I’m really afraid to find out how it ends. You’ve written about an experience – facing a terminal illness – that’s difficult to get inside of without a fairly unpleasant outcome. How did you research the reality of being Mara, and her decision? Have you had feedback from people living with Huntington’s about your portrayal?

Julie: Hi, Carrie! What fun to do a Q+A with another author! I did a great deal of research about Huntington’s, first reading every book, newspaper article and online resource I could find, and then talking to experts who work with HD patients. It was vital to me to get the details of Mara’s condition accurate. I’ve received feedback from people in the HD community, and so far, it’s been good. As I hoped, they’ve said FIVE DAYS LEFT is a help, both in its realistic portrayal of HD and in its explanation of the disease to readers who might not have been aware of it. Nothing would make me happier than to hear that others in the HD community found the book to be helpful, and that those outside the HD community were inspired by the book to donate to HD research.

Carrie: How has publishing your novel changed your sense of yourself as part of a community of writers? Did you have a writing group or friends who are writers before now?

Julie Lawson Timmer

Julie Lawson Timmer

Julie: One of the best things to have come from writing FIVE DAYS LEFT is the relationships it’s allowed me to form with other writers. I have loved meeting other authors, both through social media and at bookish events. In the early days of writing the book, I went to a writer’s conference and met a group of terrific people, and we have remained close ever since. We have read each other’s chapters and queries and supported each other through times of frustration with our writing, and through successes. The writers in the group live far from Ann Arbor but drove up for the launch anyway, and I can’t adequately express what that meant to me.

Carrie: You make an intriguing choice by including a couple of characters who were adopted from India. For you, is this an important element of the story? How do you think this cultural connection affects their response to tragedy – or does it?

Julie: For me, Mara’s heritage doesn’t impact her response to her diagnosis. It is simply who she is. And this might sound crazy, but I didn’t consciously make Mara Indian, or decide to have her adopt her daughter Lakshmi. When I first conceived of the concept for FIVE DAYS LEFT and started making notes, Mara’s character came to me, almost fully formed. In my mind, I saw her traveling to India with her American husband and Indian parents. I saw them making the trek to an orphanage–the same one Mara had been adopted from herself. It was almost like I was picturing a movie I’d seen before–it was like this trip had happened, and I was simply reporting it.

Five Days LeftAbout the book:

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.

Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.
Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance and the power of relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

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