Today’s post by Renee Carlino | @renayz

There’s a running joke in my family about “the skinny blanket.” When my older sister was in her mid-twenties and feeling ambitious about her domestic pursuits, she taught herself how to crochet—but instead of starting on a small project, she decided to go all-out and make a massive blanket. The first row was twelve feet long. Unsurprisingly, she got through maybe twenty rows before she gave up. The finished blanket was twelve feet by two and a half feet—hardly a blanket at all! But rather than admit defeat and throw it out, she used it as her guest blanket. Whenever I’d stay the night with her, she’d give it to me to sleep with. It barely covered me from arm to arm so I would have to stay really still in order for it to do any good. To this day, everyone in my family gets a good laugh out of it.

In my new novel, Wish You Were Here, I used the idea of the skinny blanket to explore my central character Charlotte’s deeper inability to follow through on her ever-evolving desires, both professionally and romantically—something I think a lot of women can relate to. It was really important to me to show this phase of a young woman’s growth. Charlotte is like so many of us in our twenties: she’s flawed, fickle and immature. She loves well and she’s a good friend, daughter, and sister, but she’s having a hard time finding her way in the world as she experiences many ups and downs for the first time. Finding love is even more challenging for her, mirroring her career woes, but Charlotte’s romantic journey ultimately leads her to a place of self-realization that allows her to have breakthroughs elsewhere.

This theme comes out of my reflections on my own life choices. In my teens and twenties, I changed career paths about as often as I changed my underwear. My sister often jokes, “Remember when you wanted to be a horse jockey?” That wasn’t a little kid fantasy; I was probably twenty-five when I read and watched Seabiscuit a few too many times. I had dreams of becoming a famous horse jockey, but I barely knew how to ride a horse.

Becoming a wife and mother brought things into sharper focus over time, and that allowed me to figure out what I really wanted to do. And when I wrote my first novel, something clicked into place for me. As I sat down and typed the first twenty thousand words, I knew I could do it forever and that I loved it. I had no idea if anyone would ever read my books, or if they’d even be published, but I didn’t care: I had found myself. Things don’t click for Charlotte quite as easily—novels have to be more exciting than real life!—but I assure you, it does happen for her. And I think readers will find that journey really satisfying.

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You know when you’re looking at someone and you can’t help but smile at how oblivious they are to their own charm? That’s what was happening to me, and it was making me feel…happy. Euphoric. Something indescribable. It was like we already knew each other, like we had met in a previous life. Memories that didn’t exist began exploding in my mind like fireworks. 

Charlotte has spent her twenties adrift, searching for a spark to jump-start her life and give her a sense of purpose. She’s had as many jobs as she’s had bad relationships, and now she’s feeling especially lost in her less-than-glamorous gig at a pie-and-fry joint in Los Angeles, where the uniforms are bad and the tips are even worse.

Then she collides—literally—with Adam, an intriguing, handsome, and mysterious painter. Their serendipitous meeting on the street turns into a whirlwind one-night stand that has Charlotte feeling enchanted by Adam’s spontaneity and joy for life. There’s promise in both his words and actions, but in the harsh light of morning, Adam’s tune changes, leaving Charlotte to wonder if her notorious bad luck with men is really just her own bad judgment.

Months later, a new relationship with Seth, a charming baseball player, is turning into something more meaningful, but Charlotte’s still having trouble moving past her one enthralling night with Adam. Why? When she searches for answers, she finds the situation with Adam is far more complicated than she ever imagined. Faced with the decision to write a new story with Seth or finish the one started with Adam, Charlotte embarks on a life-altering journey, one that takes her across the world and back again, bringing a lifetime’s worth of pain, joy, and wisdom.

 

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Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

Reading fatigue. It’s a real thing. But it’s a thing we don’t talk about often. Because we’re book lovers, right? Reading is our happy place. There’s nothing we’d rather do than curl up with a warm drink and a good book. We love to read. Until we don’t.

Here are a few books that are currently sitting on my nightstand:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace

I paid cash money for each of these books. I am really looking forward to reading them. But every night I crawl in bed, look at my nightstand, shudder, and turn off the light.

The truth is, my reader is broken.

I just…can’t. I’m trying. And I can’t. And that’s okay. Reading fatigue happens for any number of reasons. For me it manifests either in avoiding books altogether or abandoning them within a page or two. So I just have to pat that pretty cover and say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

I’ll get back to them. Eventually.

I am convinced that reading fatigue is linked to mental and physical fatigue. For me, self care is key. I’ve been in this particular dry spell for a number of months. It coincided with me finishing my new book. My brain was exhausted. My body was exhausted. I was spent.

This isn’t the first time this has happened so I recognized the symptoms. Over the years I’ve learned a few things that help recharge my batteries. And I asked Marybeth what works for her. So, if you find yourself in this situation, here are some ideas that might help (and if they don’t, that’s okay–this too shall pass):

1. Go back and read an old favorite.

2. Take a nap instead.

3. Watch some booktubers or scroll through bookstagram posts (other people’s excitement can sometimes spark yours)

4. Take a walk and listen to a podcast.

5. Find a shorter novel or book of short stories to read. (Instant gratification)

6. Read a childhood favorite to your kids.

7. Listen to an audiobook.

8. Sit on the deck with a glass of wine.

9. Switch up genres to something you don’t normally read. Or read nonfiction.

10. Go on a blind date with a book (let a friend or bookseller pick your next read).

11. Read what you want to read instead of what you *should* be reading.

12. Go to bed early and get eight or more hours of sleep.

13. Give yourself permission not to read at all for a few days (or weeks) and wait for the feeling to pass.

14. Flip through all your cookbooks and drool over the pretty pictures.

What about you? Do you have any tips on how to recover from reading fatigue?

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Today’s post by Lisa Duffy | @LisaDuffyWriter

Please welcome Lisa Duffy to the blog today. She’s the author of The Salt House, our August Book Club Selection. We asked her to share about her inspiration for writing The Salt House, and, as always, the answer fascinated us.

I’m often asked at readings to talk about the inspiration behind my debut novel. Specifically, the spark that ignited The Salt House, a story told in alternating perspectives that traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy. Truthfully, the novel began with a writing assignment in a creative writing class…ten years before the novel’s publication.

I think a lot of writers know they want to be writers early on in life, but attempting to make a living at it is a bit like admitting you want to walk on the moon. When I decided to take my writing seriously, I was a thirty-four-year old recently divorced mother of three young children with an unfinished degree. So, with my youngest in preschool, I did the only thing that made sense at the time—I went back to school for writing.

One of my first assignments was to write about setting. Now—all writers have strengths and weaknesses. For me, setting is not one of them. It can take me days to describe something as simple as a room in a way that feels authentic and intriguing.

I completed the assignment, handed it in and when it was returned to me, the professor had scrawled on the back page: Not the assignment, but evocative. Keep writing. You have something here.

The professor was generous, because not the assignment was a polite way of saying the assignment had, well, nothing to do with setting. Instead, it was a scene about a mother in bed with her infant. It’s a snow day, school is canceled, and she can hear her two older children making breakfast and watching TV. As she holds her baby, the mother thinks about her older kids. They had grown so fast that now she can’t even remember the last time either one of them let her hold them, really hug them.

There was a sense of loss in the piece. Nothing specific. But it was the spark—this idea of loss and motherhood and the passing of time.

Over the next ten years, I would pick up and put down the novel many times. It took shape early on with the first four chapters in changing perspectives. I knew then it was going to be a story about a tragedy told through the lens of each family member—how one singular event impacts an entire family.

While I was writing it, my father died, and it was a “truth is stranger than fiction” experience in that it was so interesting to see those closest to me navigate their own grief. In many ways, his death inspired me to dig deeper into the intersections of tragedy and family, heartbreak and hope.

But the first spark that ignited the novel will always live in my memory as an exercise in setting that was not the assignment, but the one I kept writing.

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Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

We are delighted to announce our latest “not to be missed” book club selection is THE SALT HOUSE by Lisa Duffy. We think this is the perfect novel to end summer with. A family drama that delves into loss and grief, while weaving in hope and joy in such a balanced and inspiring way–with a coastal setting at the same time (last little bit of summer!). This is the kind of novel you’ll want to have your book club read, or give a copy to a friend just so you’ll have someone to discuss it with. It’s the sort of book that finds you on the porch swing with a cup of coffee or on the patio with a glass of wine. You savor it.

And at the end? We think you’ll want to hug the novel to you, just so you can hold the Kelly family close for a moment longer… like we may have done ourselves. Enjoy your time with the Kellys. We certainly did!

Throughout the next month (Aug.15-Sept.15) you’re going to be hearing from the author, Lisa Duffy and you’ll also be seeing her gorgeous debut novel shared by our wonderful and amazing social media and blog network members. (Want to see who they are? Click here.)

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In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

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Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

Besides trying to 1) stay cool and 2) actually enjoy our children instead of fussing at them every time they ransacked the kitchen (I mean really, they’re like a swarm of locusts) we were obsessed with several things in July.

First and foremost we’ve been way into our event that is coming up September 17th in New Orleans.

#ReadNOLA is daylong reader’s getaway including a moveable feast luncheon, afternoon panels, and a keynote conversation between Christina Baker Kline AND Joshilyn Jackson. The good news? Registration is now officially open! Tickets are $55 and cover all activities (including lunch) from 12:00 – 6:00. Click here to purchase your tickets and to see other confirmed authors.

We were also both into this purse. The friends that buy purses together stay best friends forever. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Marybeth got it in the cognac and Ariel got it in the olive. If (when?? yes??) you see us at #ReadNOLA please compliment us on our taste in purses! And if you are nosy (we prefer calling it curious) like us, you can check out this video, which started it all. What is it about women that we really do want to see what’s in each other’s bags?

We also did do some stuff on our own (because obviously, we live 400 miles apart). Here are a few things we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks. We’re not being paid to promote any of them. We just thought you might like them too.

Marybeth was into:

The podcast Up and Vanished. This podcast is not only riveting, it is one where, through their investigative efforts, they actually solve a cold case that is 11 years old. Since the novel I’m working on is about a missing person, I counted the hours and hours of bingeing as research, and didn’t feel bad about neglecting my life to listen one single bit. (Not much, anyway.)

I’ve also listened to a few episodes of– and really enjoyed– the podcast Book Tour With John Grisham. He comes across as genuine, self deprecating, and funny– all while being a mega-bestselling author. And he’s had some great guests with him. If you’re a writer, or a reader, which if you’re here we’re betting you are this is worth the listen. Especially if you, like me, ever find yourself in the kitchen cooking a bunch of meals to freeze in preparation for your family vacation. (Work alllll day so you can take time off from cooking. This is my approach to vacation. Surely someone else follows that logic, right?)

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve was the best book I read this month. The other ones I read were… ok. So I won’t mention them here. But this one had me rooting and cheering for the main character until the last sentence. And oh, what a last sentence it was!

The Zookeeper’s Wife was the best movie I watched this month. I loved this heroic story of people who put their lives at risk to save others. And the fact that it’s based on a true story only makes it better and more inspiring! It really got me thinking? Would I be that brave? Would I love others enough to put my life– and the lives of my family– on the line?

My husband and I are also continuing with the third season of Grantchester. If you love British dramas, this show– which I would call a cozy mystery in film form– is so, so good.

Ariel was into:

This mattress topper. My husband and I bought a new memory foam mattress about a year ago. It was really nice and really expensive but it was also really firm. Like sleeping on the sidewalk firm. Bizarre for memory foam to tell the truth. But all the reviews said it softened up over time. So we gave it time. Then more time. And then a bit more. When I finally complained that sleeping in the bathtub would be more comfortable so my husband bought this topper (on a recommendation from a friend–which is always the best kind of recommendation). I can’t even explain how much we love it. We’ve gone to bed an hour early every night since it arrived. We don’t toss and turn. We don’t wake up in the middle of the night. Heck, I don’t even think we roll over anymore. Hello eight-plus hours of sleep every night!

RoC Skincare Products. I am notorious for buying cheap face lotion and then regretting it. Do that often enough and it’s not cheap anymore. So, on a recent pass through the drugstore, I upgraded to RoC night cream on a whim. It was less than $20 and much to my surprise, it worked. So I bought the day cream. Then the eye cream. Then the serum. The products work even better together and I love them. Yes, I know I sound like a commercial. But I’ve never actually used anything on my face that does get rid of fine lines and wrinkles before. I’m just…stunned.

My first Stephen King novel in twenty-two years. I finally bought a hardcover copy of 11/22/63 and now I remember why I spent five years in my teens reading everything of his I could get my hands on. The man is a genius. He’s the master. All hail the King!

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