The Truth About Grief And Writing

Today’s post by Susan Strecker | @SusanStrecker

Susan StreckerI get asked a lot what inspired me to write NIGHT BLINDNESS. I am truthful in my answer when I explain my father was terminally ill and I began writing as a way to work through my grief. What I have not said is that I needed to write this book, both as a way to honor my dad and to have something to hold on to. Writing was a life preserver in the deep end of the ocean, oxygen in an airless space. Although the end product is an entirely different novel than what I began in a dimly-lit hospital room in Baltimore, every word I wrote was for my dad.

People say it’s not healthy to hold on to the dead and sooner or later, we have to move on. I will never let go of my father. Waking every morning and knowing it may have been my last with him was like being trapped under a thousand pound boulder. It crushed my lungs. It was impossible to breathe. Worse than that, I didn’t want to. I was staring down the barrel of life without him, and there were times when it was just too much. Writing NIGHT BLINDNESS gave me an outlet for my grief, something positive to focus on. Hospitals, MRIs, steroids, surgeons, radiation oncologists and the swift knowledge that my dad, who was fifty-eight when he was diagnosed, only had months to live consumed me. It literally ate me. I lost a scary amount of weight. I kept getting skinnier and just didn’t care. The great love of my life proposed and while I didn’t quite say no, I definitely didn’t say yes. I was going down and I loved him too much to take him with me.

The problem with grief is that there’s no getting away from it. All I could do was hold onto the helm and weather the storm. While this tempest will last forever, perhaps it has taken on a new form, the way rain turns to snow. One’s not better than the other, they’re just different. As my grief began to morph from one shape to another, I found I could breathe a little. So I started writing again. This time it wasn’t with the sole intent of outrunning my grief for one more day. Now I was able to say goodbye and thank you to the characters who had held my hand and sat with me when all I could do was cry and throw shoes at the wall. I wrote about what I felt for my dad. I paid tribute to him by creating a love between father and daughter that was so huge, it needed to be told. I wrote about family and love and regret and lost chances and the haunting question, what could have been? I will never let go of my dad. But, now, moving forward, I have created something for him, for us that I will keep with me.

* * *

Night BlindnessA future as bright as the stars above the Connecticut shore lay before Jensen Reilly and her high school sweetheart, Ryder, until the terrible events of an October night left Jensen running from her family and her first love. Over the years that followed, Jensen buried her painful past, and now, married to a charismatic artist, she has created a new life far away from the unbearable secret of that night.

When Jensen’s father, Sterling, is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she returns to her childhood home for the first time in thirteen years, and the memories of her old life come flooding back along with the people she’s tried to escape. Torn between her life in Santa Fe with her free-spirited husband, Nic, and the realization that it is time to face her past, Jensen must make a terrifying decision that threatens to change her life again—this time forever.

An emotionally thrilling debut set during a New England summer, Susan Strecker’s Night Blindness is a compelling novel about the choices we make, the sanctity of friendship, and the power of love.

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Word Of The Day

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Sadly I was born with a tin ear and two left feet. I can not sing, dance, clap in time with music, or write poetry. I’m a one trick pony. Novel writing is all I have. But that’s okay. Because I can BALTER.

And thus we give you our word of the day:


Also, one of the bright, charming, lovely members of our blog network, Ariel Price of One Little Library, has put together a short reader survey. Would you mind stopping by for a few moments and answering a handful of questions? It will help not only Ariel but also She Reads find ways to better serve you, the reader. Thank you and have a lovely Tuesday!

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The Mystery of the Mistress: A True Story

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon


I’d like to find out where you did your research for your book about Judge Crater? You see, the showgirl depicted in your book was actually my grandmother…

Ariel Lawhon Collage

So began an email that I received on May 16th, 2014. There are certain moments that writers do not forget. Your first good review. Your first bad review. Finally holding the book you’ve labored over in your hands. But I am convinced there is nothing that will send you into total body failure so fast as receiving an email from someone who shouldn’t exist. Because that showgirl I wrote about, the one I’d researched and brought to life on the pages of my novel? The one whose granddaughter had just written me? I truly believed she had died in the fall of 1930. She shouldn’t have lived long enough to have children, much less grandchildren. But that email turned all my personal theories inside out.

My first introduction to Sally Lou Ritz (one of the titular characters in my novel, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS) came ten years ago while reading an article about a missing New York State Supreme Court Judge. Though we’ve largely forgotten him, Joseph Crater was nothing short of legend for almost fifty years. He’d only been on the court four months when he got into a cab on August 6th, 1930 and vanished. His disappearance became the biggest missing person’s case of the twentieth century, thanks in no small part to his connections with Tammany Hall, infamous gangsters, and rumors of judicial corruption.

It didn’t take long to discover that there were three interesting women in Judge Crater’s life: his jaded, socialite wife Stella; a devoted maid who was in their apartment in the days surrounding his disappearance; and a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz (her last name was actually Ritzi–the nickname I gave her in the book), 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 the difficulty in writing about historical figures is that you must treat them with respect. Their legacies and their families and their memories must be honored. Despite the fact that they felt like characters to me, they were real people. And there could be men and women wandering around the planet that knew and loved them. I don’t believe that writers must always paint their characters in a positive light—especially when history supports a gritty version of events—but I do believe they should be treated with dignity. And I was determined to be mindful of that responsibility.

Yet here’s the truth: in this particular situation I felt as though I’d gotten off easy. Joseph and Stella Crater never had children. The maid, known only as Amedia Christian (I changed her name for the novel) makes one appearance in one newspaper article and no one knows for sure if that was even her real name. And the showgirl vanished shortly after judge Crater. She’s been listed as a missing person for the last eighty-four years. I stayed with the facts that could be verified. But beyond that, my imagination had room to play. Joseph Crater’s disappearance is still unsolved. No one knows what became of him. So I used these three women to tell a version of events that could have happened. And I was very pleased with how it turned out.

And then came that email in May.

Ritzi’s granddaughter went on to tell me that her grandmother had left New York City in fall of 1930. That she had changed her name. Married. Had a child. She had gone on with her life and never once mentioned that she was with Joseph Crater on the night that he disappeared. Or that she had been in any way connected to one of the most notorious missing persons cases in history. Her children and grandchildren knew her simply as a beautiful, talented, charming woman who shied away from personal questions. She died in 2000 after living a full, happy life.

It’s ironic, that.

Even though I sincerely believed that Ritzi had not made it out of New York City alive, I wrote her a different ending. A happy one. I gave her a family. A new name. I wanted those things for her. And I was brought to tears by the knowledge that she actually got them.

I spent several weeks this summer communicating with various members of Ritzi’s family. I’d gotten many things right. Her real name for instance: Sarah (she went by Sally). Some things I’d gotten wrong. She fled to California, not Iowa as I’d imagined. But the thing that humbled me most was that her son, granddaughter, and great grandson had a few more answers than they did before. Much of what I wrote about her was total fiction. But I was able to point Ritzi’s family to the historical record of her time as a dancer on Broadway, to her connection with Judge Crater, and to testimony she’d given police about his disappearance.

Questions were answered. (For them and for me). Gaps were filled. And a legacy was discovered. To me that is a better ending than anything I could have written.

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Book Trailer Of The Day: US by David Nicholls

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

If you’ve spent any time around us over the last few years you have heard us talk about David Nicholls’ novel, ONE DAY. We loved the novel. We loved the movie (I still think about that ending) so it’s no surprise that we began pacing the moment we heard he had a new novel in the works. And, after watching the trailer below we’re both rather desperate to get our hands on it.

* Email readers can click here to see the video.

USLonglisted for the Man Booker Prize

David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Timesbestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart.

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.

Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view,Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the cafés of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around?

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Book Club Recipe for The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Today’s post by Ingrid from Edible Tapestry | @EdibleTapestry

We’re so delighted to have Ingrid, from Edible Tapestry, back on the blog today sharing a book club recipe that she created for THE SILENT SISTER. We hope you enjoy!


In Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister, the character Lisa has ties to the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast, as well as an unfortunate connection to Italy. When she secretly attends her little sister, Riley’s, birthday party at a New Bern, NC seafood restaurant, hidden behind a pair of dark glasses, I was moved by the scene, but disappointed when she fled the eatery before enjoying the stuffed flounder she’d ordered.

I was a big fan of the incumbent offering of crab stuffed flounder that appeared on so many seafood dive menus when I was growing up in Florida, so the fact that she missed out on the meal left me with an unexpected craving. Fish is usually the last food item to set my culinary wheels turning, but when I thought of Italian rice balls and Southern pecan crusted fish, I began toying with the idea of substituting salmon for the flounder because of Lisa’s Seattle connection. From there, stopping short of throwing lump crab meat into the mix, I was easily able to pull my ideas together to make Arancini.

While Arancini are typically made with risotto, which is traditionally prepared using arborio rice, I simply cooked brown rice in broth to make my little rice balls, for a more nutritious version. The amount of asiago cheese I added to the filling, coupled with the fact that the rice balls are deep fried in a panko and pecan breading, may have canceled out the heart-healthy benefits of the brown rice and salmon filets, but the end result was a crunchy and tasty fun food that I was very pleased to bite into. A little garlic butter for dipping skyrocketed them to the top of the list of seafood dishes that I adore.

Pecan Crusted Salmon Arancini with Garlic Butter Dipping Sauce


2 c. cooked rice

1 c. raw salmon fillets, flaked into pieces

1 c. grated asiago cheese

1 small clove of garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt, less if using table salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 T minced, fresh Italian parsley

3 large eggs

1 c. panko breading

1/3 c. finely chopped pecans

Oil for frying. I used half Greek olive oil, half vegetable oil.

Garlic Butter Dipping Sauce

1 c. salted butter

2 large cloves of garlic, minced


To make the balls, combine the rice, salmon, cheese, garlic, salt & pepper, parsley, and one egg in a mixing bowl. Shape and compress it into balls around 1″ in diameter, the same way you would make meatballs.


Place the rolled balls on a plate and chill until firm.

Combine the pecans and panko in a large mixing bowl.



Beat the remaining two eggs in another bowl.

Heat the oil in a pan to a depth of around an inch and a half. Test the temperature by dropping a bit of egg, coated in the panko/pecan breading into the heated oil. If it bubbles gently, it is ready, but it should not pop and sizzle, violently.

Dip each rice ball into the egg, then into the panko/pecans. Rolling to completely cover.


Drop a few at a time into the hot oil and fry until browned, turning as necessary to completely cook them while being careful not to overcrowd the oil and bring down its temperature.


Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and to drain on absorbent paper.


To make the dipping sauce, just melt the butter in saucepan over low heat and toss in the garlic. Keep warm for serving with a candle-lit fondue warmer or mini slow cooker.



Yield: Approximately 2 dozen.

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How To Start A Reading Journal

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Several years ago I started keeping a reading journal and I’ve never regretted it. The journal serves as a record of what I read and when, how many books I read per year, and what specific reactions I had. More than once I’ve gone back to my journal to determine what year I read a certain book, and not only if I liked it, but why. It’s also nudged me to up my reading quota per year, with my list growing incrementally each year since I started.

Today we thought we’d encourage you guys to start this fun and informative tradition by giving away three lovely reading journals. Perhaps you’d even like to give the journal as a gift during the upcoming holiday season. It would be fun to pair the journal with a nice pen and a favorite novel. Thankfully our new friends at have made this process VERY easy for you. Simply record your thoughts on each book you read throughout the year. (Note: we’re not being paid to promote these products, we just love them so much we wanted to share them with you. Because we’re awesome like that).

So. Three of you lovely readers will walk away with a brand new reading journal this week. Keep it. Or give it. Or maybe buy a few and stick them under the tree.

Giveaway Number One: Books To Check Out

Reading Journal 1
Reading Journal 1.2

Giveaway Number Two: The Book Lover’s Journal

Reading Journal 2
Reading Journal 2.3

Giveaway Number Three: What I Read

Reading Journal 3
Reading Journal 2.2
So leave us a comment (or Tweet or Facebooks, etc., as per the entry form below) telling us whether you already keep a reading journal, or why you think it would be good to start. We look forward to hearing your responses!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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What We’re Into: October Edition

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

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

October has been the month of coming home after school to hot cider and warm slices of cinnamon bread slathered with butter, then sitting outside on the deck to eat because it just feels so good out.

It’s been the month of fuzzy caterpillars crawling and spiders building large webs and leaves turning red and gold… and taking the time to really look at it all.

It’s been the month of reading the things I want to, not just the things I have to. That’s meant going back to some books from 2005 and 2007 and savoring the difference that is already evident from then to now. Perhaps I’m wrong but it’s possible that prior to 2010 and the social media onslaught, authors took their time with their writing… and readers let them. Just my theory.

It’s been the month of getting back in touch with old friends I’ve been out of touch with, gathering with them to discuss a book one of them wrote or catching up by phone. The best friendships can be put on pause, then resume play with nary a skip or stutter. I think fall makes you want to reconnect.

It has been the month of the broken iPod, gone kaput after I got caught in a rainstorm while running. I took my husband’s (with his permission), deleted his music (80’s hair bands anyone?) and started from scratch. I kept many of the songs I had on my original iPod but I also added some new music too. New tunes can give you a new perspective.

On my personal blog in October I wrote a post on preparing dinner without daddy. I also rounded up my favorite go-to cookbooks and reviewed Alexander and the Terrible Awful No Good Very Bad Day.

October has been a great month. I am sorta sad to see it go, but am consoling myself with some fun plans in November– speaking on a panel about structuring a novel at the North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference, the Southern Christmas Show, Thanksgiving (basically my favorite meal of the year), and a trip to Savannah GA with my husband await!

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Today is my mother’s birthday. And while I have nothing against Halloween (other than it being a rather useless commercial gimmick) I find that as time goes on we’re way less interested in dressing up the kids and way more interested in celebrating my mother. So tonight instead of prowling the neighborhood for candy we will make tacos and eat cake and play games and fill the house to bursting with family. At last count she had nine thousand, eight hundred, and fifty-four grandchildren. So basically our house is the Tardis.

People. I went on my first ever writer’s retreat at the beginning of this month with a group of amazing, brilliant, hilarious women. We escaped to the mountains, to a borrowed cabin, that came with a pond, fireplaces galore, and wine. I could have cried with joy. Maybe I did. A little. The weekend after that was The Southern Festival of Books here in Nashville and if I hadn’t been too chicken I would have gotten to meet both Ann Patchett and Pat Conroy but my way of showing respect is total avoidance. This month I got to reconnect with Paige Crutcher, Patti Callahan Henry, Joshilyn Jackson, Karen Abbott, River Jordan, J.T. Ellison and Michael Morris. I finally got to meet Courtney Miller Santo and Laura Benedict. I also got spend some time with our own Alison Law. And I finally met the warm and lovely Leigh Kramer who hosts this What We’re Into series. We bonded over coffee and Liane Moriarty. So glad Leigh lives in Nashville!

The Blacklist

It’s been a long time since I had a show. The last one I really fell head over heals for was Sherlock and, truth be told, I’m chomping at the bit for the next season. But since no one actually knows when it will drop, I decided to take Marybeth’s recommendation (I learned a long time ago that she’s always right. Always.) and started watching The Blacklist. Can I just say… WHOA. I’m hooked. I forced my husband to watch the first few episodes with me but he wasn’t really all that into it. (The man falls asleep if he sits still for longer than ten minutes and this is a show you can’t nap through) So I went on without him. But now he’s hooked as well and we text back and forth wondering what exactly Red is up to now. Also, I have James Spader’s voice stuck in my head most of the time. The way he says “Lizzie” just cracks me up. And I can’t imitate it.

Riesling. Confession: I wasn’t much of a wine drinker until last year. I don’t need alcohol to relax or sleep or feel good about myself. I’ve never been drunk. Cocktail parties aren’t my thing. But there’s something so very grown up about a glass of wine at the end of a long day. And a few years ago I decided that there were certain things I needed to learn: how to look at a camera without feeling stupid, how to speak in front of a crowd without going into total body failure, and how to enjoy a good glass of wine. Basic social skills, really. And I’m glad to report that although I’m not a fan of selfies, and that I still get the jitters when someone hands me a microphone, I’ve accomplished the last one nicely. Riesling is my current favorite. Though I have had brief love affairs with Sauvignon Blanc and a local raspberry wine from Arrington Vineyards.

Let’s see, books. (Of course) I’ve spent all year reading for work. Reading for She Reads. Reading for blurbs. Reading for reviews. So dang it, now I’m going to read for fun. Because I want to. So I’ve started Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. So funny! Can I just say one thing: Grandma Mazur at the nursing home! I have the entire collection of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series on my night stand (thanks to my little sister). Can’t wait to dig in. I bought the new Diana Gabaldon novel but I won’t let myself read it until I finish my current deadline. And speaking of books, I did a major purge of ARC’s and review copies that I’ve received this year. I don’t have an office, you see. One wall in our bedroom is reserved as my writing area at the moment. And I only have a single shelf. Books were stacked up three deep in front of the shelf so something had to be done. It feels really good to have that little corner of my life cleaned up.

So, question for you: what are YOU into this month?

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Book Trailer Of The Day

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Warning: this video features dozens of authors acting goofy. Making silly noises. Rolling their eyes. And pretending to be deeply concerned about the current state of literature. I am one of those authors. At the end of September everyone featured here attended the wonderful Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance trade show in Norfolk, VA. This is the sort of thing one gets roped into doing when attending such trade shows. It’s also why we line up in droves to go. Because they’re a BLAST!

If you have little ones in your life I’d highly recommend you pick up a copy of this new children’s book.

The Book With No Pictures

A #1 New York Times bestseller, this innovative and wildly funny read-aloud by award-winning humorist/actor B.J. Novak will turn any reader into a comedian.

You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . .


Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY.

Cleverly irreverent and irresistibly silly, The Book with No Pictures is one that kids will beg to hear again and again. (And parents will be happy to oblige.)

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Three Young Adult Books To Read This Fall

Today, Melissa Carpenter share three young adult books to read this fall | @MelissaCarp


I’ve noticed a common theme in some new releases I’ve read this fall: some seriously kick-butt female protagonists. Maybe it’s the influence of feminism in the news that has led to these strong characters, but whatever the cause, the effect is wonderful. I’m loving the way girls are being represented in YA literature right now! Here are three very different styles of books that all have one thing in common – strong girls whose stories will inspire us all.

Rites of Passage by Joy N Hensley

Young Adult books in a military setting are rare, and this one is especially unique in that it features a female protagonist as one of the first four female students at a previously all-male military academy. I can’t stress enough how much I loved this. There was some sweet and exciting romance, but that was by no means the entire focus. Sam basically enters school with a target on her back as those people intent on keeping the academy to its boys-only tradition aim to force her out. This is a gritty, realistic, and inspirational story of perseverance sure to appeal to all readers, teen and adult. I have my fingers crossed for a sequel!

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez

This book shocked and amazed me in so many ways, the most important of which is that it actually surprised me. I kept thinking I knew how it would end, or guessing she’d put one plot twist too many in there, but nope. She didn’t. It ends perfectly and left me a highly satisfied reader. This book tells the story of Valentina, who discovers something about her family that sends her fleeing from the privileged, perfect streets of Miami to the cold cover of Canada, where she assumes a new identity and hides out. What follows is a complex series of twists and turns in a pretty, feminine, and strong action story. Kudos to Martinez on a true, gritty but not gross, hot and romantic but not crude and over-sexualized, suspense thriller that literally had me guessing all the way through.

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

This is a pretty adorable middle grade debut. Perfect for girls ages 10-13, My Year of Epic Rock is all about choosing those who make you happy over those who are popular and being confident in yourself. Nina begins her 7th grade year with a best friend who has abandoned her, which leaves her alone to sit at the peanut-free allergy lunch table. Nina makes the best of it by finding a whole new and better group of friends, starting a band, and discovering a potential first boyfriend. This book is packed with great messages overall and is especially aimed at younger middle school readers. It’s totally clean and positive – I could see this being a great book for a mom and daughter to read together.

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Word Of The Day

Okay fellow word nerds, we have one for you:




From French livre, Italian and Spanish libro, from Latin liber “book”. From Latin cubiculum (“bedroom”), from cubō (“lie down”)


librocubicularist (plural librocubicularists)

  1. (rare) A person who reads in bed.

 So it begs the question, are you too a Librocubicularist? If so, what are you curled up with these days?

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