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Why The Forty-Something Woman Is At Risk Of An Affair: Guest Post by Jane Green

Today’s post by New York Times Bestselling author, Jane Green | @JaneGreen

We’ve got a copy of Jane’s new novel, TEMPTING FATE, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Jane Green

Jane Green

Three years ago I started to notice a worrying trend. A number of women in my town, who appeared to be happily married, suddenly announced they had been unhappy for years, and could no longer continue with this sham of a marriage. Invariably the husbands would be left bewildered, as their newly-thin and glamorous wives exploded their lives, and turned out, in every case, to be having an affair.

In the majority of situations, the object of the affair was either younger, or someone entirely different to the husband – instead of a businessman, he would be a tennis coach, or the evening art instructor, or a younger man they met at the gym.

This was their soulmate, these women would tell me, their eyes sparkling with excitement and lust. This was the man they were supposed to have been with, not their boring old husbands.

In most of the cases, within the year, the soulmate had turned out not to be so, the women realized what they had thrown away, but by the time they go back to their husbands filled with apology and remorse, the husbands have moved on and met someone else.

I started to wonder why this kept happening to women around me, women in their forties, women who seemed to be happy, until the moment they weren’t. I thought about it on the train going into New York City, where at rush hour I found myself walking up Park Avenue into a sea of men in suits, swarming towards me. None of these men made eye contact, all of them busy looking at the young blonde on my left, and the mini-skirted young brunette on my right.

Oh! The realization slowly sunk in. Without realizing it, I had somehow slipped into middle age, and with middle age came invisibility.

And then I did a book event with a young, handsome author, who exchanged email addresses with me, and proceeded to indulge me with a series of gently flirtatious emails, which was both exciting and unsettling. It had little to do with him, but to do with me, and my growing feelings of invisibility, and the addictive quality of someone, anyone, actually noticing me, paying me attention, making me feel beautiful again.

I had always naively thought that in order for someone to have an affair, there has to be an inherent problem in the marriage, but all the evidence around me was suggesting something else. Although the women who did have affairs demonized their husbands, it was rarely to do with their husbands, more to do with the insecurity of aging, complacency within the marriage, and wanting, even for a little while, to feel beautiful again.

In my new book, Tempting Fate, Gabby, at 43, knows without doubt she is not the sort of woman to have an affair. She adores her husband, her children, the life they have built together. When a younger man starts paying her attention, she enjoys it knowing nothing will happen, but the more attention he pays her, the more addictive it is to feel attractive, noticed, alive. Soon she finds herself at a precipice, knowing she’s making the wrong choice, but unable to stop herself.

Recently I asked one of these women who lives in my town and left her husband, a woman who describes her now-ex-husband as the love of her life, why she had an affair.

‘I was bored’, she said, and as callous as that may be, I understood what she meant.

However wonderful our marriages are, however wonderful our husbands, when children are waking us up, repeatedly, at 5am, when every night is spent figuring out what to make for dinner, when mornings are spent shoveling laundry into the dryer and remembering the days when you actually had time to iron, it’s very difficult to remember the passion and lust that brought you and your husband together.

When your weekends are not spent holding hands over a candlelit dinner, but instead ferrying four children around from basketball game to basketball game, to playdate, to ice skating, to birthday party, it’s very difficult to remember the importance of appreciating your spouse, or indeed to find the time to remember to be kind, to pay attention to each other, to make each other feel loved.

Marriage becomes pots and pans. At first you’re distracted by those tiny children, but all of a sudden you’re in your forties, your kids are in grade school, you’re no longer needed in the way you once were, and you start to feel irrelevant.

Which is why the forty-something woman is so vulnerable. There is a window of opportunity, before we settle into what Jung called the afternoon of life, where a compliment can have far more impact than it otherwise would, where attention can start to feel like a lifeline to a youth and excitement we thought we had left behind long ago.

What I have learned, in my years as a writer, and thereby an observer of life, is that the grass is rarely greener. I have learned that life is cyclical, that this too shall pass; that just as there are periods when our marriages are wonderful, there are periods when life is boring, when we think nothing exciting will ever happen again. Those too, shall pass.

A good marriage requires work. It is a test of endurance, that is filled with joys, and laughter, tears, and worries, and often pain. If you stick with it, the joys will always outweigh the pain.

As for that younger man who makes you feel alive? That art instructor who offers you dreams of the creative road not taken? They are rarely the soulmates you tell yourself they are, in a bid to mitigate an action you know isn’t right.

I don’t often quote Judd Apatow movies, but occasionally there are words of wisdom that strike home. In “The Five Year Engagement,” the heroine’s sister, exasperated at the heroine’s fear of commitment, finally says, ‘well maybe there is no right cookie. You just pick one and take a bite.’

And once you take a bite, the right thing to do is stick with it until the end, no matter what other delicious confections temptingly call your name.

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TemptingFateHCcoverFrom Jane Green, the New York Times bestselling author of such beloved novels as Jemima JThe Beach HouseAnother Piece of My Heart, comes an enthralling and emotional story about how much we really understand the temptations that can threaten even the most idyllic of relationships….

Gabby and Elliott have been happily married for eighteen years. They have two teenaged daughters. They have built a life together. Forty-three year old Gabby is the last person to have an affair. She can’t relate to the way her friends desperately try to cling to the beauty and allure of their younger years…And yet, she too knows her youth is quickly slipping away. She could never imagine how good it would feel to have a handsome younger man show interest in her—until the night it happens. Matt makes Gabby feel sparkling, fascinating, alive—something she hasn’t felt in years. What begins as a long-distance friendship soon develops into an emotional affair as Gabby discovers her limits and boundaries are not where she expects them to be. Intoxicated, Gabby has no choice but to step ever deeper into the allure of attraction and attention, never foreseeing the life-changing consequences that lie ahead. If she makes one wrong move she could lose everything—and find out what really matters most.

A heartfelt and complex story, Tempting Fate will have readers gripped until they reach the very last page, and thinking about the characters long after they put the book down.

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My Own Miraculous: a love story

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Joshilyn Jackson | @JoshilynJackson

My Own MiraculousMY OWN MIRACULOUS is a long short story (or short novella) about all the ways motherhood changes us, and about how we change into mothers.

In a perfect world, these transformations would happen simultaneously. Our baby would be placed in our arms, and boom! All at once, we would understand exactly how to love, care for, feed, nurture, discipline without stifling, indulge without spoiling, hope for without burying in expectations, and rock to sleep our mysterious, terrifying, beautiful baby.

It’s not a perfect world.

I’ll tell you what I do know: Love fills the gaps as we are learning.

Oddly enough this truth was recently reinforced by our daughter’s silly little dog, Ansley. The very day we brought Ansley home from our local Pet Rescue, she adopted our son’s hound, Bagel. Never mind that Bagel was older and three times her size. Bagel is so genuinely dim-witted and good natured that he was happy to be a surrogate puppy. Or a throw pillow. Whatever.

We watched her herding him, the way she rested her chin on his butt as he slept, keeping her own eyes open and alert. It was clear she had been a mother at least once before she was spayed. Her own body confirmed it a little later, when she trusted us enough to roll over for a good tummy scratch.

“Why are her, um, her dog bosoms all floppy? ” Maisy demanded. “Bagel isn’t like that. ”

“Ansley has had puppies, ” I explained to my then third grader. “They stretched her nipples out like that when they were nursing. ”

“Ew, ” Maisy said. “I’m glad that doesn’t happen to HUMAN mommies. ”

I held my tongue. No need to explain to a nine year old ALL the way motherhood changes us. (What? I want grandchildren one day. )

Three years later, Ansley still mommies giant Bagel, coddling him, watching over him, and prancing with pride when he does something wonderful. Well, dog-wonderful, so this usually means something awful for us. I remember once Ansley came tearing up to the house, clearly thrilled out of her tiny mind, doing a joyful version of the Timmy-is-in-the-well, back-and-forth dash to entice us to follow her. We did, and she took us behind the garden shed, where her most marvelous Bagel had unearthed the very, very deadest squirrel in all of Georgia. He was rolling in it. Repulsive! But she was proud enough to bust.

This weekend Bagel had to go to the vet for a tummy problem, and Scott leashed him up and walked him out of the house. Ansley was left at home. This is what she did, for the entire half hour Bagel was missing:

It was an endless, grieving ,restless terrified yammer of sound. THE MAN! HE TOOK BAGEL! WHAT WILL HAPPEN! HELP! Maisy and I coddled her and petted her and talked to her, but she was disconsolate. Nothing was right with the world. She wept and paced and whined and dug at the door.

If dogs can’t recover from becoming mommy-dogs, what chance do we people have, with our much larger imaginations, with our greater understanding of how dangerous the world is? We are very brave, all of us mothers. We have to be.

MY OWN MIRACULOUS  is the story of one girl who becomes a mother way too young, and how danger came, and what she does to earn the title. It’s exciting and love-affirming, but I don’t want to spoil the end. Instead, I’ll show you how Ansley’s story ended.

anlsey is happy

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Jojo Moyes on Writing and Worries

Today’s post by international best-selling author, Jojo Moyes |  @JojoMoyes

What’s that? You’ve not read a Jojo Moyes novel yet? We’ve got the cure for that! You are officially invited to read this month’s book club selection, THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND, with us this month.

Jojo MoyesI’m not one of those authors who can write the same sort of book every time, although I have a huge respect for those who can (Jack Reacher novels are my current burly comfort read). For a long time this lack of consistency worked against me; it made my novels difficult to market in the UK, where a lot of book retailing is done through supermarkets, and buyers, apparently, require a product as uniform as a tin of beans.

But eleven books in, I can only ever write the book that is humming away like an engine at the front of my head, and that might be a 1946 love story set around war brides on an aircraft carrier, or a mystery set in a community of modern-day whale watchers in South Australia.

After the global success of Me Before You, I worried for a while that readers would want the same thing again. Worried because the story that was resolutely taking shape in my head was as far removed from that book as it could get, an epic love story, spanning a century, that revolved around art stolen in wartime, and the effect that it had on two couples many decades apart. Different characters, different themes, different tone.

But as The Girl You Left Behind launched, and the first reviews came in, I began to relax, and I realized that there was more of a consistency than I had realized. My books may be set decades, and continents apart, they may be issue-based and small scale, or sprawling and intricately plotted, but what they all contain (hopefully!) is a big, emotional read, a plot that will draw the reader in and haul them along through a new landscape.

What they all contain — and this is, I hope, what keeps the readers with me – is love.

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Love In The Time Of War

Today’s Post by Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of THE PLUM TREE | @EllenMarieWise

We’ve got a copy of THE PLUM TREE up for grabs today. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered.

Ellen Marie Wiseman

Update: the winner of this giveaway is Faith Hope & Cherry Tea. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!

When it comes to love during a time of war, there are millions of stories waiting to be told. In my novel, The Plum Tree, a poor, young German woman, Christine Bölz, falls in love with Isaac Bauerman, the son of her wealthy Jewish employer, in Nazi Germany on the eve of WWII.

When I wrote The Plum Tree, I could have focused on any number of family stories as the foundation for my plot.  My grandparents’ story sounds straight out of a romantic movie— “Devoted husband and father of three is drafted into the German Army during WWII and sent to the Eastern front, where he is captured and sent to a POW camp. For two years his family has no idea if he is dead or alive, until he shows up on their doorstep one day. ”

In the photo taken before my Opa is sent off to fight, my grandparents are smiling as they pose with my mother and uncles. I often wonder what was going through their minds at the time. Did they worry that this could be the last time they would be together? Did they wonder if the war would come to their small village and threaten their children’s lives?

During the four years Opa was gone, Oma repaired damaged military uniforms to bring in a small income. She stood in ration lines for hours on end, made sugar out sugar beets, and bartered beechnuts for cooking oil. She cooked on a woodstove, made clothes out of cotton sheets, raised chickens and grew vegetables to keep her children fed. Under the cover of night, she put food out for passing Jewish prisoners and listened to illegal foreign radio broadcasts—both crimes punishable by death. She put blackout paper over the house windows so the enemy wouldn’t see their light and, night after night when the air raid sirens went off, ran down the street to hide with her terrified children inside a bomb shelter.

I could have based the story on my maternal great grandparents, who survived WWI only to have my great-grandfather killed in WWII while trying to save the family home during an air raid. A burning wall from a neighboring barn fell on top of him, and my great-grandmother was severely burned trying to save him.

I could have based the book on my mother, who, after reading American magazines left behind by occupying Allied soldiers, took a ship to America alone, at the age of twenty-one, to marry an American soldier she barely knew.

These stories and more were the inspiration behind The Plum Tree. But by inventing the love story between Christine and Isaac, I was able to tell them all. Imagine my surprise when, after I named my main character Christine, my mother told me that my great-parents’ names were Christine and Christian. I guess it was meant to be!

Ellen Marie Wiseman  was born and raised in Three Mile Bay, a tiny hamlet in Northern New York. A first generation American, Ellen has traveled frequently to visit her family in Germany, where she fell in love with the country’s history and culture. A mother of two, Ellen lives peacefully on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and three dogs.

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Writing In The Night

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Julie Kibler | @JulieKibler

Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation.  Darkness stirs and wakes imagination.  —The Music of the Night, Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber

I’m the worst night owl you’ll ever know. My workday is distinctly off kilter from most of the rest of the world. Unless I have an appointment or I’m traveling, I sleep from about 3 a.m. until 11 a.m. (with a brief awake time to get my daughter off to school). As the rest of the folks in my time zone prepare to eat their midday meal, I’m grabbing a light breakfast, followed quickly by lunch. As a rule, I spend my afternoon hours conducting the business of being an author. I write blog posts, answer emails, make phone calls, and spend entirely too much time on social media. I make a chauffeur run to retrieve my teenager from her activities at some point before eating a late dinner with my family.

In the evening, my husband and I relax on the sofas, the TV playing in the background. We watch a few shows together, but I’m usually paying half attention; I’m easily distracted, by texts or conversations with kids, or more social media.

These distractions, I suspect, are why my real work starts much later.

As the house begins to quiet again, so does the Internet. The dogs get one last trip outside. My daughter settles into bed. My husband follows his routine, readying his clothes for work, reading for a while. Then, little by little, the house falls asleep.

Except for me.

I’m waking up. Well, my body has been awake for hours. But my writing brain has been slumbering, sometimes peacefully, sometimes restlessly—depending on the state of my work-in-progress. And this quieting of the house serves as an alarm clock for my mind.

In the dark, in the quiet, there are no distractions. The gentle hum of the refrigerator and snoring dogs serve as a soothing soundtrack.

I open my manuscript, and if I’m paying attention, the words flow like the Milky Way through the navy depths of the sky.

Not surprisingly, the nighttime scenes I write tend to be my favorites. Even now, when I visualize Isabelle and Robert in Calling Me Home, my mind goes straight to the scenes set at dusk or at night—when they were alone, when they were simply two teenagers in love.

If technology were not such a large part of everyday life for me, or for authors in general these days, would I still be a night owl? Would I still find the hours between 11 p.m. and three a.m. the best for creating?

I suspect I’d answer yes to both questions. For like the Phantom of the Opera, my imagination stirs in the darkness, and the other worlds I occupy come into sharp focus.

When is your brain most alert? When do you get your best work done?

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Tell Me Something True – A Visit With Lisa O’Donnell

Today we introduce a new theme that will take the place of our beloved Literary First Love series. We promised new things for 2013 and part of that is taking a closer, more personal look at the story behind the novels we feature here on She Reads. We are convinced that every story, at its heart, is true–whether it be inspired by historical events, drawn from the life of its author, or ripped from the headlines. So for the remainder of this year we will ask our guests to tell us something true about the book they have written.

Up first is Lisa O’Donnell, author of The Death Of Bees. We’ve got a copy of the novel up for grabs today, so leave a comment to be entered.

Lisa O’Donnell

Update: the winner of this giveaway is Elisabeth. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!

I remember this black and white picture of my father. He was 17 years old at the time and on the back of milk float. He was a delivery boy. His arms wide open, laughing at the camera, his whole life in front of him. A year later he was married to my mother. She was 16 years of age and about to have his baby. She was wearing a purple dress. There are no pictures of that. They had eloped if you want to be romantic about it or they had simply run from all good advice and direction. Maybe there wasn’t any for these teens and they were teens. Every one assures me there was plenty. My mother assures me there was nothing but anger and disappointment and who wouldn’t have run from that. Children generally do.

My parents were so very young and like Izzy and Gene they were clueless, careless and often times neglectful.   It’s a sad thing for a child to become trapped in someone else’s frustrated youth but this is how it was for my sister and I and it’s how it is for a lot of children growing up. They see too much and before their time.

I wrote The Death of Bees for all children forced to take control of their lives but I wanted to show their strength despite the absence of childhood. I also wanted to write about bravery, we live in a world where children are also courageous and maybe it’s unfortunate the things they endure to know such courage but it’s how it is sometimes. I created all kinds of challenges and dangers for Marnie and Nelly to overcome and they do, lots of children do, though the truth is they shouldn’t have to.   I gave Marnie and Nelly intelligence to give them a future, Lennie to love them and Vlado to watch over them as my own grandparents watched over my sister and I.   I wonder sometimes what would have happened to us if they hadn’t. I’m so grateful they did. It was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Today is Christmas Eve.
Today is my birthday.
Today I am fifteen.
Today I buried my parents in the backyard.
Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister, Nelly, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Maryhill housing estate isn’t grand, the girls do have each other. Besides, it’s only a year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon enough, the sisters’ friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices,  The Death of Bees  is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.

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Books Plus…Accessories for Readers

Today’s post by Patti Hill of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @PattiHill

Your reading friend already has a stack of books on her nightstand. Does she need another? (The answer is yes, of course, but there are other options.)   Perhaps she’s a bit particular about what she reads. How about a gift certificate? (Yawn!) Instead, consider these gift suggestions:

Imagine waking up to Mrs. Dalby’s Buttermilk Scones from James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautiful or sitting down to a steaming bowl of Amish Chicken and Dumplings from Jodi Picoult’s Plain Truth. For dessert, there’s Effie Belle’s Coconut Cake from Olive Ann Burn’s Cold Sassy Tree. These and many more culinary treats are inspired by literary treats in The Booklover’s Cookbook by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen. I suppose a word of caution should be given about the Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s addictive.

The next best thing to a new book is a new purse, especially one that declares your friend’s love of reading like this book-turned-purse I found on Etsy.com. You can Google “purses made from novels ” and find a cache of possibilities, or is that clutch of possibilities?


The Reading Woman collection includes vintage portraits of women reading on every page. The collection includes mini calendars, full-sized calendars, address books, and other useful items, all reasonably priced.



Does your friend have to borrow reading hours from her sleeping hours? I use a headlamp to read in bed, so that Hunky Hubby have to pull the blankets over his head. It’s hands-free lighting with a pure light that lasts and lasts.

I highly recommend Books I’ve Read: A Reader’s Journal for the serious readers on your list. No matter how unforgettable a book may seem as you’re reading, details and plotlines do have a way of fading with time. If you’re of a certain age, titles and authors might as well be smoke.

Tea and books go together like—well—tea and books! Novel Tea adds quotes from our favorite stories to sweeten the pot.

All that’s left is to decide which one you your friend will love.

May the joy of our Savior’s birthday enrich your Christmas and all the days of 2013.



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A Surprising Catch

Today’s post by Debbie Thomas from our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

I know what I like. I’ve been reading for 40…ish years, so yes, I should know by now what floats my boat when it comes to books.   Strong characters, authentic motivations, deep and worthwhile themes that resonate with me as a reader and settings as character that make me loathe to leave at the end.  Where do I consistently find these books? If there were a section so labeled in bookstores, I would camp out on their shores.

But there is no such shore. So, I cast my nets wide in the stacks of new releases or trawl musty secondhand stores for well-thumbed books. Dog-eared corners don’t lie – they have a reader’s stamp of urgency about them.

Occasionally, I reel in a surprising catch.   Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and left me running breathless through the stacks.  His even darker book, The Angel’s Game, had me cowering under the covers with a booklight into the early hours of the next workday and thanking God for people of courage. Flavia de Luce pulled me onto the back of Gladys (her bike) to race through Bishop’s Lacey for poisons. I promptly downloaded her next three books on my Kindle at the end (thank you, Alan Bradley).  The unabridged version of Jane Eyre left me aghast at what incorruptible spiritual truths had been gutted for word count and brevity in the version I’d read early on. I tasted the desperation and joys of a New York slum in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I laughed open-mouthed at Green Shadows, White Whale. Who knew Ray Bradbury could turn writing a screenplay for Moby Dick into a thing of hilarity?

So, yes, I love the heftiness of velum and cloth cover in my hand, the knowing scent of old type and fuzzed edges of well-worn books, the cover photo that stirs the waters of imagination, the lure of a title that befuddles, the quick catch of a downloadable world.

I never want to be so sure of what I like that I steer away from unknown waters.   What have you read that surprised you?

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Stuckness – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Bonnie Grove from our sister blog, Novel Matters | @BonnieGrove

So I’m stuck, right?

I’m plotting a novel, assembling the scaffolding on which my story will hang. Connecting bones, thigh to hip, spine to brain stem. Who knows if I’m getting it right. Novels don’t come with instructions.

Still, some of the pieces seem to saddle up, and I start getting that relieved feeling like this might all hang together after all.


Blast it all, who is this chick? The one who steers the ship, the flawed and weak hero about to visit this mild death? Cannot get a handle on her. I know what I will have her do. Know the holes she will have to squeeze through, the love she will face, the failure that will swat her sideways like a bug. But she’s silent. Until she speaks, I have nothing.

So I force it.

What else can I do but curl up on my writing couch (every writer should have a writing couch. So cozy) pencil in hand and write lousy dialogue. The process makes sense to me. I began my creative life in theater, so for me dialogue is the fastest way to character revelation. It’s always worked for me before.


Nothing comes of my dialogue. I’m moving her lips, but she’s not in the words. It’s just my monkey chatter flowing onto the page. My hero is a no show. Maybe if I move to the computer, try typing instead of writing by hand.


Not only is my hero a no show, but now I’m wasting time on Facebook. I need to heed Jonathan Franzen’s advice and write on a computer that has no internet access. There’s only one thing to do now. Pout. The whole things a waste of time anyway. No one will want to read this mess.


It’s autumn up here in Canada. I have two ash trees in my front yard. Ash trees are known for being the last trees out in spring, and the first to lose their leaves in fall. My ash trees live up to this reputation and have littered all over the lawn. I grab a rake.


I’m pushing tree debris around the yard, the air is snappy-cool, the sun is falling behind my house. I’m muttering to myself, Who is she? What’s she really all about? Rake, rake. Mutter, mutter.


She starts yapping. Really letting it flow. And—get this—it’s not dialogue. It’s narrative. Huh? I keep raking while I listen to her narrate. After a few minutes she starts adding things, internal dialogue, nuggets of perception, even a few plot details I had no idea about. She’s brilliant!


I drop the rake, run into the house, throw myself onto my writing couch. “Where’s a pencil? I need paper? Where’d I put my glasses?

My husband, who is used to me in this mode, silently hands me all I ask for, and I start writing. Long hand. I don’t know the reasons, but pencil and paper are what work for me. I write five pages without looking up. When I finish, I smile at my hubby.


Of course. I know this. Whenever I’m stuck, I need to go do something else. I can’t sit and try to force the words. Novels don’t flow from the frontal lobe. They leek out sideways, come at you from the peripheral.

I suspect this works in other areas of life, too. Whenever we feel stuck—maybe even a little desperate—for answers they only come after we get on with living.

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Snapshots From Life – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Debbie Thomas of our sister blog,  Novel Matters  |  @NovelMatters

An interesting thing happened on my way back from a family reunion a few weeks ago. At the end of a very long five hour flight between Baltimore and San Diego, a passenger bolted from his seat as we were landing, sprinted to the front, grabbed the door handles and yelled, “Let me off this plane! I have to get off the plane! ”

Oh yeah.

Two male flight attendants tackled him and pinned him down as we all watched, dumbfounded.   It seemed like an eternity before the wheels finally touched the runway, but in reality, it took only moments.

What goes through your mind when stuff like this happens?  Initially, you can’t really believe what you’re seeing because you have no frame of reference for it.   It’s not every day that someone goes haywire on a flight and tries to get off before the plane has landed.   Fellow passengers glance around at each other, just as startled and nervous and disbelieving as you, seeking some kind of verification that it’s really happening.

It wasn’t until I’d disembarked and medicated myself with a white chocolate mocha that the reality of it set in.   It could have turned out so differently if… no, we’re not going there.     But I wouldn’t be a writer, if at some point I didn’t shamelessly wonder how I could use this in a story.   Most writers would.

Digging through the rubble of life gives stories authenticity.   As writers, we often process our own experiences through the thoughts and actions of our characters. Sometimes these experiences provide snapshots of what makes people tick. Sometimes it’s a way for writers to make sense of life.

Here are some things I stored away in my inner journal:

  • The young man on the plane didn’t struggle after he was tackled.   He grew docile and cooperative immediately.  Had he been subdued or was he biding his time?
  • He looked like any other 20-something in shorts and a t-shirt. He could have been my son…or yours.   Tragically innocent or understatedly evil?
  • The woman beside me in the aisle seat said that if she’d known he was coming, she would have stuck out her foot to trip him. It brought out her inner ninja.
  • Several passengers were gracious and wondered if he had mental health issues, rather than making assumptions of malicious intent.
  • The young man was barefooted.   The security officer found his flipflops at his seat. If he’d been intentional about causing harm, wouldn’t he have slipped his feet into his shoes before running to the front? It seemed more likely that he panicked and reacted to some turbulence.
  • The whole incident seemed to go on forever because all the window shades were drawn to keep out the heat and we had no idea how close we were to landing.   I remember thinking (praying!) and trying to will the plane to touch down.
  • It occurred to me how odd that all three flight attendants were brawny males.   When does that ever happen? In fiction, it would sound contrived, but in reality it was ordained, I think.
  • Even the babies and little children were quiet. There was a moment of silence — a pause in the universe — before people started whispering and questioning.

What I observed in the reaction of such a large group of people to this situation was story fodder.   I saw how a simple thing like altering the physical setting (having the shades drawn, adding some turbulence) can disorient the protagonist, slow down time and heighten suspense.   How one person can find her inner ninja while another sympathizes with a potentially volatile and dangerous character.   How something as simple as shoes left behind can suggest the difference between spontaneous or premeditated actions, a confused soul or a scoundrel.

Every writer makes use of personal experiences, but if we fail to look past the obvious event and dissect the nuances of the scene and the reactions of those involved, we may miss the chance to incorporate them into story.

As a side note, when I had time to consider it all, I was deeply moved and grateful for the grace shown to us all on that flight.  And I sent an email to the airline commending the flight attendants for the quick response.

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