Tag Archives | Picture This

Picture This: A Visit With Isla Morley

Today’s post from Isla Morley, author of ABOVE | @IslaMorley

Isla Morley

Isla Morley

Finding the right location for ABOVE, as with any story, was pivotal.  Right off the bat, I knew I wanted home base to be a small town, and Eudora, Kansas (where my husband grew up), was the perfect model.  While much of ABOVE centers on the captivity of an abducted teenager, this is principally a story about resiliency and determination, about fighting off menacing forces, unseen forces.  The specific place where Blythe Hallowell was to be kept had to take on the dimensions of some of those forces which meant it couldn’t be a shed or a cellar or a tent out in the woods; it had to be something beastly, something bizarre.  When my husband mentioned that the Midwest is home to many World War II-era nuclear missile silos, I researched the matter and was stunned at the images I found.  Decommissioned shortly after they were built in the early 1960s, these underground engineering marvels are now some of the spookiest places in the world.  While many remain abandoned, flooded and inaccessible, a few have been snapped up by private citizens and turned into novelty homes or survival bunkers.  The Atlas-F missile silo where Blythe is trapped is like an inverted, gutted skyscraper plunging so deep into the earth that at different descents there are different weather conditions.  Nothing on the surface suggests the vast menace below.  No longer housing a missile, the silo has been stocked for waiting out the apocalypse and for seeding the New World.  Its haunting corridors, frightening depths and secret stockpiles add insight into the mindset of a survivalist gone too far, but also serve as characteristics of an indomitable foe.

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Missile Silo

Seeing the pictures of those eerie silos, I could easily imagine the effects of being cut off from sunlight and soft prairie breezes, how swiftly the silence would cave in on Blythe, how the terrified voices inside her head would echo through the steel chambers and come back to her as taunts.  The silo very quickly metastasizes from a dungeon to a menacing accomplice. Every time the fluorescent lights snap off, it opens up its long slick throat, gulping.  Blythe must find a way to escape and protect herself from her captor’s insanity, but she must also fight to keep from being devoured.  When she has to raise a child underground, she has to employ all her wits to subdue the beast, and to find room in its bowels for a playground.  Reinventing the truth of their circumstances and repurposing the place where they are kept are last chances to find hope and freedom.

Silo Tunnel

Silo Tunnel

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AboveI am a secret no one is able to tell.

Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an aban­doned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Deter­mined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give mean­ing to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promis­ing and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom.

ABOVE is a riveting tale of resilience in which “stunning” (Daily Beast) new literary voice Isla Morley compels us to imagine what we would do if everything we had ever known was taken away. Like the bestselling authors of Room and The Lovely Bones before her, Morley explores the unthinkable with haunting detail and tenderly depicts our boundless capacity for hope.

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Picture This: A Visit With Therese Walsh

Today’s post by author Therese Walsh | @ThereseWalsh

Photo Credit: Timmetrius at Deviant Art

Photo Credit: Timmetrius at Deviant Art

Will-o-the-wisp lights and synesthesia both played an essential role in sparking one of the original, driving mental images for me as I worked through what would become my second novel, THE MOON SISTERS.

I was a science major in college (I have an M.S. in psychology), and I remain fascinated with unique human behaviors and experiences. As soon as I learned about synesthesia, I knew I wanted to write about it. Synesthesia is a condition characterized by sensory areas that are connected in unique ways; so a person might taste music or see sound, for example. It was writerly catnip for me to imagine what it would be like to create a character with this condition, to anticipate the many ways I might play in the world of someone with sensory enhancements of this kind.

Enter will-o’-the-wisp lights.

I first learned about will-o’-the-wisp lights years ago via a word-of-the-day email. I was so fascinated with the idea of these drifting lights—which sometimes appear over bogs and are thought to lead those who follow to treasure or over a cliff’s edge, depending on the whim of the wisp—that I included them in the draft of a different story. Though I eventually abandoned that half-finished manuscript, the scene I’d written, involving a blind girl and wisp lights over a bog, stuck with me. Some of my critique partners nudged me over that scene, too, and said they hoped that I’d revisit it. While I never evolved the creepy scene they remembered, I did fall back in love with the concept of writing about a blind girl and beckoning lights over a bog.

Something clicked for me when I realized that will-o’-the-wisp lights are also called “foolish fires.” Right away, I imagined a girl with synesthesia staring at the sun, because the sun smelled like her mother, and losing her central vision (becoming legally blind) because of that act. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon a picture on Flickr of a girl who could’ve been my Olivia Moon: she seemed a little haunted and a little chapped, and her eyes looked like they might have seen too much and been a little broken. That shot became my muse photo. Later, my daughter would use the photo to create a hand-drawn work for me; the drawing will likely be a permanent fixture in my office. It is a testament to the power of imagery in imagination.

Drawing of Olivia Moon

Drawing of Olivia Moon

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The Moon SistersThis mesmerizing coming-of-age novel, with its sheen of near-magical realism, is a moving tale of family and the power of stories.

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

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Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in hard cover on March 4th, 2014 by Crown (Random House). Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book.

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a site that’s visited daily by thousands of writers interested in the craft and business of fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. She has a master’s degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, Therese’s favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their Jack Russell. She’s working on her third novel.

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Picture This: A Visit With Kathryn Craft

Today’s post by Kathryn Craft | @kcraftwriter

Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft

A lone leaf, falling from the sky, is not the image I held in my mind as I wrote THE ART OF FALLING—but it’s close enough to stand in for the one that did. Called “The Falling Man,” it’s the image of the unidentified man plunging headfirst from the North Tower the morning of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The image was captured by AP photographer Richard Drew and used widely, often to much controversy.

We don’t need to see it again. Those of us who saw it will forever carry it emblazoned on our souls.

In the photo’s Wikipedia entry, theologian Mark D. Thompson said, “perhaps the most powerful image of despair at the beginning of the twenty-first century is not found in art, or literature, or even popular music. It is found in a single photograph.”

It isn’t known whether the man fell or jumped, but the question of jumping, and the despair that would incite such an action, stuck with me. At what point in our lives is jumping—however dangerous—the only kind of forward movement we can conjure? This man would have died if stuck within the inferno. In leaping, did he seek a different kind of death? Or did he see, in this last desperate leap into the expanse of air stretched before him, a glimmer of hope?

I wanted to turn a dangerous, last-chance maneuver into a story of hope. I wrote the story of Penelope Sparrow, a dancer who wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital room unable to move or remember the accident that landed her there. A witness, the baker from the first floor of her high-rise, soon arrives to tell her what he knows: she landed on his car, which had been parked fourteen stories beneath her penthouse.

The baker, her hospital roommate, the local dance critic, and newspaper readers across the country all want to know what happened out on that balcony. But at first Penelope can only think about taking first steps toward regaining the movement she lost when the rest of the company left for their big-break European tour without her. Can the miracle of her survival—and the support of her first friends outside the dance world—give her new perspective on the body image issues that imploded her career?

Come to think of it, maybe my novel is like the leaf picture, after all. After my first husband’s suicide sixteen years ago, I soothed my frazzled nerves with long quiet walks in autumn’s brilliance. One day I watched up ahead as a leaf let go from the high branch of an oak and when I got beneath it—without breaking my stride—I opened my hand. The leaf landed my palm.

The thought occurred to me that outcomes aren’t always dependent on actions taken in private despair. There are other characters in the story.

Sometimes, it’s not about the leap.

Sometimes it’s about who catches us.



All Penny ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

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Picture This: A Visit With Sarah Addison Allen

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Sarah Addison Allen | @SarahAddisonAll

Aligator Picture

This old alligator photo has a vintage vibe I called upon when I created the setting for Lost Lake —  a swampy, quirky resort with a heyday long since passed.  This photo was also used as inspiration for the retro feel of the postcards designed exclusively for the book.  You’ll find the postcards, which include some hidden alligator images, sprinkled throughout the pages of Lost Lake.

* Email readers can click here to see the video.

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Picture This: A Visit With Susan Meissner

Today’s post by the amazing Susan Meissner | @SusanMeissner

I’ve been a fan of Susan Meissner’s writing since I read her much-acclaimed novel, THE SHAPE OF MERCY. So I’m delighted that she’s with us today, sharing about her latest novel. We’ve got a copy of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner

A couple years ago I watched a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the part of Ellis Island that no one has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are literally falling into ruins. The lingering images of rooms where thousands upon thousands from a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. There had to be countless stories pressed into the walls and bricks and panes of glass of this hospital, stories of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life. But unless they were cured of whatever ailment they had arrived with, they would not set foot on America’s shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate waiting room– it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story.

When I first began pulling at plot threads, my first instinct was to tell a story about an immigrant struggling to remain hopeful while a patient at Ellis Island hospital. But the more I toyed with whose story this was, and the more photographs I looked at, the more I saw instead a young nurse, posting herself to a place that was no one’s address. The dozens of languages spoken at Ellis added to the unnatural homelessness of it. Why was this nurse here? Why did she choose this post? Why did she refuse to get on the ferry on Saturday nights to reconnect with the real world? What kind of person would send herself to Ellis not just to work, but to live? I knew something life-changing had to happen to her to make her run to Ellis for cover. As I began researching possible scenarios, I came across the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which up until 9/11 was arguably the worst urban disaster to befall Manhattan. There were similarities between that fire and 9/11, including the tragic fact that many trapped workers jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the flames.  For every person lost in disasters such as these, there is always his or her individual story, and the stories of those who loved them. I wanted to imagine two of those stories.

Meissner_Marigolds_Ellis nurses_caption

I knew I wanted something a person could touch, see, and embrace to tie these two stories together. I chose a scarf for rather deeply metaphorical reasons; they are accessories. They are meant to draw attention to something bigger. In this case, the scarf patterned in marigolds, and which links two women who will never meet, is there to draw attention to something far bigger than just the wearer. The book that evolved from looking at those haunting images of Ellis Island’s past is a story about the resiliency of the human spirit. It is centered on the truth that love, though the loss of it can tear your soul in two, is still the grandest thing there is, and is ultimately what will mend that heart that is broken.

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A Fall Of MarigoldsA beautiful scarf patterned in marigolds ties together the stories of two women as they struggle with grief 100 years apart.

In 1911, nurse Clara Wood witnesses the death of the man she loves in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and chooses to bury her grief and regret while ministering to sick immigrants on Ellis Island. Insulated from the rest of New York and the world, she refuses to set foot on the mainland, even on her days off. When an emigrant Welshman arrives wearing his deceased wife’s distinctive scarf, Clara finds herself drawn to the man and what she perceives as shared grief. But then she discovers something about the man’s wife that he does not know which places Clara in a moral dilemma while she ponders the depths and resiliency of love. Interwoven into Clara’s tale is the story of 9/11 widow and single mother Taryn Michaels, whose specialty fabric shop seems to cushion her against the overwhelming regret she’s known since witnessing the fall of the North Tower on September 11. On the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a newly published photo of Taryn watching the towers fall forces her to not only relive the event but face again the guilt of knowing that had she made different decisions that day, her husband would’ve lived.  The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.


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Picture This: A Visit With Marci Jefferson

Today’s post by debut author, Marci Jefferson | @MarciJefferson

We’ve got a copy of Marci’s novel, GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Marci Jefferson_With Coin

One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is the impossibility of on-site research. There are no photographs of Whitehall Palace as it was when Charles II ruled England. I can’t walk old London Bridge and listen to seventeenth century watermen’s calls echo across the Thames. To feel the French and English Baroque royal courts, I had to read a ton, study paintings, and run my imagination into overdrive. GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN took years to write, and a constant quest for inspiration to keep my creative juices flowing.

About a year into my endeavor, at a moment when I was overwhelmed with learning both how to write salable fiction and conduct historical research, my mother sent me a special gift. This is a 1675 British copper farthing. On the un-pictured reverse is the head of King Charles II of England. His queen should be pictured on the tail you see here. Instead, the king minted this infamous portrait of the woman he loved posed as Britannia. Her name was Frances Stuart.

The ancient Romans used the term Britannia to define islands on the edge of the known world. They minted coins using a female figure to personify the distant reach of their Empire. Charles II reintroduced Britannia as a symbol of Great Britain on a golden medal, struck to commemorate the end of his war with the Dutch. Later, he used the very same engraving to mint his copper coins, and it didn’t alter much over the next few hundred years.

GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN is about Frances Stuart, praised by diplomats and diarists for her beauty, beloved by kings and dukes, and chosen by Charles II to symbolize his nation. Having this three hundred year-old farthing in hand made her story come to life for me. There she sits in all her glory, with all her secrets, the enduring embodiment of an era.

Why isn’t my coin golden? Well, the gold version is actually that peace medal, now housed at the British Museum, and my mom just couldn’t afford that one. But I treasure this coin all the same, and I hope She Reads readers love Frances Stuart as much as I do.

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Girl on the Golden CoinIn 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns Frances Stuart and her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and goes to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches the Sun King’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty—she has Stuart secrets to keep and her family to protect. King Louis XIV turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He sends her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and help him form an alliance with England. The Queen Mother likewise orders Frances to become her son’s mistress, in the interest of luring him away from the Protestant mistress he currently keeps.

Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal, determined to keep her family from shame. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him and the two embark on a tenuous relationship. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. A startling discovery will leave her with no other choice but to break his heart, while the fate of England hangs in the balance.

In the tradition of Philippa Gregory, debut author Marci Jefferson brings to life a captivating woman whose beauty, compassion, and intellect impacted a king and a nation, in Girl on the Golden Coin.

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Picture This — A Visit With Barbara Claypole White

Today’s post by Barbara Claypole White | @bclaypolewhite

Barbara Claypole White

Barbara Claypole White

THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, my second novel for Harlequin MIRA, is set in my little corner of the North Carolina forest. Close to Occoneechee Mountain, which is home to rare wildlife and plants dating back to the Ice Age, this part of the world is filled with Native American history, wild wisteria, venomous snakes, and the cries of hawks. From the day we moved here—nineteen years ago—I felt a strong connection to the land and a sense of living, breathing history. Walks through the forest revealed rusty mule shoes and wagon wheels, abandoned graves and hiking trails that connect to the historic Indian Trading Path. For a writer, this land is a gift, and it inspired THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR.

THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR is a story of two broken families that come together to heal. It’s a story of finding hope in darkness, which is a recurring theme for me. I create damaged, quirky characters who are isolated through invisible disabilities such as clinical depression, severe grief, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I send them to hell, but they always emerge on the other side if not happy and in love, then at least fighting. (As a Brit I feel the need to quote Sir Winston Churchill here: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”) One thing my characters share is the ability to discover the light ahead.

A serious woodland gardener, I have learned to pay attention to the quality of light in the shade and to find beauty in unexpected, hidden corners. I’ve also learned that no matter how deep I am in the forest, I can look up into the Carolina blue sky and see light filtering through the shadows.

My favorite time to be out in the forest is during the gloaming, that fleeting hour—or less—before the temperature dips and everything fades to black. The light is soft and warm, and the sinking sun ignites the treetops so they burn gold. Nothing beats the magic of the gloaming in Orange County, North Carolina. The world seems to stop, and it’s as if I’m caught between day and night in a moment of endless possibility. Many of the scenes in THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR are set during the gloaming. In fact, THE GLOAMING was the original title.

While I was updating my website, I snapped hundreds of photographs of our forest, trying to capture the light that spoke to me of the story behind the story. When I took the picture below, I knew I had found the essence of THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR: light pouring through bare trees to illuminate fallen leaves; light coming through the darkness; light bringing hope.


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The In Between HourWhat could be worse than losing your child? Having to pretend he’s still alive… 

Bestselling author Will Shepard is caught in the twilight of grief, after his young son dies in a car accident. But when his father’s aging mind erases the memory, Will rewrites the truth. The story he spins brings unexpected relief…until he’s forced to return to rural North Carolina, trapping himself in a lie.

Holistic veterinarian Hannah Linden is a healer who opens her heart to strays but can only watch, powerless, as her grown son struggles with inner demons. When she rents her guest cottage to Will and his dad, she finds solace in trying to mend their broken world, even while her own shatters.

As their lives connect and collide, Will and Hannah become each other’s only hope—if they can find their way into a new story,  one that begins with love.

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Picture This – A Visit With Laura Lippman

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Laura Lippman | @LauraMLippman

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman

My husband has crushes. What man, what person, doesn’t.

When we began dating, he had the usual photos and magnets on his fridge. Friends and pizza places, respectively. But there was one old black-and-white photo, a scantily-clad woman who stared into the camera with a smoldering gaze.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Pam Gail,” he said, as if I should know. But I didn’t. He explained that Pam Gail had been the other famous stripper on Baltimore’s The Block, a strip of burlesque clubs best known for a) producing Blaze Starr and b) its appearance in Diner, Barry Levinson’s first film as a director. Pam Gail was in the movie, too, my (eventual) husband told me. She is dancing on the stage of a strip club toward the end, when Tim Daly engineers a musical takeover of the club.

Furthermore, Pam Gail was the girlfriend to Julius Salsbury, a Baltimore number runner whose life inspired another Levinson film, Liberty Heights. In real life, Salsbury, handed a 15-year sentence on a federal gambling charge, disappeared in the early 1970s, never to be seen or heard of again. Gossip had him in Israel.

“You should write about Salsbury,” said my (eventual) husband. “Go interview the family. You could probably find out the true story.”

“No,” I said. “When I write fiction, I write fiction.”

Years passed. I left my job at the Baltimore Sun, became a fulltime novelist. My eventual husband became my husband. He continued to try to make the case for a novel about Julius Salsbury. If he weren’t my husband, I wouldn’t have listened to him at all. For me, writing a novel is personal, intimate. I do not consult. I do not entertain others’ ideas. A novel is a long-haul project. It has to come from the heart.

But, one day, when he returned to the subject yet again, a detail jumped out, found purchase. “He had a wife, three daughters, a girlfriend.”

Well, to quote my friend Tom Franklin, a novelist who is the best storyteller I know: Now I’m interested.

I like the number five, for one thing. I liked the Melendy family, the children in E. Nesbit’s “Five Children and It,” the five bookish children in Edward Eager’s Seven Day Magic. I had written a novel about five friends, The Most Dangerous Thing, which was published in 2011. With all due deference to Schoolhouse Rock, which taught me pretty much everything I know, five is the magic number.

And they were all women. I like to write about women. Write what you know, we’re told when we start out, and I know some things about being a woman. About being a mother, daughter, sister, rival. Julius Salsbury interested me not at all. But the five women he left behind — finally, my husband had my attention.

He was shocked, in late 2013, to find out where my imagination had taken his suggestion. He saw it so differently. But then, his view of the story is represented by the retired Baltimore homicide cop in the book, the guy who picks cold cases. The guy who sees a photograph of a scantily clad woman with a come-hither gaze and decides to go thither.

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After I'm Gone(Publisher’s Summary) Laura Lippman, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, returns with an addictive story that explores how one man’s disappearance echoes through the lives of the wife, mistress, and daughters he left behind.

When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

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Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

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Picture This – A Visit With Margaret Hawkins

Today’s post by Margaret Hawkins

Margaret Hawkins

Margaret Hawkins

On the morning of the day our new dog was to be delivered by the rescue people, who promised us a 48-hour window in which to change our minds if we didn’t think we could bond with him, She Reads  invited me to write a blog post about an image that inspired something in Lydia’s Party.  Of course I thought of Max, the real-life dog that inspired Lydia’s dog, Maxine.  I’d been thinking of him constantly since we made this decision, to get a new dog. Can lightning strike twice?  Did I even want it to?

Max had been gone four years when we finally agreed it was time.  Though there was no replacing him, and there is no perfect time to do this thing, which messes up your house, eats up your money and your time, disturbs your sleep, then ends by breaking your heart.  We agreed Fritz would shop around, pick one out at the shelter and just bring it home, because I didn’t care what it looked like or what breed or gender it was, did not want the wrenching responsibility of choosing one over another, and because none of them would ever be Max. Then I walked into PetSmart one Saturday, to buy cat food, and a white German shepherd-mix with huge antenna-like ears, who was there for an “adoption event,” got me in his Max-like gaze, jumped up and put his paws on my chest, licked my face, and claimed me. Nobody even stopped him – it was an ambush.

Now Willem – that’s what we named him – runs the house.

None of the human characters in Lydia’s Party are modeled after particular people, but Lydia’s dog is made in the image of Max. Maxine’s uncanny intelligence, her expressive orange eyebrows, the dedicated way she wills food into her possession, then instantly forgets she’s eaten, the way she lies across people’s feet under the table, confident that morsels will be smuggled below, her mind reading (Max once disappeared from the couch, where he was keeping me company while I guiltily vegetated in front of the television, and returned with my to-do list), her unwavering loyalty, the way snow melts on her warm black fur when she comes in from a romp – all are copied from him.

Max was alive when I started the book. Maxine’s name was Mabel, then.  Later I changed it, to keep him around.

Postscript: Willem has eaten two library books so far, both nonfiction, but otherwise is doing quite well and has bonded with Newman, the cat.  



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Cover.Lydias Party“It is this kind of book: the kind one buys extra copies of to pass out to friends.”  —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

For fans of Anne Tyler and Anna Quindlen, a mesmerizing portrait of friendship that explores seven women’s lives with a generous embrace and wondrous wisdom

Lydia is having a party—it’s a party she hosts every year for six women friends who treasure the midwinter bash. Over a table laden with a feast of food and wine, the women revel in sharing newsy updates, simmering secrets, and laughter. As this particular evening unfolds, Lydia prepares to make a shattering announcement.

As we follow these friends through their party preparations, we meet flawed but lovable characters who are navigating the hassles of daily chores while also meditating in stolen moments on their lives, their regrets, their complicated relationships, and their deepest desires. When Lydia’s announcement shocks them all, they rediscover the enduring bonds of friendship and find their lives changing in unexpected ways.

Tender, wryly funny, and exquisitely written, Lydia’s Party poignantly considers both the challenges of everyday life and of facing our fears while creating characters whose foibles and feistiness will capture readers’ hearts.

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Picture This: A Visit With Ariel Lawhon

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

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

I’d never heard of Joseph Crater until I read an article about him in The New York Post nine 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.

There’s still lots of time to enter this month’s book club giveaway. And don’t hesitate to let Ariel know if your book club plans on reading THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS. She’s available for Skype chats and local in-person visits.

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