Sunday Smatterings

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Happy Sunday! It’s the first cool weekend of the fall here in Nashville, and I for one am thrilled. I can’t do a lot of walking yet, but I can sit on the porch and enjoy the sounds and smells that are so specific to this season--the crackle of leaves, the scent of the fire, the rustling of the breeze through the thinned out trees. It’s perfection.

Oh, before I forget: Today is the last day of the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, and I am appearing on a panel at 1pm with my friend and fellow author Jeremy Finley. If you find yourself downtown today, we’re at the NPL auditorium, and would love to see you!

So that paragraph in and of itself tells you how I’m doing. I’m getting back on my feet, slowly but surely. I am down to one crutch already, and the swelling is going down. Stitches out later this week, and then it’s all healing, all the time. I admit, I’m getting a little claustrophobic not being able to move freely, but I keep reminding myself that this too shall pass. I had that feeling last surgery, and I’m so far ahead of where I was at the same point last time that I’m sure I’ll have full motion soon.

The enforced downtime made for good writing this week. I’m trying to get a draft of this book done by the beginning of December so I’m not frantically writing through the holidays. I’ve had some trouble nailing down my main character, she simply refused to reveal herself to me. I finally realized I’d named her wrong. When her real name came to me this week, boom went the dynamite, and the story is flowing again.

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in the power of a story to drag its feet until you dread to open the damn thing because you know you’re going to circle around what you’ve written, feeling like something is wrong but not being able to nail it down, until you give up and go binge-watch Succession. I have done this enough to recognize the signs, and I know not to force it. Whatever’s wrong with the story will eventually let itself be known. 

My rule of thumb: if it’s been a couple of weeks and I haven’t moved forward, I start looking at where I went off the tracks. I don’t panic. I don’t flip out. I don’t tell myself I’ll never write again. I give it some slack, read a fabulous book, get some inspiration, and tackle it again, starting at the beginning. Often times, there’s something in my original concept that’s off, and if I let it go and accept where the story has gone instead, things resolve themselves. Sometimes it’s a tense issue, or a POV. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a name. Regardless, you have to respect that this is art, and sometimes, art doesn’t want to behave. Like a child, you can indulge to a point until you are forced to lay down the law.

With that, I’m off to the festival. If you’re in town, I hope to see you there. On to the links!


Fall 2019 YA Books: 90+ October–December New Releases. There goes my TBR... There are SO many great new books out this year…

Trick-or-Treat: 18 Examples of Bookish Halloween Decor. Cool ideas! I’m a little behind on my Halloween decorating.

Caroline Vs. Natalie And My Personal Essay Identity Crisis. Shannon Keating gives us lots to think laying bare your soul for the world to see healthy?

See 23 of the world’s most enchanting libraries. Beautiful!

How Your Phone Is Ruining Your Relationships. “Society changes as technology changes.” We’ll never recover, I fear.

All about the inaugural MMD Book Club Retreat. How much fun is this? Modern Mrs. Darcy always comes up with the cool stuff.

Literary Wedding Ideas for People Who Don't Really Understand Books. These ideas sure are something. I can’t believe people have actually done a Handmaid’s Tale theme!

True Life: I Inherited a Private Library. Great story. Can you imagine???

Study finds that learning to read enhances the brain in more ways than one. More proof that reading is good for you!

Reese Witherspoon's Book Club Is Keeping Hello Sunshine on Top. Interesting behind-the-scenes article.


THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prescott

The hype surrounding this book is so well-deserved. I'm a fan of anything lady spy, especially CIA, so I pounced the moment it came out, and it was so worth it. Elegantly written and realized, Prescott has done a fascinating moment in history justice. I had no idea about the backstory of Dr. Zhivago's long road to publication. Prescott presents all sides of the story, from Russian gulags to the swans of a D.C. summer, from the keen eye of multiple fascinating narrators. This is a get smart kind of book. (see what I did there?) I loved it!

What are you reading?

That’s it from me. Enjoy a cool afternoon in front of the fireplace, find a new show to binge-watch (I highly recommend Succession), try a book in a genre you don’t normally read, and I’ll see you next week.

PS: Since Succession season 2 is over tonight…what do you recommend I watch next?

Sunday Smatterings

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Hello, October! My favorite month. I’m ready for some cooler temps, cozying up to the fireplace, and all the attendant fall regalia.

I’ve been thinking about something. (I know, I know, the most dangerous sentence in the language, topping “Hold my beer” by just a few ticks...) But I’m at that stage in the new book, where I’m looking at some of the connections that need to come into play down the road, looking at some character motivations, and I realized something was missing. This is nothing new, at this stage of the book, 1/3 of the way in, it finally becomes a story unto itself and I have to come to grips with, yes, this is the story you’re telling, get on with it. 

I was thinking about motivation. What motivates a character to do something? What drives them? In my previous few books, I had a scenario that was very distinct (a missing husband, writers in a bad marriage, Olympic skiing, a private boarding school) and I have one in this as well, but I still feel like there’s a layer I need to dig into that isn’t on my radar yet.

I asked the Literati this week what they are fascinated by, what they would like to do as a hobby, what skill they don’t have that they’d like to. I was surprised by how many people mentioned forensics. That’s utterly fascinating. What’s your answer?

I have a few. Architecture. I’ve always wanted to design houses. Meteorology. Weather fascinates me. I would love to be a conductor, bringing out the best performance of a symphony. Golf, obviously. Astronomy.

I think a good book always hangs on something super interesting about the character. Like Michael Koryta’s IF SHE WAKES -- one of the characters in a stunt driver. A female stunt driver. Obviously that plays into the story in several elegant ways.

Another is Deborah Harkness’s Diana Bishop in A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. She is a scholar of alchemy. Unique, strange, fascinating. 

Anyway, I’m just noodling about at the moment. I have a character whose background is distinct, but I’m missing her passion. Even her name is being difficult. Whatever her passion, it’s hiding itself at the moment.

I’ll find these aspects of her soon enough, I can feel them circling, wanting to land but not finding any branches to their liking.

I mentioned last week I might try to post some writing advice today. What I realized is something you may or may not know...I have a whole section of writing advice here on the website. If you look up at the navigation, there’s a heading called For Writers. Click it, and you’ll see a series of articles I feel are important for new writers, little bits of advice from that might help you on your way.

One last thing: the newsletter will be coming out in a few days. Be sure to sign up for exclusive content you won’t find anywhere else. Now, let’s check out the links!


50 Must-Read Crime Novels for Fall and Winter 2019. Thrilled GOOD GIRLS LIE is included in this list! Such good company.

Fall In Love With This Ultimate Guide To Bookish Candles. I love a good candle.

Top 10 culinary memoirs. Adding these to my TBR...

Physical books still outsell e-books — and here's why. “Genres that do well in print include nature, cookery and children’s books, while people prefer to read crime, romantic novels and thrillers via e-reader, according to Nielsen Book International.”

The Best Writing Tips from Electric Literature Interviews. Lots of great advice!

15 Of The Best Books Like SHARP OBJECTS. I loved SHARP OBJECTS so this list perked my ears up.

THE OCTOBER BIG THRILL: New column explores the iconic impact of the King, plus interviews with Cornwell, Jance, Gerritsen, Chbosky, Khoury + 30 more. If you're not subscribed, and you like crime fiction, you really should get on this.

Snøhetta’s New Library for Temple University Is a Soaring Ode to Knowledge. Such an incredible design!


THE THIRD WIFE by Lisa Jewell

The Third Wife is my first book of Jewell's but it won't be the last. I love how she can take a story that could be banal in the hands of a lesser writer and make it suspenseful, touching, and complex all at once. I cared so much about the characters that I forgot I was reading a book and felt like I was catching up with distant friends. Super!

What are you reading?

That’s it from me. Share your fascinations in the comments, break out the cider and cinnamon, give a lost grocery store pumpkin a home for the season, and I’ll see you next week.

Sunday Smatterings

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Happy last day of Mabon Sunday, friends. 

It is a Sunday of mixed emotions for me. As some of you already know, we had to make a decision about my knee, which isn’t healing properly. Whether a screw up in surgery or a too-aggressive physical therapy or me simply not respecting my limitations (Ha! When do I ever do that?) it seems the meniscus is retorn, and it needs to be repaired again, properly this time. Surgery is again on my radar, scheduled for Thursday. 

I admit to a few moments of extreme and mixed emotion at this news. Obviously, I’m not looking forward to the pain. To starting all over, as if the past three months didn’t happen, to be back on crutches going into a huge fall of events and work. I’ve already cancelled my out of town commitments and will be cutting back dramatically on everything local, too. I’m not going to make the mistake of pushing too hard again. 

I refused to stop my life this summer just because I was having issues with walking. But now I’m going to nest, and heal properly. I have a book due, I have oodles of reading material, I have lots of shows to binge. I’m going to turn inward, set boundaries for myself that truly limit me. I might get a little stir crazy, but it has to happen.

So in better news, I had a brilliant time this week with the divine Lisa Unger. I’ve been a fan for years, her thrillers are just about perfect—deep, dark, menacing, character-driven, and intellectual—my favorite aspects in literature. It is truly a gift to have so many incredible authors to call friend., probably the most rewarding aspect of this career. And when you find the ones you can open yourself up to, it’s even more special. Lisa did the show and we did an in-conversation at Parnassus (if you missed it, there are signed copies waiting...) We toured the town a bit, had some delightful meals, and in general caused trouble whilst delving into the meaning of life. It was a blast. 

On the Homefront, we’ve been doing some lovely autumn Mabon decluttering. It’s felt so great getting everything organized (using The Home Edit as a guide). With all the corners cleaned, boxes broken down and taken to recycling, unused shampoos and toiletries packed for the shelter, the creative energy is swirling, and that has made for a great writing week. My creative energy is very much tied to my environment. When everything is clean and tidy, I work so much better.

We might have an abbreviated Smats next week, depending on how much energy I have over the weekend, or I might resurrect some writing advice. We shall see.

And oh yeah, this happened… 😜

NO ONE KNOWS came out in mass market paperback! Go grab a copy—it has the original ending, and this packaging is gorgeous.

With the same page-turning suspense as The Husband’s Secret, New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison’s No One Knows is a “riveting…skillfully plotted” (Publishers Weekly) thriller that questions if the narrator’s husband really has returned from the dead—or if she’s merely losing her mind.

Aubrey Hamilton has been mourning her missing husband for five years, despite being the prime suspect in his murder. When he is officially declared dead, there are still more questions than answers: Why didn’t Josh show up at his friend’s bachelor party? Was he murdered, or did he run away? And is the new, mysterious man in Aubrey’s life as familiar as he appears, or have years of loneliness and confusion finally driven her mad?

No One Knows is an evocative mystery that explores the complex darkness within all of us, perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, Liane Moriarty, and Paula Hawkins.

Now, without further ado… let’s take a look at the links.

The Latest On The Internet:

Baking Shows Are Secretly Reality TV for Frustrated Writers. "Writing, like baking, is beholden to the vicissitudes of everyday life." It’s a creation thing, isn’t it? Create a story with words, create a cake with flour and sugar — how different is it, really?

I Spent the Night at a Library in Wales, and You Can Too. I want to go… I visited Wales as a teenager and it was one of the most fun places I have ever been.

Most Haunted Places in North America. Who's up for a road trip? These are seriously spooky spots.

Rachel Cusk Said She Was Done With Autobiography. These Essays Suggest Otherwise. “The ego, of course, does not die so easily, nor is it possible for modern writers to avoid speaking and writing about their private lives.” Read that quote again. I am so interested in this phenomenon, this moment in the artistic wheel where our egos drive us to the socials, and we interact directly with the readers. It’s a necessity. Isn’t it? Or is it?????

Spooooooky: 25 of the Best YA Ghost Books. ‘Tis the season! What’s your favorite on this list?

How Beatrix Potter Pioneered the Art of Merchandising. Such an interesting history.

Books are Heavy. "If a weighted blanket is supposed to help you sleep and provide comfort, then a similar case can be made for the weight of a paper volume on your lap. Even a slim book can still pack an emotional wallop." #Truth.

A Midcentury Modern homeless shelter rises in an abandoned Hollywood library. A repurposed library is still a safe place for those who need it. And that’s the best news.

The Wine of the Week at The Wine Vixen starts with a duel—also, going forward, I’ll probably be posting far more on the Wine Vixen Instagram rather than the blog. Part of the fall self-care ritual is backing away from commitments that take too much time away from my writing.

What I’m Reading:


I wanted to wait to read this book until I was in Scotland proper, since it takes place at a renovated smart home in the Highlands. I started reading on the plane over, and by the time I reached the Highlands myself a few days later... I was so damn freaked out I had to put it down and read nonfiction for the remainder of my stay. This is a stellar book, hand's down my favorite of her yet. Moody, atmospheric, and chilling, it's a tour de force from Ware, who has become one of my all-time favorites. What are you reading?

That’s it from me. Clean out a drawer, a closet, a cabinet, put up some fall decorations, send me some good healing energy, and I’ll see you next week.

peace and hugs,

PS: I heard you about the comments. We have a new system in place and you should be able to comment without problem once again. Thanks for letting me know there was an issue!

Sunday Smatterings

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Happy Sunday! How is it we’re halfway through September, people? My fall has started with a bang, and I’m out of the gates, running... running... jogging... okay, I’ve slowed to a nice, leisurely stroll. Look, are those roses?

Yes. You read that right. I’ve stopped to smell the roses. That doesn’t mean I’m not working—it just means I’m working smarter. I had some excellent downtime one rainy afternoon in Edinburgh, which I spent with my bullet journal and my thoughts. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did come to some solid conclusions about how I wanted my work life to look going forward. I deleted some old social media accounts, cleaned up the ones I do use, and decided to just makes things easier on myself. 

We writers are in an interesting position in the creative world. We’re all readers, so we want to talk to other readers, and other writers, and booksellers and librarians. And then there’s the news—so much to consume, so much to stay on top of, so much to invest in, and who knows what sort of ideas it might engender. Notice something missing from all that? Yes. The writing. Without which, we’re just readers. 

I obviously get my writing done, but there are certainly moments in time when all the rest of the business gets in the way of that. This is why I encourage all writers to invest in some help. A virtual assistant can get a heck of a lot off your plate. If you do a cost benefit analysis on your time, what’s more important—that $25 hour that frees you to write 1000 words, or making sure all the filters are correct on your instagram photos for the week?

Words win. Hand down. Every time. Do you know why? Words equal money. If you want to be a writer, a successful writer, words are the only thing that genuinely matter. The rest is for fun.

I mean, if you want to abandon the social media entirely in favor of writing, DO IT! Trust me when I say my finger has hovered over the delete button too many times to count. No one, NO ONE, will blame you, forget you, or otherwise have an issue if you don’t want to have fifteen social media streams running at once. I promise. What they will remember is that book the you spent so much time on that you leveled up in your writing. The book that breaks you out.

In this vein, I wanted to share this video my DH sent me a couple of weeks ago. It had a huge impact on my thought process on these things. It helped me take a nice, deep breath, set down the laptop, and take a nap. Something I NEVER do. And oddly enough, when I woke, I worked better. Who knew?

With that, I’m off to take a nap. I’ll leave you to the links.

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Literary Paper Dolls: Rebecca. "To me, it is one of the most sickening passages in all of literature. Because, for me, the jury is still out. Which Mrs. de Winter am I?"

Goodreads is giving away 100 copies of NO ONE KNOWS. (US only.) This giveaway ends tomorrow, so hurry ye to the link!

Column: How the Little Free Library led to the Little Free Pantry, a fast-growing approach to helping those in need. This is such a wonderful idea! Literacy frees people.

10 Fantastically Fierce Books Like CIRCE By Madeline Miller. CIRCE was one of my favorite books last year so this list is up my alley.

This article about how our skulls are shrinking might be the key to helping kids with behavioral problems. Fascinating!

'The Bloggess' Jenny Lawson to Open Combination Bookstore and Bar in San Antonio. This sounds like a cool development! Jenny’s a brilliant writer, so what a lovely match: writer to bookstore.

Snap Out Of A Reading Slump With These 20 New Books. Great ideas for those who need help getting out of that slump. I was in one all summer!

The chaotic evil 'Don't have a bookmark?' meme is out of control. *shudders* Someone used a taco. A TACO!

140,000 Pieces of Paper Form a Colorful 'Universe of Words' Installation by Emmanuelle Moureaux. Incredible!

The Editor of Modern Love on the Books That Taught Him About Love. A thoughtful list.

The Wine of the Week at The Wine Vixen is a delightful French gem.

What I’m Reading:


I'm a fan of Lisa's work, and especially of how she builds her characters. From the most innocent to the most evil, every one of them has depth that makes them come alive on the page. THE STRANGER INSIDE is no different -- a brilliant character study of victims who've survived a terrible event in their childhood and how they've found ways to cope with the aftermath. As always, this is more than a page turner, it is a complex psychological study and thrilling to boot. Her best yet.

What are you reading?

That’s it from me. Start making room in your closet for the sweaters, cut something that’s not vital from your day, take a walk in a field, and I’ll see you next week.

peace and hugs,

Sunday Smatterings

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Hello from Edinburgh! Well, I will just be arriving home as you read this, so hello from jet-lagged Nashville where I am still sound asleep, but you get the idea.

I’m writing from my lovely hotel room with its stunning view of Edinburgh Castle. It’s been an amazing couple of weeks over here. From the stark beauty of the Highlands to the Speyside whisky distilleries being visited by Ludacris to Balmoral where we saw the Queen and Prince Charles on a walkabout to Edinburgh proper, we’ve been experiencing  a great deal of what the home country has to offer. I say home country because husband and I are both Scots by blood. I’m Scots and Italian, he’s full blown UK. We did a DNA test once and he’s more British than 76% of the Brits who were born here... think about that! That’s what happens when your people fight on the losing side of a war and are transported to the US.

I always feels so very blessed to be able to travel overseas as much as we do. We’re both just fascinated with how other cultures work, the people, the food, the atmosphere. This is my 6th time in Scotland, and it won’t be my last.

We met several lovely people on this trip, including a trio of gentlemen from Japan who were real whisky lovers and artists, two couples from Canada who were having a superb time, a perpetually dissatisfied Australian in a desperate search for a decent cup of coffee, a Cuban American family celebrating their youngest’s birthday, an Irishman who ran our hotel in the Highlands who was a brilliant chef and made me gluten-free fish and chips every night and introduced us to new whisky. Our world gets so small when we travel. It was such fun.

Edinburgh is a favorite spot, and we have a few nooks we love to visit every time we’re here—and a few new ones we’ve found this trip, including a ridiculously delicious authentic Italian restaurant. And a steakhouse on the Royal Mile that until recently didn’t even have signage. And the bar across from the hotel where we’ve been taking a wee dram at night. Even hanging in the hotel has been fun, with staff that are attentive and kind.

Last night, sitting quietly by the fire in the pub across the way, we were talking about something rather serious, making a decision, and I felt a hand on my back. I turned expecting to see the bartender, asking if I wanting another, but there was no one around. The hand on my back was a gentle caress, one like a mother might give to a child. It felt very loving, and was the perfect allegory for this country, where I feel so at home. Whether it was a gentle admonition to get off my phone and stop fretting, or an affirmation of my decision, I suppose I’ll never know.

Scotland is haunted, no one questions that. Every step I take, I feel like I’m following in the footsteps of someone else, that at any moment the veil could lift and I’ll be walking alongside a forebear. No wonder I love Outlander so much.

Edinburgh, too, is an old town and has seen its share of death and destruction, but there is so much joy here, too. The city is young and vibrant; students and young families abound. They’re filming A Fast and Furious on the Royal Mile, we stumbled into the set the other night walking. Even though tourist season has passed, a cultural cornucopia of people throng the streets. It’s wonderful to see, and I’m already thinking about when I can come back.

I did get some work done, but now that I’m back, it’s hit the books time. Don’t be surprised to find some of these experiences in a book down the road…

With that, I’ll leave you to the links. Slainte!

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Fabulous news: Publishers Weekly gave GOOD GIRLS LIE a starred review! “A high-tension thriller...Alternating points of view raise the suspense, blurring the lines between true and false...Ellison keeps readers guessing throughout.” I could not be more thrilled. It’s coming for you on December 30. Preorder your copy today!

At age 101, this woman released her first collection of poems. “At a time we normally think of as winding down, Sarah’s imagination is unfolding.”

Related: 6 Women Writers Who Published Their First Book After They Turned 70. It’s never too late!

A Family’s Journey from Mob Murder to NFL Fame. This story is wild!

Cleo Le-Tan Knows Where All the Bookstores Are in New York. This looks like a cute guide!

We Asked 20 Authors For Their #1 Favorite Book Of Fall 2019. Great list!

How to Write While Not Writing. “When I’m not writing, I’m often having experiences that fill my creative engine with the fuel necessary to power the work itself. Without the not writing, my creative engine runs dry.”

When the Public Feared That Library Books Could Spread Deadly Diseases. Can you even imagine?

As we prepare for the mass market release of NO ONE KNOWS, enjoy this look back: Sometimes, Dreams Do Come True—Literally. The story idea started with a dream.

8 Best Independent Bookstores in the United States. How many of these have you visited?

Save Space On Your Shelves For These Amazing Space Bookends. Super cool!

The Wine of the Week at The Wine Vixen!

What I’m Reading:

THE NANNY by Gilly Macmillan

Gilly Macmillan is an outstanding writer, but THE NANNY is a step above. Complex, intriguing, scary, devastating, and so lyrically written I got out my "I'm not worthy" kneepads. You are going to go ape for this one.

What are you reading?

That’s it from me. Pour yourself a wee dram, read a good ghost story, do some research on your ancestors, and I’ll see you next week.

peace and hugs,