Conjugating Other People’s Books: Have Read, Am Reading, Will Read

I didn’t realize until I took this photo (Mycroft tried to steal the scene!) that the authors all have first names beginning with “A!”

Not by design. Sometimes lovely coincidences just happen!

Here are my three OPBs this month–a book I’ve read, a book I’m reading, and a book I’m looking forward to reading.

A book I’ve read: The Promise, by Ann Weisgarber

From the cover copy: “1900, Catherine Wainwright flees her fashionable hometown of Dayton, Ohio in the wake of a terrible scandal. Heartbroken and facing destitution, she finds herself striking up correspondence with a childhood admirer, the recently widowed Oscar Williams. In desperation, she agrees to marry him, but when Catherine travels to Oscar’s farm on Galveston Island, Texas–a thousand miles from home–she finds she is little prepared for the life that awaits her… Meanwhile, for Nan Ogden, Oscar’s housekeeper, Catherine’s sudden arrival has come as a great shock… And when the worst storm in a generation descends, the women will find themselves tested as never before.”

Why I loved it: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel for the journey it took me on–in time and place, but also emotionally. Ann deftly tells the story through both Catherine and Nan’s points of view, alternating between them with first person narration, yet bringing each woman’s voice distinctively, clearly to life. As a writer, I was in awe. As a reader, I was riveted!

A book I’m reading: Fierce: Women of the Bible and their Stories of Violence, Mercy, Bravery, Wisdom, Sex and Salvation, by Alice Connor

The subtitle says it all, but here is more detail from the cover copy: “Women in the Bible–some of their names we know, others we’ve only heard, and others are tragically unnamed. Pastor and provocateur Alice Connor introduces these women and invites us to see them not as players in a man’s story–as victims or tempters–nor as morality archetypes, teaching us to be better wives and mothers, but as fierce foremothers of the faith.”

Why I’m loving it: I usually don’t read nonfiction (other than memoir, personal essays, or for research), but I’m savoring these essays, allowing myself time between each to consider what I’ve read. They are thought provoking, surprising, and at times laugh-out-loud funny.

A book I will read:The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Kahn

From the cover copy: “Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she’s still uneasy at Khattak’s tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton’s death. Drayton’s apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn’t seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak’s team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995…”

Why I’m looking forward to it: The premise is intriguing, and I’m eager to read a mystery that also explores timely cultural themes while pulling from the background of the Bosnian War. Then too, my hometown (fashionable Dayton, Ohio!), was the site of the Dayton Accords in November 1995, the peace agreement (later signed in December 1995 in fashionable Paris, France) that put an end to the Bosnian War. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize, held annually, was inspired by the Dayton Accords.


Wit and Wisdom (and Cousin Pat) at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

This past weekend, I was blessed to spend a busy but inspiring time at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, where I led a class on “Creating Vivid Characters,” moderated a panel of agents, met with writers for a speed-dating q&a, and introduced one of the keynoters, John Grogan of Marley & Me fame.

Oh, and I may have hung out with a friend. Or two. Or three.

Truth be told, though, all weekend I was nervous as all get out about doing that introduction of John–even though I know him. Even though it was an honor to be asked. Even though, usually, I’m not fearful (too much!) of public speaking.

You see, I grew up in Erma‘s hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and as beloved as she still deservedly is everywhere else, here in Dayton she is revered. This was not the time to trip, stutter, fall, or spill water all over the mic. What’s more, for John’s lunch keynote, I was seated at a table that included John, his lovely wife Jenny, Erma’s sons (Matt and Andrew), and the new president of University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater, where the workshop is held every other year.

The only thing to do? Channel my cousin Pat.

Pat, you see, is a now-retired Associate Vice-Chancellor from a large university, and has never seemed, at least to my eyes, to be terrified of any public situation. I once went to an posthumous installment of Pat’s mom, my Aunt Opal, into University of Kentucky’s hall of fame for Aunt Opal’s specialty (Home Economics). At the banquet, I did my usual introverted shtick: I smiled, nodded, and sat down at our table and contemplated the arrangement of silverware. Yep, forks still go on the left.

Pat, however, warmly greeted everyone at our table, one-on-one, introducing herself and looking each person in the eyes as if he or she were a long-lost friend. Then she did the same with the people at the nearby tables. When the time came to speak on her mother’s behalf, she stood up straight and tall (she’s a lovely, petite blonde), and took each of us in with her charm.

Now Aunt Opal came from humble beginnings–a tobacco farmer’s daughter in Eastern Kentucky–and worked her way up all the way to a PhD, and from there to state and national level positions. She had more grit than anyone I’ve ever known. And she always spoke from the heart, and connected with people right where they were. Pat learned well.

Erma would have adored both of them, I believe.

I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Erma’s wit and wisdom ended up on Aunt Opal’s fridges in Kentucky and later in Washington D.C.

In any case, as lunch progressed and the time neared for me to introduce John, I became more and more nervous. I kept reminding myself that the introduction was only two minutes long. That, rightfully, attendees were eager to hear John. That, I’d prepared my introduction, written it from the heart in the privacy of my home. In it, I shared how I’d met John just after his runaway bestselling memoir was published, at a booksellers’ convention, and how gracious and generous he was with everyone. How he’d been that way as well at two other workshops where our paths crossed.

Still, I knew I needed to deliver what I’d written from the heart as well. Aunt Opal, Cousin Pat, and Erma Bombeck would expect no less.

What to do? Well, Cousin Pat is about fifteen years older than me, and I’ve looked up to her ever since I was a little girl. And I like to think I have, deep in me, some of the same grit and warmth and charm that I saw in her mother, and that I see in her.

So, when it was time to introduce John, I paused for just a moment at the bottom of the steps to the podium. And I thought: Be Cousin Pat.

Suddenly, with the feeling of Pat and Aunt Opal–and yes, even Erma–cheering me on, it didn’t seem quite so hard.

I introduced John. He spoke with humor and inspiration–and reminded us all to always write and communicate from the heart.

I had to smile at that. Pat, Aunt Opal and Erma would definitely approve of that message! I know I certainly do.

I hope you have a Cousin Pat to draw inspiration and courage from whenever you have to do something challenging.

If not, well, just draw on the inspiration and courage of Erma Bombeck. Here are some Erma quotes that just might help:

  • “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”
  • “I believe everything of any importance in this world has been brought about by dreamers, visionaries who see beyond the first step.”
  • “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
  • “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”




Pie of the Month

Among my family and friends, I’m known as the “pie lady.”

I love pie so much that I keep this post card up on my refrigerator.

I make pies for parties. For dinner gatherings. And to bring to people when they are battling illness.

I once brought a pie to a New Years’ Eve part. The hostess hollered, “Jess is here–and she brought PIE!” She is a good friend, and well acquainted with my pies.

But one of the guests, who I’d never met before, looked skeptical. “What kind of pie is this?”

“Shaker sugar.”

He looked even more skeptical. “My nanny used to make that pie. In the deep south. No one this far north could make that pie.”

Then he had a slice.

read more…


Thank you for dropping by my website and for visiting my blog.

When I happened upon the inspiration for Lily Ross, a sheriff in 1925 rural southeastern Ohio, I knew I’d found a character who would have deep, compelling stories to tell. Perhaps more importantly, I knew these would be stories that would resonate with me as a storyteller and as a person. I could almost hear the dulcimer strings striking a sweet but melancholy chord in the background. And when a story idea presents itself to you with a soundtrack of its own… well, you listen. And follow.

I’m so glad I did, because the first Lily Ross novel, THE WIDOWS, will make its debut in January 2019 from Minotaur Books. I could not be more thrilled!

January 2019 is far off, you say? Longer away than a month of Sundays? Yes, but it will get here quickly enough. And in the meantime, while we’re waiting together, I’m looking forward to chatting with you via this blog. What will we chat about? Well, there are topics aplenty! Here’s some of what we’ll explore:

–How THE WIDOWS came into being.

–The historical inspiration for various aspects of THE WIDOWS and the Lily Ross series.

–Music and books and films and art that I love. Maybe a chat or two with other writers and artistic creators!

–Peeks into my writing process.

–A bit here and there about my interests outside of writing and Lily Ross: recipes, hiking, nature, cats, family, and a dollop or two of philosophical ramblings about love and life and community.

–Pie. Yes, pie. Pie deserves its own category! I not only *love* pie, I especially love baking pies. My husband and I are empty nesters, and one pie goes a long way for two, so I’m always happy to bake pie for friends and neighbors and family members who are celebrating or healing. I’ve been told my pies have curative effects.

Oh, and of course I’ll keep you posted on news about steps along the way toward THE WIDOWS release.

Come on by once a week or so, and we’ll have a nice visit. I look forward to getting to know you!

p.s. A big THANK YOU to the Montgomery County Arts & Cultural District for an Artist Opportunity Grant to help create this website and blog. I was blessed with this grant, in part, so that I could share the historical background of THE WIDOWS as well as my artistic process for educational purposes. I look forward to fulfilling that promise!