Fresh Eyes: Swannanoa River Offers Second Look at Art and Life

Every visit to Asheville inspires, and our latest trip was no exception. An April run took us along a well-worn trail beside the Swannanoa River. The path dipped and wound and climbed, past an outdoor grotto wreathed in wedding tulle, rock walls frescoed with Mandalas, a lush bamboo forest edging Warren Wilson University.

Near the end, we encountered a painter, his easel angled against the river, his palette clutched to his hip. We stopped to admire his work, and he graciously permitted me to take his photo. He had begun this landscape one year ago in this very spot, he explained, and had returned this day to complete it.

After wishing him well and resuming our course, I considered the idea of coming back to something (or someone) after the passage of time, of picking up at the exact point of detachment. Would it be difficult to find one’s way back? Would fresh eyes and perspective enhance the encounter, or might preconceptions cloud the view? 

Certainly it is simpler to cling to initial impressions than to step back and discern the new growth time has fostered.

Our artist was courageous to do the latter, I decided. He might easily have finished his painting in the comfort of his own studio, relying on memory and his mind’s eye. But think of the details he might have missed!

In terms of my own writing, I’m alternately amazed and appalled to exhume an old piece. Frequently, reading an early draft make me squirm. But the passage of time permits me to reapproach the work, tentatively at first, then more confidently, bolstered by my experiences during this interval.

Like the riverside painter, I’m reinvested. I honor my work’s potential, acknowledging its warts as well as its buds of maturity. I clear away dead branches to get to its bones.

The final picture may not be what I initially envisioned, but it is one I can embrace wholeheartedly.

Nature isn’t perfect, and neither is art. Individuals are works in progress. Happily, life provides frequent do-overs, those rare second chances to revise tired impressions.

And in those moments, should you determine that nothing serves you, give yourself permission to start fresh with a clean canvas, a blank screen, a new conversation.

DELIVER HER Meets Winston, the Belmar Library Dog

Nothing calms an author’s nerves more than a sweet dog at their feet.
How do you recognize Belmar Library? Easy: it’s the one with an eight-foot replica of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary Fender Esquire guitar on its lawn at the corner of (wait for it) 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar.

Belmar Library is also known for its “Breakfast with the Author” series. And there were all sorts of book lovers at my DELIVER HER presentation last week, including the four-legged variety. Winston, the mascot at this Monmouth County, New Jersey library, proved friendly and attentive as I recounted my publication journey. It was a great occasion to celebrate the one-year birthday of DELIVER HER’s launch.

Breakfast and books go together at NJ’s Belmar Library. See you this fall with AT WAVE’S END.
I want to send a heartfelt “thank you” to the Belmar Library staff and all who attended. I’m very excited to return this fall to share the story of my second book, AT WAVE’S END, coming August 15, 2017.

DELIVER HER Birthday Party Giveaway

Happy first birthday, DELIVER HER! Enter to win one of five signed, personalized paperback copies.
It’s hard to believe, but one year ago today, my debut novel DELIVER HER officially launched. And what better way to celebrate my book’s first birthday than by giving away a few presents?

To kick off the festivities, I’m giving away FIVE signed paperback copies of DELIVER HER, the tale of a headstrong mother who goes to extreme lengths to rescue her out-of-control daughter.

To enter, simply sign up for my new newsletter between now and midnight EDT on Saturday, May 13, 2017. I’ll announce all five randomly selected winners the following week here and in my newsletter.

Secondly, to sweeten the celebration, the U.S. Kindle edition of DELIVER HER is only $2 for the entire month of May.

However you decide to celebrate this milestone, I want to thank YOU, my readers, for your encouragement, support and feedback. The year’s jaunt has been incredible, with more detours, twists and turns than Carl and Alex’s wild ride in DELIVER HER! I hope you’ll continue this literary journey with me for years to come.

Next stop: AT WAVE’S END, arriving August 15, 2017! You can pre-order this story of a woman who wins a ramshackle bed and breakfast at the Jersey shore in the weeks leading up to a major hurricane.

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS

  • One entry per person, open to anyone aged 18 or over.
  • This contest is open to U.S. and Canadian readers.
  • Five winners will receive a signed (and if they wish, dedicated) paperback edition of DELIVER HER. Winners will be contacted individually for their postal address.
  • The deadline for entries is midnight Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, May 13, 2017.
Looks like I loved a party (AND bangs!) from a very early age.

At Long Last: AT WAVE’S END Cover Reveal

She’s here!

I’m so excited to finally reveal the cover for my second novel, AT WAVE’S END, coming August 15 from Lake Union. It’s the story of a woman who wins a down-and-out inn at the Jersey shore…weeks before a major hurricane.

A funny thing about the scallop shell she’s holding: while it doesn’t literally figure into this story, one of my sisters said this shell can be traced back to early European pilgrims, and signifies the starting point of one’s journey. When all the lines meet at the base of the shell, you’ve reached your “meant to be” place. So it turns out this scallop shell is an apt if unintended metaphor for Faith and Connie Sterling’s journey to Wave’s End.

I know August feels like a LOONG way away, but you can pre-order AT WAVE’S END and squeeze in this beach read before summer’s end.

Exclusive One-Day DELIVER HER Giveaway

Enter to win a signed, pashmina-wrapped copy of DELIVER HER.
Enter by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT to win a signed, pashmina-wrapped copy of DELIVER HER.

Greetings, Tweeters! I hope you’re having as much fun as I am connecting live with fellow Lake Union readers and authors.

To celebrate this epic inaugural Twitter chat with my kindred Lake Union authors, I’m giving away two signed prizes: an audiobook and paperback copy of my debut novel, DELIVER HER. Not only that, but each prize comes draped in a luxurious violet pashmina (whose significance you’ll discover once you read the story).

In DELIVER HER, a distraught mother goes to desperate lengths to rescue her out-of-control teenage daughter. But when the secret transport she arranges goes awry, Meg Carmody is forced to account for her actions.

To enter the contest:

Simply leave your name in a comment field below this post by MIDNIGHT EST tonight, March 7. Open to U.S. and international readers alike! I’ll randomly select the winners and post the results by Friday, March 8.

Don’t wait! This contest closes at midnight EST tonight, March 7.

AND BEFORE YOU GO… my second novel, AT WAVE’S END, comes ashore on August 15. The cover should be ready for unveiling any day. For updates on this new release and beyond, subscribe to my blog by entering your email at the top of this page.

On World Book Day, Accepting Alternative Facts in Fredrik Backman’s Alternative Universe

My current read: Fredrik Backman's "My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry."
My current read: Fredrik Backman’s “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.”
Greetings, readers! Today is World Book Day, so I’ve been enjoying a peek at some of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

My own books are scattered throughout my house: old favorites on basement bookshelves, writing resources close at hand, my “to-reads” a teetering stack on my nightstand. I’m currently reading “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman (author of “A Man Called Ove”). It’s the story of a VERY eccentric grandmother who creates an elaborate fantasy world for her seven-year-old granddaughter Elsa. And when she dies, Granny leaves Elsa a very challenging legacy: deliver a set of letters apologizing to people she has wronged.

I’m only a few chapters in, but given the recent defense of “alternative facts,” (which is already a Wickipedia entry, by the way), I’m already chuckling at Granny’s propensity to worm her way out of uncomfortable situations. According to Elsa, “Granny calls lies ‘other versions of the truth.’ Granny doesn’t like it when people say things are made up, and reminds Mum she prefers the less derogatory term ‘reality-challenged.'”

Yes, Granny is a wonderful storyteller. In fact, in her fantasy land of Miamas, “storytelling is considered the noblest profession of all. The currency there is imagination; instead of buying something with coins, you buy it with a good story. Libraries aren’t known as libraries but as “banks.”

I’m intrigued to see where this story will go. So far, Granny is still alive and (spoiler alert), she’s already sent Elsa to feed chocolate to a dog. I have a feeling she’s going to have a lot more to apologize for.

What are you reading on World Book Day?

30+ Lake Union Authors Primed for March 7 Twitter Chat

Lake Union author Twitter chat.
30+ Lake Union authors will take questions and award prizes during a March 7 Twitter chat.

Mark your calendar for an EPIC Twitter chat with 30+ bestselling authors. On March 7, more than 30 Lake Union authors (including yours truly) will answer questions, give away books and prizes (including um, maybe a paperback and audio version or two of DELIVER HER)? and offer an inside look at the writing life.

Now’s your chance to pose all those questions you’ve been dying to ask this diverse, talented group of women writers: What made you write that story? Is your book based on real life? How do you cope when writer’s block strikes?

Don't miss out on unique author giveaways during the March 7 Twitter chat.
Don’t miss out on unique author giveaways during the March 7 Twitter chat.
Not a Tweeter, you say? Here’s the good news: While you must be logged in to Twitter to ask questions, you don’t have to belong to Twitter to follow along or be eligible to win prizes. Just go to twitter.com at any time between 4:30 and 9 pm EST and type #LakeUnionAuthors into the Twitter search field. Voila! You can follow the conversation. (Just be sure to refresh your page occasionally to stay current.)

FYI, my official chat slot is 8:15 to 9 pm EST, but I plan to arrive early so as not to miss any of the festivities. Hope to see you there!

Lake Union Publishing offers absorbing works of contemporary and historical fiction that make perfect book club picks. From lush sagas to laugh-out-loud fare, Lake Union Publishing has a story for every taste, season, and mood, from bestselling and debut authors alike. Check out past and upcoming Lake Union releases.

In Race for Oscar Gold, Live Action Shorts Shine

Photo: Author's own.
Photo: Author’s own.
Why am I reviewing films when a stack of books beckons? Because it’s Oscar season, and movies, even the short ones, speak volumes about storytelling.

Like short stories, short films have only a limited window in which to engage their audiences. And like their literary counterparts, short films generally cede the spotlight to their more sophisticated brethren–in this case, the feature-length movie.

So, departing from Oscar’s front-runners for a moment, I want to share the gems in this year’s Live Action shorts category, which we consumed recently in one sitting at the Asbury Park Showroom. I’ll begin with two that examine the globally contentious issues of refugees and immigration. Whatever your stance on walls and travel bans, these films will give you pause.

In the first, “Enemies Within,” an Algerian man’s request for French citizenship rapidly spirals out of control as he bargains for his life and his family’s. Although set in the late 1990s, this timely French film captures the terror and paranoia that threatens to taint our collective consciousness.

Next, with a title and opening scene recalling the Nativity, “Silent Nights” follows a refugee from Ghana attempting to scrape together a life in Denmark, and the sympathetic Salvation Army volunteer who offers a helping hand. (Note: Although not my top personal pick, I predict Oscar gold for this Danish film.)

A third short film, “Timecode,” starts out slowly, but before long, the seconds fly by. (You’ll have to watch it to appreciate this last comment.) Once you have seen it, you’ll no doubt glance over your shoulder the next time you leave your car in one of those mammoth, multi-level parking garages.

To wrap up, our showing was bookended by my two sentimental favorites:

If you’ve ever wanted to exact revenge on a mean teacher, then by all means seek out the Hungarian short film “Sing,” in which an elementary school chorus prepares for a singing competition. You’ll root for the underdog in this universal story of friendship and making your voice heard.

Finally, there was “La Femme et le TGV,” a bittersweet tale inspired by true events. Fans of “Chocolat” will savor this Swiss journey of the quirky Elise (played by the iconic Jane Birkin) and her love affair with a “train of grande vitesse” (high-speed train).

Not that it counts for much besides some movie passes I might win, but on the Showroom’s paper Oscar ballot, I ticked the box next to the candy-colored “La Femme et le TGV.” In a world changing at a speed rivaling that of the TGV hurtling past Elise’s house, I couldn’t help but root for her. After reeling a bit when life changes course, Elise resolutely hops back on her bicycle in pursuit of her dream.

If that’s not a Hollywood ending we can believe in, I don’t know what is.

Winning Words: How a “Win A House” Essay Contest Inspired My Novel

Is the pen mightier than a realtor's "For Sale" sign? My next novel, AT WAVE'S END, features a "Win-A-House" contest.
What’s the key to Win-A-House contests? In my next novel, AT WAVE’S END, a woman gambles on a hardscrabble inn.

Photo: Peaches&Cream

What if a few hundred well-chosen words and a nominal entry fee could land you a lakefront cabin, a Maine bed and breakfast, or a Vermont weekly newspaper?

This premise is not as farfetched as it sounds; the essay-contest-as-sales-technique is alive and well and capturing the fancy of thousands who submit heartfelt essays in the hopes of winning one of these enticing properties.

I’ve been intrigued by these novel sales pitches for several years, ever since a close friend confided her desire to enter an essay contest to win a Maine bed-and-breakfast. Is the pen mightier than, say, a realtor’s open house, I wondered, and what seduces individuals to enter? Do entrants consider the pitfalls to these competitions?

Ultimately, the lure of these solicitations became the backbone of my second novel.

In AT WAVE’S END, coming in August 2017, a middle-aged woman wins a Jersey shore bed-and-breakfast in an essay contest. When Connie Sterling arrives to claim her prize, however, she discovers everything isn’t as it seems. Connie’s problems only multiply after a major hurricane threatens the coastal community.

Though this character’s dilemma is entirely fictional, real-life Win-a-House contests occasionally fizzle. For example, last year, Vermont’s Hardwick Gazette abandoned its essay contest to find a new owner for the newspaper after failing to generate enough entries to add up to a profitable sale (the key to these contests).

A lack of entries also forced owners of a 35-acre Virginia farm to call off its essay contest in 2015 and begin the arduous process of refunding contest entrants.

Even the New England inn contest, which awarded the property to entrants from the U.S. Virgin Islands, wasn’t without derision from some contest non-winners.

Given these hiccups, potential participants might be wise to scan this New York Times article on the headaches of “Win-a-House” contests before diving in. If after doing so, you’re still game, take heart: a New Jersey couple just announced an essay contest to sell their lakeside cabin in the Catskills. They’re so confident in the premise they plan to launch a contest platform to help other sellers do the same.

And by the way, in case you’re wondering about my friend, she never submitted her essay. After mulling it over, she decided she’d be happier running a bar.

So if you hear of any “Win a Bar” essay contests, be sure to let me know so I can pass the word along.

What about you? Would you risk a few hundred dollars to win a home or business? Share your thoughts below.

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How a “Win A House” essay contest inspired a novel by @PatPDonovan. Click to Tweet.

Resurrecting a Darling: Conclusion of Mia’s Story

Old Man of the Mountain

Talk about a cliffhanger.

I didn’t set out to make readers wait three months for the conclusion of “Still Life,” a spinoff tale about Mia Bailey, a secondary DELIVER HER character who refused to give up the ghost.

But as it happened, life intervened—in the form of family demands, developmental edits for my next book, another go at NaNoWriMo. I’m grateful for your patience, and now present, to quote the late American radio host Paul Harvey, the rest of the story:

Synopsis of Parts 1 and 2: Mia Bailey weighs a troubling request from her imprisoned birth father while coping with her adoptive father’s obsession with a New Hampshire landmark. At this point, Mia’s faith in Camden Bailey’s crusade to save The Old Man of the Mountain had begun to crumble, much in the manner of Great Stone Face himself.

Conclusion:  STILL LIFE

Recalling our quiet drive home, I regret now I did not remind him that the Old Man of the Mountain did exist, etched on our license plates and road signs, onto both sides of the New Hampshire quarter. Granite State fourth graders proudly recited the legend of his caretakers, the list of literary works inspired by his curt jaw.

The evidence was all around us: a living, breathing civics lesson.

He didn’t often miss our family meal, but that night the society’s trustees would convene. As my mother chopped salad, I swung our conversation around, concocting an ethics class death penalty debate so I could ask her if God could forgive a sin like Felix Delgado’s.

Her face darkened, the blade striking butcher block like a gunshot. “Even God has limits, Mia. The only good that ever came from that man was you.”

Her position clear, I chose not to burden her, retreating to my studio to work on my next assignment, a still life. As the night burned, the mongoose’s ragged strokes on my canvas bore no resemblance to the tranquil fruit platter before me. So absorbed was I that at the sharp rap on the glass, my brush skidded off the canvas, leaving a great gash across my work like an open wound, the mongoose dropping to the stone floor.

My father’s appearance was a surprise; he rarely ventured down the steep path without checking first. A person deserves privacy, he said. Inside, he pushed past me, agitated, halting in front of my easel. “It’s over, Mia. The monument. The committee. Everything.” The society had voted to dissolve; no more fundraising, no visitors’ center, no 20-foot granite monolith. “People won’t put their faith in something they can’t see.”

I stroked the nubbly thermal of his arm, murmuring comforts. Though I ached for him, I understood. You couldn’t go back in time. Or change the past.

Sighing, he noticed the paintbrush on the floor and picked it up, cocking his head to study my painting. “This one doesn’t seem like you, Mia.”

I could only shrug. He was right; a stranger might have painted this piece.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, slinging an arm around me. “You’ll work it out. Whatever it is.”

“I’m trying.” It was hard to swallow, suddenly; the studio’s glass walls oppressed. Accepting the mongoose he offered, I rolled its wooden workhorse body between my palms. “Dad, I don’t know what to do.”

It was so easy to tell him about Felix Delgado and his demons. He stroked his chin as he listened. “Seems like the man wants to clear his conscience before he goes to his maker. A selfish thing to ask of a child.”

“I’m not a child.”

“You’re my child. But if you want to do this, I’m with you.” He suggested we visit the prison the next day.

And so it was decided. Removing the damp painting from the easel, I set a fresh canvas in its place. Studio lights dimmed, we climbed the rocky path back up to Swiftriver.

By three o’clock the next afternoon, most of Route 93 was behind us. We drove under a spring sky bruised purple, having made separate, tacit excuses to my mother, the visitors’ lot deserted when we arrived. Passing through the metal detector, I gave no thought to whether my pants swished or clung or violated in some other fashion. An officer shut us into a small windowless room with four folding chairs. We sat in two of them, my eyes drawn to the yellowed ceiling, where a rusty kidney-shaped stain threatened to bleed onto a neighboring tile.

When the door opened, I jumped. The caseworker introduced herself, then the balding prison chaplain behind her, the two dragging the remaining chairs to face us, leaving no place for Felix Delgado. My father cupped my knee territorially.

The caseworker turned to the chaplain. “So. Reverend, could you…”

“Of course.” He cleared his throat. “Miss Bailey, Mr. Bailey. I’ve been meeting with your—Mr. Delgado—for a few months now. I planned to bring him here today.” He ran a finger under his collar. “Sadly, when I arrived at Felix’s cell after lunch, he was…that is, he had already passed.”

Stricken, I turned to my father. “How could he…?”

“You should have let us know,” my father said.

The caseworker leaned forward. “You were on your way by then. I thought I should tell you in person.”

“Felix was quite comfortable at the end,” the chaplain added. “He didn’t suffer.”

“Is that so?” My father got to his feet. “I’d say we’re finished here, then.”

The chaplain jumped up. “There was also this.” He held out a worn mahogany bible, its spine reinforced with duct tape. “Felix wanted Maria to have it.” Numb, I took the book, flipping through its soft pages, past folded-down corners and scripture passages underlined in thick pencil, the motion causing some papers tucked inside to flutter to the floor. I knelt to collect them: a laminated Serenity Prayer; a yellowed clipping of an art award I won in high school; a rough-edged photograph of me as a toddler, birthday hat tipped rakishly, a womanly arm encircling my waist, a celebration I could not recall.

My father helped me to my feet and led me toward the door.

We were frisked at the exit. Felix Delgado’s bible made the cut. On the ride back to Swiftriver, his scripture balanced on my knees, it began to snow—a weighty, unseasonable blanket that threatened to reduce the delicate roadside blooms to a memory.

Back in my studio, my father fed the woodburning stove while I opened the bible to a heavily underlined passage from Luke: “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

I cried then, for the toddler in the birthday hat, mourning her lost embrace. My father stroked my hair, and I dried my tears on his shirt’s flannel comfort.

When I eventually looked up, a rare resignation etched his face. Remembering his loss, I intertwined my fingers in his.

“You did everything you could, Dad.”

“I wish I could have spared you that, Mia.”

“Not today, Dad. The Old Man. People won’t forget. They’ll visit. I’ll visit, too. Whenever you want.”

I kept that promise. That fall, on my first break from my New York studies, we drove to the scenic overlook. I peered into the viewfinder, squinting until the real and imagined on that distant notch became one; when finally, I perceived everything through his eyes.

The End

Read Part 1 of “Resurrecting a Darling”

Read Part 2 of “Resurrecting a Darling”