Judge Not…Unless, Of Course, You’re Invited To

Jury Duty: did having my own writing judged qualify me to sit in judgment of other authors?

Recently, I added about two dozen books to my ‘To Be Read’ pile. The funny thing is, many haven’t even been written yet.

Why, then, am I so keen to devour them?  Because I had the honor of being a guest judge as their authors pitched their book premise to The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry at last month’s Pitchapalooza event at the Jersey Shore.

Pitchapalooza, Jersey Shore style: More than 20 authors had 60 seconds to pitch their books to The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry and myself at the Brielle Library. The Book Doctors bill Pitchapalooza as “American Idol for Writers.”

And even though there could be only one winner (more on that in a bit), every writer had me at “My book is about…” Their ideas spanned genres: novels, YA, memoir, children’s books, self-help. Their subjects ran the gamut from childhood dyslexia to living with Crohn’s disease to caring for aging parents to teens aging out of foster care. Several pitches elicited tears from listeners.

Eckstut and Sterry have written the primer on shepherding your book to publication.

I knew well what was at stake for every nervous author who stood at that podium for that all-important minute. My 2012 Pitchapalooza win opened doors that led to the publication of my two novels, DELIVER HER (2016) and AT WAVE’S END (2017), by Lake Union Publishing.

Unfortunately, the clock ran out on some of the authors before they could completely articulate their book’s premise. But The Book Doctors kindly provided feedback on each pitch that authors could use to refine their submission for next time.

Ultimately, The Book Doctors chose Gerry Gribbon of Manalapan, N.J. as the night’s Pitchapalooza winner for his proposed book, “Soft Skills Shouldn’t Be So Hard,” about building strong personal brands. Gribbon said his book would detail the importance of soft skills such as communication, collaboration, teamwork, body language, eye language, handshakes and more.

And the winner! Gerry Gribbon (second from right) for his “Soft Skills Don’t Have to Be So Hard” self-help book pitch. The May 2018 event was sponsored by BookTowne of Manasquan.

Eckstut and Sterry commended the sales, marketing and leadership executive for his compelling subject, commanding presentation style and existing platform for book promotion, key elements publisher seek when evaluating new authors.

As the winner, Gribbon will be introduced to an agent or publisher most suited to his proposal to help guide him on his publishing path. He currently has an outline and framework for his self-help book.

Based on the passion of the night’s authors, I’m certain “Soft Skills” and many of the other stories pitched that night ultimately land on bookstore shelves. As for critiquing these fledgling writers, it was ironic and a little terrifying to be part of the jury. But long before winning Pitchapalooza, my writing had been judged A LOT…by agents, editors, publishers, readers. So I drew on that experience in the hopes of guiding these authors.

Read the winning stories, poems, essays and other submissions in the Summer 2018 American Writers Review.

Pitchapalooza wasn’t the first time I’d been asked to judge my fellow writers this year.  The publishers of the literary journal American Writers Review tapped me to critique fiction entries in its 2017-2018 contest. I read close to thirty stories, each one better than the one before.

Both judging experiences underscored for me the vast amount of untapped literary talent in the world, even in my own back yard. Congratulations to the winners, and to the rest of the competitors, KEEP WRITING and KEEP PITCHING. No matter how long it takes, your stories deserve to be told…and read!

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Book Cookies, Quilts and Facing My 12-Year-Old Self

Book Cookies…a book club that lives up to its name!

With a name like Book Cookies, this book club’s gathering to discuss AT WAVE’S END would obviously include a mouth-watering platter of those sweets. What I didn’t expect was a entire repast inspired by my second novel, from Mermaid Cocktails to Faith’s roasted vegetable soup to Maeve’s scones.

Book Cookies hostess Pam and I, then and now.

But books weren’t the only thing on the menu. Because my Book Cookies hostess was
also one of my grammar school classmates, there was also a good deal of reminiscing. On display was our eighth-grade class picture (the accompanying photos illustrate how well we’ve aged), as well as highlights from Girl Scout camping trips. Pam, her sister Carol (a year ahead of us in school) and our friend Nancy also grew up in the Girl Scout ranks. In honor of our many years of Scouting together, I presented her with a Book Lovers badge!

Carol displays her quilting handiwork.

It was an evening of stimulating discussion, laughs and memories. Pam and Carol are also master quilters, a skill handed down by their mother. One of Pam’s hangs on the wall behind us in the group picture, while Carol displays her handiwork separately. So much patience, talent and attention to detail reflected in every stitch of these beautiful pieces. Carol said it took about a year to make the quilt she’s holding…the same amount of time it took me to write AT WAVE’S END!

The Book Cookies book club. (Pam’s quilt hangs behind us.)

Grateful thanks to Pam and the Book Cookies for welcoming me and my book.

And for other book clubs out there…I love interacting with you, live or virtually! Check out my Book Club Q&As and instructions for arranging a phone, Skype or live visit.

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Mermaid Cocktail, anyone?
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Recreating Maeve’s welcome home table.
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Book and wine pairings…
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Pam, Carol, me and Nancy
Scones_Pam_bookclub
Sisters Pam and Carol interpret Maeve’s scones

 

Feb. 20 #LakeUnionAuthors Twitter Chat & Giveaway

Join 45+ Lake Union Authors during today’s all-day Twitter Chat.

Imagine an entire day (and evening) devoted to chatting about books and the writing life with dozens of authors. That’s the idea behind the second annual #LakeUnionAuthors Twitter Chat on Tuesday, February 20.

How to attend: To participate, all you have to do is hop on over to Twitter, search on the hashtag #LakeUnionAuthors, and jump into the conversation. (Be sure to refresh your page occasionally to stay current.)

The above image details the official Twitter Chat author line-up. But last year’s Twitter Party was so much fun, I expect authors will pop in and out all day!

I’ll be live from 7:30 to 9 PM EST along with my fellow Lake Union Authors Kerry Lonsdale, Nicola Marsh, Catherine McKenzie, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Susan Schoenberger, Lisa Steinke and Janis Thomas. Feel free to post questions to me @PatPDonovan or to any of the authors.

In honor of this epic event for book lovers, I’m giving away a signed copy of each of my Lake Union novels: my debut, DELIVER HER, and my latest release, AT WAVE’S END.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win one of my two Lake Union book babies.

To enter, leave your name and a comment below by MIDNIGHT PST FEBRUARY 20, 2018. I’ll pick two winners at random who will each win a copy. (U.S. only for print copies; I’ll happily substitute a Kindle version for winners outside of the United States.)

The winners will be announced in my March 2018 Readers Crew newsletter, along with my regular book updates. Not already a subscriber? Sign up here.

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.

P.S. If you’re on Facebook, check out the Lake Union Authors page. Authors take turns hosting each week, bringing you the latest book news and conversation!

Who Gives My Characters Their Voices? Q&A with Audiobook Narrator Teri Clark Linden

Audiobook narrator and actress Teri Clark Linden during a recording session.

When I’m not writing fiction, I work as a journalist, which means I can’t pass up a good interview opportunity. Earlier this year, as guest host of the Lake Union Authors page, I had a ‘behind the scenes’ chat with a key player in bringing novels to life: the audiobook narrator.

Teri Clark Linden, Audiobook Narrator/Actress, did a superb job narrating my second novel, AT WAVE’S END. She has also recorded a host of Lake Union titles.

Here are some highlights from our conversation, which ran the gamut from SpongeBob SquarePants to Katherine Hepburn:

PPD: Welcome, Teri. How did you first get into audiobook narration?

TCL: I began eight or nine years ago narrating for Assistive Media, a web site for the blind, which is something I still do today. Back then, there were no standards for narration (no one was teaching it, certainly), so I used my experiences from voicing over commercials and corporate narration, as well as performance and storytelling skills, to tell the story.

PPD: How do you prepare to narrate a book? Do you rehearse?

TCL: I end up reading each book entirely two times, sometimes three, including reading behind the microphone for narration. There’s no ‘rehearsal’ per se, but at times I find myself reading aloud passages, especially dialogue, as I initially go through a book. I highlight characters, words to look up and make notes.

PPD: What direction do you receive before and during audiobook narration, and from whom?

TCL: Some publishers provide me with a questionnaire where the author has communicated basic information related to characters, i.e., accents, background, etc. If I’m on-site for a publisher (like Brilliance Audio) there’s a director/engineer who preps the script as I do. He/she offers occasional feedback on pace, or stops me to re-record on the spot if I’ve made a mistake.

When I’m narrating from my recording booth at home, I wear all the hats; I’m creating the characters’ voices, performance and pace. I’m also researching and notating pronunciations and engineering as I narrate, ‘punch-editing’ my mistakes as I go along, stopping and starting recording. At the studio or in-home, it’s all about serving the story and hopefully performing it as the author envisioned it.

PPD: Please share one funny outtake or experience that occurred during book narration.

TCL: I was once stopped during narration by a director and told to go back because I misread a sentence. Turned out even though my eyes read the words, “…fell on her behind…,” I ended up saying, “…fell on her butt.” It always amazes me the mistakes I make – what my eyes read and what my brain translates and I say!

It’s also funny during romance narration to be stopped by a male engineer or director behind the glass. For example, he’ll tell me, “Okay, let’s pick it up from, ‘caresses her soft peaks,’” or something like that. Another benefit from narrating from home!

PPD: I’ll remember that the next time I read a romance novel! You’ve narrated books in a wide range of genres. Do you have a favorite genre to narrate?

TLC: I really don’t. I know some narrators prefer or think they are better in one genre than another. I like them all, though some subject matter will sometimes be more interesting to me than others. Whatever the genre, I try to do my best with each narration.

PPD:  Since you frequently record in your at-home studio, please set that scene for us.

TCL: Ha, ha! When I’m narrating romance scenes, I like to joke I’m like the woman in curlers in that sexy rock music video, ironing in the basement while on the phone. You’re thinking all along she’s this sexy, gorgeous person.

In reality, I’m in a soundproof booth in my office about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth. I’m usually in shorts and a tee shirt, with no make-up, glasses on, hair disheveled, and sometimes saying things between two people in a story I’d only be ever cast to say! My microphone and monitor, keyboard, mouse and iPad sit atop a Spongebob Squarepants blanket, which covers an Ethan Allen vanity table that was my Nana’s. Too specific?

PPD: Not at all. In fact, you’ve pretty much described the way I look when I write! You’re the sole narrator for my latest book, AT WAVE’S END, which has a large cast of characters. How do you distinguish different characters during narration?

TCL: As I read the book for the first time, more often than not characters begin to remind me of people, or of other actors’ performances. That’s usually the first step in my approach to voicing characters for audiobook narration. The protagonist is always me (some version of me, depending on age) and there’s always the “third person narrator” character – me, but more vanilla. (That’s the person who says, “she said.”)

PPD: How long does it take for you to narrate, say, a 350-page novel?

TCL: Every narrator is different, but when recording from my home studio, it’s about two hours of recording for every one finished hour. When someone else is engineering and all I have to do is read, it goes a little faster, and also depends on the material. A page usually comes in at around 90 seconds, but that varies. There’s a formula for estimating this because the casting or publisher who assigns me books can always tell me the number of finished hours based on the pages, and it’s generally right on!

At home I tend to work six hours (generating three per finished hours) and on-site a bit more because, again, I’m only narrating. A 350-page book usually takes around ten hours, which would take me three to four recording days at home to complete.

PPD: How difficult are accents?

TCL: Regarding accents, my teacher Pat Fraley says, “Don’t die trying,” meaning don’t focus so much on accuracy that the meaning and story get lost. I think that sums up audiobook narration: “Tell the story, but don’t die trying.”

PPD: That’s very good advice for writers, too. Which genre you like to read in your spare time, and in what format?

TCL: I like print best and have books all over the house with bookmarks in them! Genre depends on the mood; every couple of years I revisit all my Katharine Hepburn autobiographies and biographies during winter months, reading them in the morning. Sometimes plays, sometimes historical fiction or inspiration. Reading for audiobook narration, I am lucky to read so many different genres and titles I otherwise wouldn’t ever probably stumble across.

PPD: Has narration affected your personal book selection?

TCL: No, but it has broadened (and continues to broaden) my vocabulary and general education. I’ve become genuinely interested in some topics I’ve narrated, and am at times incredulous at my lack of awareness. For example, thinking about being a homeless woman in the United States, or coping with the unavailability of women’s sanitary products, a problem highlighted in a book I’m currently narrating. That book addresses not only women and menstruation in the United States but globally.

PPD: I think the best books are those that open our eyes to something new. Teri, thanks so much for guiding us into the world of audiobook narration. We will be listening for you!

Readers, find out more about Teri at tericlarklinden.com or connect with her on Facebook at Teri Clark Linden.

After Hurricane Sandy, Cooking Up Comfort, One Soup at a Time

This roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup is one of more than seventy dishes featured in AT WAVE’S END.

Many readers have noted that AT WAVE’S END overflows with food—more than 70 dishes prepared by two chefs between its covers. That’s because when Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast five years ago today, the event that inspired this novel, cooking was my community’s visceral reaction. Those of us unscathed couldn’t magically rebuild hundreds of homes ruined by sand and ocean water, replace treasured possessions, or relieve financial woes.

We could, however, prepare simple food, and lots of it, so survivors and responders would have one less worry on their plates.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed this same reaction after deadly storms in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Our town knows all too well the very long and tortured paths survivors of these disasters will tread.

Early on, a request went out in our town for soups. The November weather had turned sharply colder at the Jersey shore, and soups could easily be transported to the battered beachfront. Once the area was deemed safe, residents were allowed to salvage what they could of their flooded possessions while the National Guard patrolled to keep looters at bay.

Like many others, I responded to this call, preparing batches of hearty soups like pasta y fagiole and the hearty roasted vegetable soup featured in this post. It wasn’t much, but by cooking, we felt that we were at least meeting a basic need at a time when so many lives had been upended.

For the next few weeks, volunteers drove up and down the beachfront, ladling soup and serving sandwiches and baked goods from their cars. At the same time, several churches in town opened their doors and began serving breakfast and dinner. As post-storm recovery limped along, these meals offered structure for survivors, a chance to gather and compare notes on families, housing, insurance, government assistance, contractors. Functioning as daily support groups, these communal meals continued long after most had found at least temporary shelter and could conceivably cook for themselves. I plan to write a separate post about those special meals, and the volunteers behind them.

These ongoing contributions served as the inspiration for Faith’s actions in AT WAVE’S END in the aftermath of fictional Hurricane Nadine. Because food played such a crucial role in post-Sandy recovery and healing, I granted it equal billing in my book, allowing Faith and David, two chefs with wildly different styles, free rein in the kitchen of The Mermaid’s Purse. Each came to the inn after suffering the loss of a restaurant at Nadine’s hands. Their presence, along with the irrepressible Connie and a cast of unlikely boarders, transformed that rundown bed-and-breakfast into a shelter for storm survivors.

Now, as my beach town reluctantly bids farewell to an extra-long “Locals Summer,” I plan to share a number of dishes from AT WAVE’S END, starting with this Roasted Red Pepper and Sweet Potato Soup. This Donovan family favorite is the dish that launches Faith and David’s, shall we say, ‘collaboration,’ both in and out of the kitchen.

Prepare, enjoy and, most importantly, share this dish in good health—along with a crusty baguette, a crisp green salad and your heartiest red wine. (Note: David adds his own secret ingredient to this soup, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is!)

Roasted Red Pepper and Sweet Potato Soup

INGREDIENTS

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dash crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried parsley
6-8 cups vegetable broth

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine sweet potato, red pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, and parsley. Toss to coat. Season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread in an even layer on each prepared baking sheet.

3. Roast in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, rotating the baking sheets, until the vegetables are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally. Remove from the oven and let cool for several minutes.

4. Working in batches, puree vegetables with vegetable broth in blender or food processor until smooth. (You can add up to a cup of water for a thinner consistency.) Pour mixture into a large pot and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste with crushed red pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm.

Serves 8-10.

(Adapted from ahintofhoney, which first adapted it from Canadian Living)

Order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

Roadmap to a Poem: Reluctant Verses from My LOVE Galaxy

The nearest thing to poetry I’ve penned in the last twenty-five years is a set of lyrics for the fictional band Amphibian in my first novel, DELIVER HER. So why embarrass myself by sharing my primitive efforts from a recent poetry workshop I attended?

Because to my surprise, this workshop broke down my resistance. The exercise illustrated that no matter how I define (and therefore constrict) myself as an artist, if I open my mind to a process, I can stretch my creative muscles in directions I never imagined.

(I should know this. I finally began to write fiction after decades of only writing about real things, like software and healthcare.)

Walking into the workshop led by visiting poet Carmen Alicia Murguia, I hadn’t intended to write a single line of poetry. As a member of the Jersey Shore Writers, which sponsored the event, I planned to observe from the sidelines, snap a few photos and serve cake to starving artists.

Step 1: FREE-FLOW.

Carmen opened the workshop by announcing its theme: LOVE, inspired by the wedding she attended the day before. I groaned inwardly. It wasn’t love I objected to, but a writing prompt. Something about a pre-ordained subject paralyzes my creative juices. I leaned against the back wall, secure in my exclusion.

But then Carmen began to describe the transformative role of poetry in her life, sharing some lines she had written only that morning. Before long, her engaging manner and passion for her craft disarmed me. I slipped into an empty seat, pulling the notebook I just happened to have with me from my bag.

Step 2: LOVE MAP.

As a warmup, Carmen asked us to spend a few minutes doing free-flow writing, writing continuously about love, without pausing to self-edit. I wrote haltingly, worried that the sort of love that preoccupied me these days wasn’t the magical, romance novel variety that had inspired poets through the ages but rather a timeworn love for an ailing or aging partner.

 

How would I translate a love that doesn’t shout from the rooftops but rather murmurs words of comfort, into verse?

Carmen would soon show me.

Next, she instructed us to turn to a clean page and write the word “LOVE” at its center. Over the few minutes, we were to surround that hub with all of the things that we loved, from the simple to the sublime. Around me, participants scribbled industriously. I could do this, I thought. I relaxed into the exercise, and before long, an array of pleasures, from husband and family to crisp sheets and Shivasana, radiated from my page’s nucleus.

Maybe poetry wasn’t so painful after all!

Step 3: From that diagram, Carmen asked us to extract several elements and create a haiku. I stared at my LOVE galaxy, wondering which would suit that genre’s three-line rhythm: five syllables, seven syllables, then five again. I played with some, then others, and then suddenly, perhaps because I am on the horizon of a new writing project, I came up with this:

Step 3: HAIKU, with all its warts.

Possibilities
No plans, new page, a sunrise
The future beckons.

I set my pen down to signal I was done. When my turn came, I shared it with the group. Once everyone finished, we applauded, marveling at how much love we each had managed to cram into seventeen syllables.

To close, we would compose an ode to love. Odious, I thought to myself, far from a place at that moment where I could enthuse over or exalt love. At that moment, love and I weren’t on the best of terms. Actually, I hated love. Love was taking all, and then some, from those around me. That day, I needed to put love in its place.

Flipping back on my free-flow expression for inspiration, I managed a few lines:

Oh, Love.
When new, you are so easy, so effortless.
You fill all the spaces.
That satisfies for a time.
But then, complacent, you tease and test,
To measure bonds.
You’re tough, love.

I’m not sure how anyone will interpret that. But that’s the wonderful thing about poetry. It doesn’t have to mean anything, except to you.

Author Cone of Uncertainty: When Life Imitates Art Imitating Life

A pair of hurricanes bookended the launch of AT WAVE’S END.

Waves of doubt washed over me.

It’s one thing to write a book inspired by a hurricane that happened five years ago. That window of time permits a certain amount of healing and perspective. It’s quite another to introduce that newly published novel during the calm between two killer storms.

That’s the quandary I found myself in recently while preparing to introduce my second novel, AT WAVE’S END, at BookTowne, my Jersey shore bookstore. On the one hand, I had earned the right to celebrate this career milestone, and my far-flung family had traveled far to be at my side.

On the other, on that August night, Texas and Lousiana continued to reel from Hurricane Harvey’s impact, while the Caribbean, Florida and regions north girded for the future wrath of Hurricane Irma.

I decided I could not proceed without first acknowledging the pain of the millions in harm’s way. Here are the words I shared at the outset of that evening:

As far as the book I’m talking about tonight, most of you know it’s a story about a hurricane. I’m going to read an excerpt from it in a minute, but before I do that, I want to admit that it’s a bit surreal for me to stand here and talk about my new book in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the devastation and overwhelming loss happening in Texas and Louisiana. We’ve all seen the images, and we’ve cried over them, because as a community, we understand. Quite literally, we’ve been in the same boat.

These are horrors many of us experienced with Hurricane Sandy five years ago—if not first-hand, than as a member of a community struck down by the storm. Many in our area are still rebuilding.

Already, there are comparisons of Hurricane Harvey’s impact to that of Sandy’s, or to Katrina’s from twelve years ago. The reality is that the storm’s toll probably won’t be known for years. And the toughest losses, the emotional ones, don’t come with a price tag.

What we do know is that survivors of Harvey have a very long road ahead of them.

If there is one thing from this disaster, and from the ones before, that we can take heart in, it is the generosity of the countless first responders and Good Samaritans who came to their neighbors’ rescue…some from across the street, and some from across the country.

We saw that compassion here, in the days and months after Sandy. Yes, there always will be those that will take advantage of the vulnerable, but these selfless gestures give us hope and restore our faith in mankind… at a time when we sorely need it.

So, yes, AT WAVE’S END is about a hurricane. A hurricane that feels a lot like Sandy did. It HAS to, because I started writing this book during the storm. Thanks to a friend of mine, I had this idea about a woman who wins a bed and breakfast in an essay contest. And as this book gelled in my head, it felt like Connie Sterling WOULD be the ideal innkeeper for the rag-tag Mermaid’s Purse at the Jersey shore… with a little help from her daughter Faith, as usual.

More than the hurricane’s devastation, I wanted AT WAVE’S END to capture the resilience of a community in the wake of tragedy—with a little suspense, mother-daughter drama, romance and loads of delicious food thrown in for good measure.

Fred and June: The Breakfast That Nourished AT WAVE’S END

A simple meal delivered by a young boy in time of need provided crumbs for a novel.

As I explained in my opening post in this series on the journey to AT WAVE’S END, many elements contrived to inspire this story.

The most powerful was Hurricane Sandy, which struck in 2012. I was polishing a draft of DELIVER HER at the time, but as our shore community reeled from the blow, the resiliency of individuals and businesses impacted by the storm struck me. I found their experiences so compelling that I set aside book one to capture them, sometimes as fiction.

“Fred and June” is the first such short story I wrote.

Later, some of these characters showed up in AT WAVE’S END in one form or another, knocking on the door of the fictional bed and breakfast The Mermaid’s Purse. (But did Fred, June or Spence? You’ll have to read the book to find out.)

As August 15 release day rapidly approaches, I wanted to share the seminal story that fed my second novel. An early version appeared online in Page & Spine in 2014 as a runner-up in its ‘Breakfast’-themed writing contest. (This was the first time I was paid for my fiction!)

The Bookends Review published the story two years later.

I hope you enjoy this humble beginning to AT WAVE’S END.

Fred and June

I didn’t want to go that day, but my mother said we were lucky and had to give back. I was fine with just being lucky, but she was feeling all do-goody and dragged me to the church where they were handing out cleaning supplies and clothes and old people in World’s Best Grandma sweatshirts were drinking coffee and telling kids to keep it down. In the kitchen, a lady loaded our summer cooler with hot food coming off a big silver stove.

We were runners, she told us; our job was to deliver meals to the beach, where the storm had hit hardest. At the barricade, I thought it was cool when the National Guard checked off our names and waved us through, but my mother didn’t think it was a list you wanted to be on. These people are in a bad way, she said, driving slow around curbside mountains of trash. “How’d you like to throw out everything you own?” she asked.

I was too busy holding my breath to answer; our car stank from the egg sandwiches in the back. I thought I was just keeping her company until we got to a small white house boxed in by walls of sand, its front door sprayed with a bright orange X. My mother double-checked her paper. “That’s it. 44. Fred and June.” From the back seat she stuffed egg sandwiches, bananas and bottled waters into a plastic bag and shoved it toward me. “Go on.”

I exhaled in protest. “Why do I have to…”

“Don’t argue with me, Spence. These poor people lost everything. And Spence: be polite.”

I was so annoyed I forgot to be nervous. Fred answered the door. He was old—my grandpa old—wearing layers of clothes against the cold: pants tucked into thick white socks that came halfway to his knees, a plaid scarf wrapped around his neck.

I tried to hand him the food at the door and go, but Fred made me come inside. Behind him, in the living room, sparks shot from logs crackling in the fireplace. “What’s your name, son?”

When I told him, he rustled through coffee table newspapers for a scrap of paper, writing down my name with a stubby pencil from his pocket.

In the kitchen, Fred had a saucepan going on every burner, a three-ring circus. “Say hello to June, Spencer.” I raised my hand to the lady at the table. Lit by the sun as she was, June might have been an angel. Everything about her shimmered: snowy hair, pale skin, white nightgown.

“June doesn’t go out any more.” Fred juggled saucepans, pouring this and that on a dish and setting it in front of June, whose clenched hands stayed on her lap. Jumping around the way he was, I was afraid Fred’s scarf would catch fire. In the car, after I said goodbye, I worried he’d forget and leave a burner going.

The next morning, I was in the car before my mother, ducking when she tried to ruffle my hair. I hopped out at number 44, holding my breath until Fred opened the door, taking the day’s offering from me: homemade blueberry muffins, orange juice, hot chicken soup my mother ladled into plastic containers. Fred remembered my name: “Look, June. Spencer’s back.” June, still shimmering by her window, turned to look at me, cocking her head, trying to place me.

School opened again after a couple of weeks. I could only go with my mother on weekends. By then, there were only a few volunteers left at the church. The food they gave us to deliver was store-bought: granola bars, boxes of juice. That Saturday at the beach, a front loader clawed through the sand walls between houses. When I knocked on Fred and June’s door, no one answered. Around the side, I peeked into the kitchen window. Two saucepans sat on Fred’s stove.

Months later, after the soldiers left, I rode my bike up to the beach. I pedaled up and down twice, checking the numbers to be sure I hadn’t made a mistake. All that remained of 44 was a rubbled lot.

Please stay with me on this journey to AT WAVE’S END August 15 release day. I still have a few great memories to share. If you’re not already receiving these updates, please join my regular readers by using the “Subscribe” form to the right.

Missed part one in my “Why Did You Write This Book?” series? Read it here.

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

Why Did I Write AT WAVE’S END? Good Question

My AT WAVE’S END manuscript as a work-in-progress this time last year, on my way to our daughter’s wedding.

A common query for an author during a book’s launch and beyond is “What inspired this book?”

But for many writers, including myself, the ‘story behind the story’ is not always a simple one.

Such is the case with AT WAVE’S END, my second novel releasing August 15. As I’ve come to learn about my writing process after a grand total of two novels, my books tend to originate not from a single idea but rather from a patchwork, or waves (go ahead and insert groan here) of catalogued impressions. These impressions derive from an experience, an overhead conversation, a news story, a found object–each of which I explore thoroughly in my writing.

Eventually, a pair of these, or perhaps three or four, gravitate toward one another, eventually gelling into a novel premise. The rest I store away for future use.

I’ve already described one of AT WAVE’S END’s influences: a “Win A House” essay contest. In my next few posts, I’ll share some other elements that helped to shape AT WAVE’S END: a seminal short story written during a disaster’s aftermath, soul food, an unfortunate bed-and-breakfast stay, holiday cheer for the beleaguered from a flock of spirited volunteers.

I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey to AT WAVE’S END August 15 release day. If you’re not already receiving these updates, please join my regular readers by using the “Subscribe” form to the right.

Read Part 2 of the journey, “Fred and June: The Breakfast That Nourished AT WAVE’S END.”
Pre-order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

Q&A: Organizing Guru Mary Carlomagno Tests Fiction Waters with Debut Novel

Mary Carlomagno, a bestselling author, organizer, speaker and spokesperson specializing in helping individuals and groups embrace simplicity in everyday life, recently penned her first novel.
I first met bestselling author, organizer and speaker Mary Carlomagno in the seventies, when she was an adorable toddler and I an awkward adolescent. Our families belonged to the same Central Jersey pool club, where we spent long days (and the rare evening) swimming, playing and picnicking. Each day, our mothers would set up their circle of lawn chairs in a grassy corner where they could monitor our comings and goings from the picnic area to the pool. One summer, Mary’s mother Millie patiently taught me to knit and crochet.

Fast-forward forty-five years or so, when Mary and I virtually bumped into each other over at We Heart Writing, where she describes overcoming the fear of writing her first novel, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE (Post Hill Press, June 2017).

Mary graciously agreed to take a walk down memory lane, compare organizing closets to the chaos of writing fiction, and chat about her debut novel.

PPD: I’m so happy to have you here, Mary. Let’s dive in, shall we? For my family and many others in our neighborhood, our summers revolved around the pool club. I still remember our member number (602), teen “splash parties” at twilight, and passing our coolers through the cutout in the fence to the picnic area. What do you recall about those summers?

Greenbrook Swim Club, where the Carlomagno and Perry families spent many summers.
Mary Carlomagno: I remember being carefree and just having pure fun with my friends. My favorite memories include when we would stay late enough to order pizza from Mr. Assante’s. We would wait for the pool lights to come on, and then we would wash our hair with Herbal Essences shampoo and throw on a terrycloth romper. They were simpler times and memories that lasted a lifetime!

PPD: They absolutely have. And now rompers are back in fashion! In recent years, you’ve made quite a name for yourself as an organizer. For those who may be meeting you for the first time, how did structure and organization become your passion? Did you grow up in an organized household?

Mary Carlomagno: I am very structured and organized naturally and I thought that everyone had that innate ability. As you know, growing up in a larger family, it’s important for the kids to be as organized as the parents. And my mom, as you know, was very disciplined with us and created a healthy structure. Many of the habits she taught me as a child still stick today, like being consistent with cleaning up and leaving things where you know you will find them again.

PPD: You’ve written three books about trying to live a simpler life. What is the most difficult challenge your clients face in trying to attain that goal?

Mary Carlomagno: Most of my clients struggle with the everyday buildup of kids’ homework, outgrown clothing and scheduling. I think there is a tendency today to overdo, to over-schedule and oftentimes to buy too much. Organizing is a daily ritual that must be practiced like other common routines: think exercise, eating right, walking the dog, etc…

PPD: That’s such good advice. How do you apply those organizational strategies to your writing? What does leading a ‘simple life’ mean to a writer? How do you know what to save and what to discard?

Mary Carlomagno: Writing is more about creating chaos that needs to be organized. When I write, I write in a frenzied flow, just getting the words down creatively first. I know I can go back and edit later. That’s where my organizing skills come in the most handy, because organizing is really all about editing.

PPD: I probably already know the answer to this, but when it comes to writing, are you a plotter or a ‘seat of the pants’ writer? Is your approach the same for fiction and non-fiction?

Mary Carlomagno: I approach writing as a bit of a chaos creator. I like to flow in the process, not to be too critical. It’s more important for me to get the words down and pretty them up later.

PPD: After three non-fiction books, you made the leap to fiction this year with your debut novel, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE. Tell us what prompted you to do this. Was this your ‘novel in a drawer?’

Mary Carlomagno: I had written BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE after my first book and quickly shelved it. I was afraid! My husband finally encouraged me to get the book out of hiding, after I wrote two more organizing books. I was also doing a ton of private client work and wanted to do something more creative with my writing. They say write what you know and for years, I did that. In many ways, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE is the culmination of all my learnings up until this point as it touches on my early career in book publishing and tackles the crazy world of self-help, where I have been immersed for over ten years.

PPD: The main character in your novel is an organizer of sorts, only in this case she is organizing people. She accidentally stumbles into a career as a professional best friend, by helping friends and strangers straighten out whatever is wrong with their lives. Was that theme intentional?

Mary Carlomagno: The theme was intentional as it draws directly from personal experience! I have had many clients that do want company and someone to ‘hand-hold’ them through the process. I worked in New York City for many years and that can be a very isolating experience for some.

PPD: How does the audience for your novel differ from that of your non-fiction books? Do you have crossover fans?

Mary Carlomagno: This book has brought a new audience, including some that do not know about the non-fiction books, which has been nice! The key thing about the novel is that it be entertaining. I wanted to create a book that makes people laugh and escape for a few hours!

PPD: What’s next on the horizon?

Mary Carlomagno: I am working on selling the option to the movie for BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE. And I still do organizing spokesperson work and workshops, which will continue. I am thinking about the next step for Jesse DeSalvo as well. We usually go hand in hand!

Sounds like things are going swimmingly, Mary! It’s been delightful to reconnect, and I wish you all the best with BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE.

Connect with Mary Carlomagno on Order, Period; her Facebook Author Page; her BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE Facebook page; and onInstagram.