Monday, October 30, 2017

More on knitting

I have been knitting a lot lately, which I always do when I am trying to figure something out--be it literary or life related. A cowl for Annabelle using hellical stripes (I'm addicted to this striping technique!". Mitts from a Churchmouse Yarn pattern. Finishing that airplane shawl (also Churchmouse Yarns). And contemplating what to knit with the gorgeous yarn I bought in McKinney, inspired by the colors of Texas, like bluebonnets and--the color I bought--denim and boots. I can't even begin to tally the obstacles knitting has seen me through, from the enormous loss of Grace to insomnia and the falling apart of my marriage to all the birthdays and anniversaries of Grace's death that I had to get through somehow. One stitch at a time.

This past Saturday I had the great honor to speak in Arlington Virginia through Project Knitwell, an organization:

founded in 2010 by Carol Caparosa, a DC-area mom, as a result of her experience with knitting as a tool for coping with stress when her daughter was a pediatric patient at MGUH many years before. 

Volunteers go to hospitals to teach patients and families of patients how to knit, as well as teaching at risk kids and others who need the transformative power of knitting to get through every day. Please check out their website  and if you are a knitter in the DC area they can always use another pair of hands, or many other skills to help them accomplish their goal. Even if you're not in the DC area, I think you'll like what you see there.

It is cold and blustery here today, after a big rainstorm last night. Finally, autumn. My thoughts have turned to yarn and knitting. What are you making? 

Monday, October 23, 2017

McKinney Texas, Breadloaf, and other wonderful things

I am on my last gasp of this book tour for the paperback of The Book That Matters Most and Morningstar: Growing Up With Books. Both of these books, one a novel and the other a memoir, celebrate reading and the way literature can shape us, inspire us, guide us, and even save us. I have so loved talking to so many fellow readers about my own favorite books and writing and reading in general!

Last week I had the great fortune to visit McKinney Texas where The Book That Matters Most was chosen as the Read Across McKinney selection. As anyone who follows me here or on social media knows, I spend a lot of time on the road, and I have many many wonderful adventures and meet many many wonderful people. My visits to Savannah and Minneapolis are two recent examples of such memorable experiences with unforgettable people.

Now let me gush about McKinney Texas. I have not spent a lot of time in Texas, except visits to my niece in Houston over the years and a crazy Pulpwood Queen Weekend in Nacadochies last year. So when I flew into Dallas' Love Field I didn't know what to expect. I was met by Gail and Jo, two of the most fun women I've had the pleasure to spend a few days with. We drove through old leafy neighborhoods until the highway was clear, Gail and Jo telling me how they ended up here and pointing out the sites along the way. The best site was historic McKinney itself, with a restores town square built around the courthouse and lined with unique shops and restaurants. (they told me to get a sandwich at patina Green before I left, and the ham and cheese with peach jelly on jalapeno bread was the envy of everyone on my flight home!) I stayed at the historic Grand Hotel, with its dark wood and cowboy paintings. Rick's Chophouse in the hotel served up the best fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and pepper gravy I've had in a long while. I had the spinach salad both nights it was so good--warm bacon dressing? yes, please!

But it was the people who made this trip so special. Jo and Gail, Karen and JoAnn, Chris and everyone else who fed me, drove me, made me laugh, introduced me to new books, and made me fall in love with McKinney. It might look easy from the outside, all of this traveling around and talking to people. But writers are introverts at heart, and sometimes it is downright exhausting. Sometimes it feels like I cannot think of one more thing of any importance to say. Sometimes I wish I were home with my cats and Annabelle and my husband, playing cards and cooking dinner. But then I go to someplace like McKinney, with people like these people, and I am simply glad for my good fortune in getting to travel around and see a bit of the world and the wonderful people in it who love books.

Fitting that I go straight from McKinney to Breadloaf, the place that changed my life so long ago, that let me know that I was indeed a writer. My husband picked me up at Logan and we drove the 3+ hours to Vermont, listening to John Updike's Maples stories on tape and discussing each one as it finished. We arrived too late to see anyone else, so happily settled into my favorite room there, Birch 104, and had whiskeys and breathed in the autumn Vermont air. The weekend was a send off to my dear friend Michael Collier, retiring after many years as director and changing the heart and soul of this esteemed place. There is nothing quite like walking across its green grass and seeing all the yellow houses and Adirondack chairs, catching bits of conversation about the writing life as you pass other writers. We ate and drank and talked into the night and the next morning, where we made pots of coffee for old friends and drank them on rocking chairs on the porch, with scones and such good cheer. I look forward to the next phase in Breadloaf's life, a place that is part of me.

From Breadloaf we had lunch in Ripton with old friends Rick and Molly Hawley. Soup and chicken salad sandwiches after Bloody Mary's on their back porch, watching ladybugs and listening to the river moving over rocks. Then on to Burlington where I am giving a luncheon talk to the New England Library Association today. A bumpy entry yesterday afternoon because we waited almost two hours for our room at the Sheraton here. But we drank Manahttans and played cards and my husband helped ease my crankiness. So did watching two episodes of American Vandal and laughing hard, then meeting friends for the most delicious middle eastern food at Honey Land downtown.

I admit to being tired from being on the road, but tonight we will be back in NYC, and Wednesday I will be back at the loft happily with Annabelle and the girls after this longish stretch away. Annabelle and I are going to DC this weekend for a knitting event. And we are just a week away from our yearly trip to Tuscany, where writers will come for workshops and wine, food and conversation, and to breathe in all that makes that place so magical. There I will get some restorative time, and am so excited that Sam is joining us too. Family, food, and literature. In Italy. Sounds pretty divine.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Hapoy birthday, John Lennon. As a kid I memorized Beatles facts, like their birthdays. And I never forgot them. When my editor at Penguin asked if I had an idea for a YA book for their new imprint, Penguin Workshop, I asked myself what was the thing I wanted when I was 10 that I couldn't have. My answer came fast: to meet Paul McCartney. And in that moment my character Trudy Mixer was born. I hope you will love Trudy and SHE LOVES YOU (YEAH YEAH YEAH) when it comes out next June. I loved writing this novel, loved returning to 1966 and a girl who loves The Beatles more than anything.

Imagine is a good title for this post--well, it's always a good thing!--because I've been doing a lot of imagining lately. I finished my food memoir, writing essays and recipes with wild abandon. I write a 39 page (gasp!) short story.

My husband and I are imagining how our NYC apartment will look when our renovations are done. Yet another wild coincidence about our lives is that for years he had an apt in NYC on W 12th St and I had one on Bethune St, literally around the corner from each other. Now I do miss my funky bright sublet with its Italian tiles, subterranean bedroom, and Glenwood stove. But we are working on bringing light and color into W 12th St, as well as reconfiguring the space so we can entertain, which we both miss sorely. In the Providence loft we do it all the time, but we are eager to cook for our NYC friends too. Hopefully after Christmas the apartment will be done and we can have our first NYC dinner party. Imagine!

Annabelle and I had a fantastic weekend together in Mallorca. I had never been before, but I will certainly return. Gorgeous, rugged scenery. Great food and wine. And we stayed at the most wonderful hotel, La Residencia, that you have to stay in if you go.

Then I flew to Toronto to see Sam and What Will The Neighbors Say perform both The Untitled Shape Show and The Diana Tapes. Talk about imagine! These creative, intelligent, hardworking young people are creating theater around the world. Making their dreams come true. I admit I cry whenever I see their plays--from Edinburgh Fringe Festival to off Broadway and now in Toronto. Proud mama, yes. But also as one artist to other artists.

And I'm honored and delighted to tell you that my essay, "Imagine" was selected as one of the top 100 essays of 2016. It's part of my true crime column for The Normal School (you may remember my essay on "Abington Square" for them was chosen in2015).

So thank you John Lennon for reminding us all to Imagine. We are. We will.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Newport MFA

I could not be more tickled and honored to be launching the low residency Newport MFA program at Salve Regina university! Many years ago I was asked to come on board to help develop this wonderful program, and now it is a reality. It is so fulfilling to see something take shape from a small but vibrant seed and grow into a real MFA program.

We have rounded up an incredible faculty in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young adult. And we have lined up guest writers that will dazzle all of our students and of course the public, who will be invited to all of our events.

 If you have ever dreamed of finishing your novel or starting your memoir or just becoming a better writer, maybe it is time to take the next step? I am attaching the link here for more information, if you are interested. But you can always send me a face book message  to let me know you are interested. I do hope you will join us next year. Our first residency is in June 2018. How exciting to be part of the very first class of the Newport MFA!

Thursday, September 7, 2017


I'm so delighted that my little memoir celebrating books and reading and the magic of literature is out in the world! It covers my high school years when I read books--from Dr. Zhivago to The Bell Jar, Love Story to The Grapes of Wrath, and of course Marjorie Morningstar--to figure out to live the life I dreamed of living. The reception has been so loving and warm, and it's lovely to be out on the road sharing it with people across the country.

Today I'm writing to you from Excelsior, Minnesota on the banks of Lake Minnetonka where I'm honored to be a part of a dynamite group of writers appearing at Literature Lovers Night Out (here last night, in Stillwater tonight). Gabrielle Zevin, JT Ellison, Eleanor Brown and I are talking to a few hundred people about the writing life and our books. We had a great time last night, and I'm looking forward to another terrific night tonight.

After a weekend in Cleveland with my darling husband, I take the stage 6:00 at the Contemporary Theatre on Main Street in my old stomping grounds of Wakefield RI. September 13 finds me on beautiful Block Island at the library at 7PM, then on to one of my favorite bookstores, Gibson's in Concord NH at 7PM on the 14th.

I'm thrilled that Michael and I were both invited to appear at The Provincetown Literary Festival on Saturday September 16. Is there anything as beautiful as Provincetown in September?

On Sunday September 17 I'm at my beloved Newtonville Books at 2.

A brief break before appearing at An Unlikely Story, the fantastic bookstore in Plainville MA (minutes from us in RI) at 7PM, and then also with Michael a anniversary celebration for another favorite bookstore, Titcomb's, at the Daniel Webster Inn in Sandwich at noon on September 27.

I must share my experience in Savannah as the speaker for the author's series through the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home. This honor included a private tour of the house by the fabulous Cody, who had Annabelle as riveted as we were. Like so many writers, Flannery O'Connor has had a huge impact on me and my writing. Her stories, of course, but also her letters and essays collected in The Habit of Being and Mysteries and Manners. What an honor it was to do this talk! And we loved walking around beautiful Savannah and eating dinner at The Grey, a restaurant in the old Greyhound bus station. Read about why its so important in this NYT piece:

We got up early to hightail it to Milledgeville and Andalusia Farms where O'Connor lived out her too short life, only to find it not only closed, but surrounded by barbed wire to keep out people like us who would have jumped the gate just to see it. We did find her grave and I was moved to see that people leave pens there. After some pretty good BBQ, we went to the Decatur Literary Festival, a favorite of mine, for three panels and a great dinner with Joyce Maynard at The Kimball House. Actually, we had lots of great meals, including at my favorite The Iberian Pig (bacon infused bourbon? yes, please!)

Thank you for reading Morningstar: Growing Up With Books, and for coming to any events in your area.

For my knitters out there, I am closing in on my Airplane Shawl, ever so slowly! It takes a lot of knitting! But it is just gorgeous, and I can't wait to wrap myself in it soonish. I ordered a pattern and yarn from Churchmouse Yarns on Bainbridge Island as my reward for finishing. The pattern for Soft washed Herringbone Mitts (fulled rather feted) in Isager's Spinni Wool 1. I got it in Dusty teal.

Just got addicted to Ann Cleeves Shetland mysteries. Wow! I guess I'm on a Scottish writer kick because I just loved Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Two words: Read it!

Time to turn my attention to the copy edits of my new YA novel, She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah), Coming out from Penguin next June!

Happy knitting! Happy Reading! Happy September!

Monday, August 28, 2017

"When summer's end is nighing..."

To quote AE Houseman. Indeed, it is. Already the end of August and it seems like I just blinked a few times!

Recently I remembered with great fondness the summers when my family rented a house on the beach. My mother liked Scarborough Beach, the crowded Coppertone-french-fry-smelling state beach of my youth. For two or three weeks every July we would set up camp in a house (avocado appliances, plaid sofa, big deck) across the street from the beach. After leisurely breakfasts, we'd wander to the beach where we would ride waves and read on a blanket under the sun. Returning home, my father would already have burgers and hot dogs and sausage on the grill, and after eating and working on a jigsaw puzzle or playing cards, we would plan for dinner.

I recreated these glorious beach days with my own kids for several summers in Westport, MA at Elephant Rock Beach. But too soon, financial obligations led me to working most of the summer, and those halcyon days were replaced with different kinds of summer adventures. Recounting those beach house summers to my wonderful husband, he said Let's try for that again. So perhaps next summer will find me on a beach somewhere, a book in my lap, a burger on the grill, a jigsaw puzzle half completed!

Our travels to Ireland and Italy made this summer extra special. Dingle has become one of my favorite places to be, and Michael and I fantasized about renting a house there some time. From Dingle to Naples where we were caught in the heat wave known as Lucifer. Thankfully the (beautiful) apartment we rented had icy AC, so we had a respite from the blistering heat. Much pizza and pasta was consumed, including my new favorite: pasta with potatoes, which I am going to try to recreate this week at home.

We spent a glorious two weeks at The Breadloaf Writers Conference, immersing ourselves in readings and lectures, gin and tonics and trip into Middlebury for long lunches, literary conversation and the joys of both old and new friends. Now back in NYC, where we are planning a renovation of the apartment--oh joy! can't wait to spruce it up so we can have people over for dinner and cocktail parties. Yesterday we had the great pleasure of seeing Sam's kids musical, Untitled Shape Show, in the morning and The Diana Tapes in the afternoon at the IRT (proud mom alert!!!) and hosting friends in the courtyard here for rose and cheese and crackers. By year's end we will be able to host inside!

Thank you for reading my new memoir, Morningstar: Growing Up With Books. I have lots of events coming up--they are posted on my website--and I hope to see you if I'm at a bookstore near you!

I am still knitting the airplane shawl, but only 1 1/2 skeins to go. I took a break from it to knit a cowl for Annabelle, and I'm looking forward to finishing both and getting started on hand warmers and socks.

Hopefully summer's end is leaving you with warm memories, of beaches or far flung adventures, of time with the people you love most.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Busy Book Tour

After three weeks away--one week teaching memoir at The Provincetown Fine Arts Center, one week teaching in Dingle, Ireland, and a week in Naples Italy doing research for my new novel and for a magazine article--I arrived home at 1 this morning tired and happy. even the four hour delay in Dublin for our flight back to Boston didn't damper my joy at this time traveling.

We went from the 58 degree Irish weather to the sweltering 96 and humid weather in Naples and I managed it all with just a carry on bag! Highlights were dinner at Global Village, readings at The Dingle Bookstore, old friends, new friends, rain, Guiness, Dick Mack's pub; the statue The Veiled Christ, the anatomical rooms, pasta with potatoes at Nenella's, ragu at Tandem, pizza everywhere but especially at 50 Kalo, an air conditioned apartment, new houses uncovered at Pompeii, the ferry to Procida, lunch on Cousin Chippy's roof, handmade umbrellas, the streets of nativities. Of course this list could go on and on, but let's just say it was magnificent from start to finish (except the 24 hour flu that knocked me down in Naples).

And now after teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts this coming week and then BreadLoaf the following two weeks, I will start doing book events for MORNINGSTAR: GROWING UP WITH BOOKS.

Please come to see me at The Flannery O'Connor House in Savannah GA on September 1, The Decatur Book Festival on September 2 and 3 (with my husband!), The Provincetown Book Festival on September 15 and 16 (also with husband!), and The Miami Book Fair November 18 and 19 (husband there with me too!)

I'll also be at Newport Vineyards with Island Books in Newport RI, Block Island Library, Gibson's in NH, and lots of other fun places that are or will very soon be posted on my website. Please come and celebrate MORNINGSTAR: GROWING UP WITH BOOKS with me!