Salutations, June 2021

Bright purple on green - just one of summer's joys.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy… I have seen a fish jump and I have seen some corn that was way higher than my knee a whole week earlier than the 4th of July. I’ve got green tomatoes on vines and peppers ready to eat. And lots of happy blooms to enjoy!

And oh my, my! There’s so much ‘normality’ to enjoy! My guy and I tiptoed out in the world again, clutching our masks and hermit ways. Until our intellectual understanding that Covid risks in our area of New York really were minimal for vaccinated folks conquered the past year’s fears. And then, bam! Stores, restaurants, visible smiles, hugs! Now mere weeks later, It feels like freedom again. If you’re still unvaccinated, I hope you’ll see my maskless faces as I intend it – a freedom-from-fear pass you too can enjoy!

Perhaps the brightest highlight of June is that my book club – The Really Readers (because we do really read our books!) are back – in person! We stayed tightly connected via Zoom every week throughout the pandemic. Every week! When our once/monthly meetings had sufficed before. But we worried about each other, needed to share lock-down experiences, and beyond all else, wanted to be together anyway we could. Zoom to the rescue. Sort of. Because meeting online is so not the same. Still perhaps because we needed each other more or simply because we saw each other online four or five times as often over the course of a year, our tight group got even closer. But oh what a joyful thing to gather in person! The Universe smiled, gave us the most beautiful day, and we reveled in the delight of each others’ presence. Absolutely wonderful! And even though we can meet in person, we don’t want to entirely give up our Zoom check-ins. So now we meet in person once a month and via Zoom once. Best of all worlds!

June also brought the extreme pleasure of meeting – again in person – with two book clubs to discuss my novel Home Place. Book clubs really are my people! So interesting, so generous, such great conversations! And the questions! No, I didn’t know how Kat came to be so handy with tools. Huh. Yes, what the Reverend expresses during Kat’s funeral – that grief is cumulative – has been my own experience with grieving. But no, not a single character was based on anybody I ever knew. And wow! You’ve edited books before? You do all the voices in Harry Potter as you read to your kids? Is that your daughter’s art? Wow. How cool would it be for you to collaborate on my next novel? Way, way cool, that’s how cool!

Speaking of the next, I’ve made progress. I think. Never as much as I hope, not quite enough for me to yet know all that will happen. But progress. My characters are growing. They’ve yet to face their defining crises, but I can see bread crumbs that could lead toward transformations on the horizon. Of course there’s no guarantee that Lee and Matt will follow my bread-crumb trail. Like all my characters, they seem to forget that I invented them and show a willful tendency to forge their own paths. I confess, they sometimes invite my extreme impatience. I lay a problem before them and wait! Where are they going now? This is not a time for tangents! Is it? Oh all right. I’ll go along too, hoping all the while that some serendipitous outcome will emerge from this off-plot trip. Ah yes. Tangents and serendipity. My writing life.

Here’s something coming in August that I know will be cool!

FLAREFinger Lakes Authors and Readers Experience

The brain-child of fellow Finger Lakes author Laurie Gifford Adams, FLARE will be a virtual event connecting authors with readers August 7, 2021. Headliner authors Kristan Higgins and Mary Buckham plus a collection of local authors (including yours truly) will read from their work and answer reader questions in a series of breakout sessions. FREE! With prizes! And since it’s virtual, everyone in the whole wide world is welcome to participate. Please join us! It will be a unique chance to discover new-to-you authors and get insight into their writing processes – which will likely be as varied as the authors themselves. Learn more about FLARE, featured authors, the schedule, and how you can register at https://flarexperience.org I hope to see you there!

And now for the reading that contributed to any sanity I can claim this lovely month just past.

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My Really Readers friend Terry picked this terrific story for us in June. We love, love, loved it! Rutledge took an obscure page from history and imagined with a mix of true and fictionalized characters how it all might have happened. The event was in 1938 when a hurricane-tossed ship arrived on the East Coast with two giraffes who then needed to be transported to the San Diego Zoo. Which begs the question, how do giraffes get to places where they are far from native – even now? In 1938 and in this story, their mode of transport was a truck – little more than a tricked-out pick-up. As I said at our book club, I love a road trip story. Add in giraffes – “Creatures from God’s pure Eden” – who are both sturdier and more fragile, gentler and more fierce, more curious and more easily frightened than I ever imagined. It’s one adventure after another for young Woody who cons his way into driving the truck. And a darned good tale! There’s much to learn about giraffes – and about the human condition. Way to go Lynda Rutledge!

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Brit Bennett’s story is also chockfull with learning. The huge challenges of being black in rural 1960ish Louisiana, the temptations and the huge costs of passing for white – if you could were as always, eye-opening for a person raised up in white-bread America. Beyond the racial challenges, Bennett’s story addresses the difficulty of being different and the struggle to find where you can fit in, the depth of twin connections, the unintended consequences that come from any decision. I was intrigued all along the way – with the community, the twins who took divergent paths, the next generation who lived out new dreams among the shadows of past choices. I wished though, that Bennett had built a stronger final few pages. I read them, read them again and one more time, and still I said, ‘Huh?’ Because they just didn’t connect for me – to the story, to the characters’ feelings at that point, to anything that felt real when everything up to that point had been convincing. I’d like to ask why she chose to conclude such strong work – and why her editor didn’t. Or what I missed…

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Joshilyn Jackson’s latest on the other hand, had me asking ‘huh?’ from start to finish. In the ‘OMG could this really happen’ open-mouthed, horrified, what-happens-next way.’ Who is that old woman? Why did she take Bree’s baby? Holy Toledo, did she just make Bree do that? And still won’t give the baby back? OMG, now what’s going to happen? And OMG, how does Jackson still create a Southern Living charm amidst the chilling monstrosity of the plot? Don’t pick up this book when you’ve got a busy social calendar or a ton of other things you HAVE to do. Because you won’t do any of those other things. You’ll be too wrapped up NEEDING to know what’s going to happen next to do anything other than keep your eyes glued to the pages of this story. And you might need some reminders to breathe too. Once again, Jackson does not disappoint!

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And now for something entirely different. Harms’ novel is an unapologetic Freaky Friday knock-off – the kind of near plagiarism that often sets my teeth on edge. Do knock-offs ever reach the same level of quality as the original? But I thought that Harms got away with this knock-off because of appealing characters who sit so squarely on different sides of the stay-at-home/professional woman divide but secretly feel inadequate to the challenges of motherhood. So sure, it was fun to see these two moms try to fit into each others’ shoes. And it was satisfying to see them both recognize the inevitable shortcomings of society’s and their own unreasonable expectations. Vast enlightenment? Maybe not. But an entertaining tale that invites empathetic questioning of the various roles women are called to inhabit? Yup. Harms achieved that.

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I fear I won’t be quite so generous with praise for Allen’s novel The Peach Keeper. As a story about friendship and breaking down barriers that get in the way of women being friends, it poses interesting notions. As a romance? Too pat for me to care overmuch. As a mystery? Too many coincidences to make me believe enough to care. The characters are interesting enough if a tad one-dimensional. The setting has charm but didn’t reach the status of character-hood. And the story doesn’t build to a rewarding conclusion. For my taste. But Allen has undoubtedly sold more books than I, so good for her.

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I wondered if I’d regret another foray into Mary Kay Andrews world after being fairly disappointed last time. I worried more as I saw that she was taking on investigative journalism instead of her earlier florist/antiquing/decorating-focused heroines that I enjoyed. I had confidence in her beach expertise, but did she have the chops to portray a journalist, especially one who’ll dig to find answers the whole small town would rather stay buried? Especially when she didn’t handle mystery so well in her last novel I read? I was pleasantly surprised. First, there’s authenticity in the small southern beach town setting and its characters. And she gives her lead character Conley a hearty drive to find out and report what happened that makes her journalistic quality ring true. We get the small-town newspaper’s struggles to stay afloat, sister rivals, a Peyton-Place-esque mystery to solve, and a boy-next-door second chance romance, all of which add up to high-quality candy that I did enjoy.

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This one from Jennifer Weiner had some familiar themes, a woman who struggles with her weight and societal expectations, friendship, and romance. But I don’t remember Weiner dipping into murder mystery territory before. And since the murder doesn’t happen until way into the story, I found it even more surprising. Till then, it had been about Daphne trying to accept and believe in her own worth – misguidedly using society’s measures of weight and beauty. But with the murder – of the worst friend a person could ever want – the story takes a big turn. I’m not convinced she got every clue to hang together, but Weiner certainly explored how a cruel and insensitive user could still seduce seemingly sane people to seek the light of her friendship. She made a strong case for ‘sins of the father’ as well as for the redeeming qualities of unconditional parental love. And I was pulling for Daphne all the way, so I clearly got invested. Fat-shaming is real so any story that shines a light on the reality that beauty need not be limited by size has value, especially when a character is both overweight and fit as Weiner made Daphne.

And now for what I think of as high summer – July! My goal for the coming month is to savor – heat and air conditioning, the time-slowing of summer days, cool water in my Y’s pool and our nearby lake, fresh veggies from my deck, freedom to write and of course, to read. What will you savor this July?

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