Oh, lookie! The best book I’ve ever written (so far) is ON SALE across all e-book formats ($1.99, ya’ll)!

Of course you’ve read it, but maybe you know someone who hasn’t? I’d be ever so grateful if you’d share this deal with readers you think might love Rosetta & Jeremiah (& Will) and people who want to see portrayals of strong, courageous, trail-blazing women in historical fiction (or any fiction!). If you share news of the sale (on FB, Twitter, and/or Instagram) AND sign up to receive my newsletter AND shoot me an email to let me know you’ve done it by MIDNIGHT 5/7/17 (the last day of the sale), as a thank you (and to introduce you to some other fabulous heroines), I’ll enter you in a drawing to win ONE of the following historical novels (winner chooses! See cover images/links below! How will you ever decide??) featuring fierce females: The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart, Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister, or Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin.

A year ago (the last time I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU was priced this low), you all helped Rosetta hit the USA Today Bestsellers list, which was a wonderful honor (and frankly, a big surprise). Hitting the bestseller list is the kind of thing that helps publishers know that readers are interested in books like I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU, and it helps ensure that publishers will be interested in my *next* novel too.

Thanks for all you do to help support the kinds of books you love!

Ninth Newsletter: I hate waiting

I send out a bi-monthly-ish newsletter. This is the the ninth one, sans the (frankly adorable) photos that accompaned it when it went straight to subscribers’ inboxes. If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, and get access to my special “subscribers only” warm fuzzies page sign up here!

** Goodbye Summer
This summer has felt like a time of waiting, of holding my breath in expectation, of holding off on turning the last page of a chapter I really loved.

This was the last summer before the kid started Kindergarten. For the first time since he stopped napping, I didn’t ask anyone to babysit him while I took time to work. I wanted to savor this last summer before he became a big kid, before summer would start to mean something different to him than just a season. With Kindergarten looming, I knew there would soon be a lot more time than I’ve had in years to work. So instead, we read in bed almost every morning (the kid has discovered chapter books! It’s glorious!). We went swimming. The kid went of his first trail ride. We went camping in the tiny coastal town of Mendocino, a favorite summer tradition. The kid attended Lego camp– and so did I (not exactly the plan, but oh well). As the summer came to a close, we got on each other’s nerves a lot. It made starting Kindergarten easier–which maybe was the point of all that arguing?–and now I feel a little like how I did when I Shall Be Near To You first hit the shelves. It’s
exciting and nerve-wracking that after five-and-a-half years (about the same length of time I worked on I Shall), the kid is now beginning a part of his life that I’m not really a part of.

** Plodding Along

This summer has also been filled with twinned moments of savoring and sadness and the kind of waiting I dread. This winter, our beloved sixteen year old dog Roxy had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor had gotten too scary to ignore. We hoped the surgery would buy Roxy enough time to live out the rest of her life comfortably, and she was so happy afterwards. But almost as soon as the incision healed (which took months), the tumor came back. Every day it is bigger and uglier and there are no good treatment options anymore. And yet every day Roxy gets up to go out on her porch. Every day she cruises the yard. Every day she wags her tail and asks for scratches and begs for cheese and sausage and I give her whatever she wants and look the other way when she steals cat food. I have been trying to come to terms with the idea that this will likely be Roxy’s last summer (and still, I can’t even write it as a definitive statement). The picture above is from the first time in months
that Roxy joined us for a walk down the road, one of her favorite pastimes. I wanted to savor it because I’m not sure it will ever happen again. I have been saying goodbye in increments and clinging to the goodness of these steadily shortening days.

** Plotting Along
AKA Same Old Workhorse Mode

I’ve also been waiting to send this newsletter because I wanted to tell you something like “I’ve finished the revisions of To Stay Forever and Agent Dan loves it!” But I can’t. I can tell you that when I sent him an outline of my proposed revisions back in June, he liked the complete restructuring I did but he still wanted me to work on a few more things. I was (am!) so itchy to put my new outline to use and see the next draft take its new shape– but Agent Dan was right. And I want this book to be good. So, I dove back into research mode to find historically plausible ways to implement some of his suggestions (yep, I read those incredibly dry books pictured above so you don’t have to). I cut and combined scenes to speed up the pacing in the middle of the novel because even in outline form it felt slow, and it has not escaped my notice that some critiques of I Shall Be Near To You say the middle drags (why are middles so hard?). I read through and revised the outline
multiple times (pictured on the left are what I thought were all the July versions, and on the right are two additional drafts I found today buried in my laptop bag). Then I read The Nightingale and saw how Kristin Hannah relentlessly ramps up the tension and stakes in that novel and I went back through and revised my dang outline again. I had this dream that by the time the kid started Kindergarten (on August 10th!), I would have finished the outline and gotten it back from Agent Dan with his stamp of approval. But everything always takes longer than I think (does that happen to you?). When it comes to little black dogs, I’m glad about that. When it comes to outlines and novels, not so much. I can tell you that last week I sent the latest outline of revisions to Agent Dan (yes, it made me feel nauseous to hit send, but no, this time I didn’t break out in eczema) and now? More waiting to hear his reaction.

** I Shall Steal
(but I’m not a thief)

Last time I wrote, I told you my publisher Crown was offering the ebook version of I Shall Be Near to You for a steal of a price and I mentioned that sometimes a crazy sale like that could push a book onto the bestsellers list. Well, I’ve been waiting far too long to tell you: it worked! During the ebook sale, I Shall Be Near To You landed on the USA Today Bestsellers list and was a number 1 Kindle bestseller (for about a minute–but look at the company it got to keep!). So THANK YOU for your help in spreading the word about the sale and about I Shall Be Near To You and helping show my publisher that people really do like books about women like Rosetta. As a way of showing my gratitude, I have a secret to share with you because…

** I Love Secrets
(well, certain kinds, anyway)

I’ve added a secret “Subscribers Only” page to my website. I wanted a way to give you all some extra Warm Fuzzies for being part of my crew. What are Warm Fuzzies? These ones are in the form of my All Time Favorites book list (I’ll be shocked if you haven’t read at least one of them); a deleted scene from I Shall Be Near To You depicting the moment that cemented Rosetta and Jeremiah’s friendship; and an offer for a couple freebies that will show up in your actual mailbox. I hope you’ll check them out. And if there’s anything you’d love to see on this page, let me know and I’ll see if I can make it happen!

Before I close, I also wanted to share with you a post I wrote the San Francisco Book Review after attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference (right after I sent off my last newsletter) about the secret super power of books. It’s called “How a Book Can Create a Community” and in many ways, it’s about you. Thank you for being part of my community– it has been one of the most wonderful and surprising parts of becoming an author, and it’s why, if you hit reply to this email, your message will go straight to my inbox. I love hearing from you.

All my Best,

Eighth Newsletter: Celebrate Spring and New Beginnings

I send out a monthly-ish newsletter (more like bi-monthly-ish). This is the the eighth one, sans photos and links that accompany it when it goes straight to your inbox (apparently copying them from the original newsletter is technologically beyond me). If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, sign up here!

Celebrate Spring!
This past week, the kid was on Spring Break from preschool. Though I missed my scheduled work-in-the-parking-lot (or lately, Starbucks) time, we enjoyed our leisurely mornings reading in bed, channeling the pre-Easter excitement with making decorations (thanks to my mom’s suggestion), and spending the gorgeous afternoons outside, mostly digging in the not-so-picturesque mud pit, but also playing with the goats and horses. All of a sudden, this kid has been excited about riding (by himself!) and I’ve been happy to oblige. The other day he asked me, “Can I have a riding lesson every day?” Don’t have to ask me twice!

We also made a visit to Table Mountain, where as a kid and teenager I’d hike and fly kites in the Spring. Since California actually got some rain this year, we wanted to see the wildflowers, for which Table Mountain is (locally, anyway) known, and also the seasonal waterfalls which run off the sides. We were hoping there’d be enough wind to fly kites, which as you can see from the kid’s picture, there kind of was, and it was thrilling! I also had another reason for wanting to go: there’s a scene in the new novel in which Josie dreams of Table Mountain and I wanted to reacquaint myself with it and its very northern California brand of beauty. The pictures below are just a taste!

New Beginnings, AKA Workhorse Mode
Speaking of Josie and the new novel, at the beginning of March, I spoke to Agent Dan about the draft I sent him (you remember: just sending it made me nauseous. It turns out waiting for Agent Dan’s verdict also made me break out in eczema–always super awesome). After talking to Agent Dan about Josie, I’m now firmly back in workhorse mode, working on a complete restructuring of the novel. It’ll be the same story, just a different shape. While it wasn’t exactly the news I wanted to hear, Agent Dan’s suggestions were what I *needed* to hear. This book is going to be better for it.

I spent several days reading Lisa Cron’s book Wired for Story, taking and re-reading copious notes, trying out new outlines, and basically cudgeling my brain as I tried to envision this new novel shape, and put the theory (which I like) into practice (which I confess to feeling crabby about). Then my friend, author Mary Volmer (hi Mary!), told me about her mantra when writing her second novel (Reliance, Illinois, which I just devoured and which hits bookstores May 10): “As long as it takes.” As long as it takes. Or as the teachers at the kid’s preschool say: Focus on the process. I’m taking that advice to heart. The point is to enjoy getting it right, not just get it done.

A Steal & A Giveaway
And now for my Easter bunny moment (because at our house, my husband is the Easter bunny), I have two announcements. The first is that my publisher, Crown, is offering the ebook version of I Shall Be Near to You for an absolute steal of a price ($1.99!) through May 1. I know most of you already have copies of the book, but if you could let anyone you think might enjoy I Shall know about the deal, I would be so grateful. I’d love to share Rosetta’s story with as many readers as possible.

You might wonder why my publisher would offer a book at such a crazy price. I’m not privy to all their reasons, but I’ve seen sales like this push other authors’ books onto the New York Times Bestseller list. That’s a huge deal– not just for the publicity it would bring, but because hitting that list makes publishers more interested in an author’s next novel (which is never a given). Even if the book doesn’t ever hit a bestseller list, each new reader who leaves a review on websites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Goodreads shows that there’s a readership for books like this, and encourages publishers to take chances on stories of women like Rosetta and first-time authors like me. Which is also my not-so-sneaky way of saying: If you haven’t already and feel so inclined, writing a review of I Shall (or any book you love) is a great way to show your support for the kinds of books you’d like to see more of.

But wait! I said there were TWO deals… Here’s the second one: I have two signed (and personalized, if you’d like) hard-cover copies from my personal I Shall Be Near To You stash to give away, in celebration of Spring and New Beginnings. Keep it for yourself and give away your old copy, or send it as a gift to a friend– whatever makes you happiest! To enter, just reply to this email (it’ll go straight to my inbox) saying you’d like in on the drawing. I’ll choose the two winners on Saturday, April 9.

Making Connections
By the time you get this, I’ll be on my way to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference down in Los Angeles. People tell me it’s *the* social event of the writing world, which strikes twin bolts of excitement and panic into my introverted heart (as does the fact that I’m going on an overnight trip sans kid for the first time in his life). I have two official events I’m participating in and the rest of the time, I’m looking forward to attending readings and panels put on by authors I admire, and catching up with (and for some, finally meeting in person!) friends I’ve made in my publishing journey (there’s some of the books by authors I hope to rub shoulders with, above). It should be a lot of fun. If you’ll be at AWP, let me know– I’d love to see you!

I’m also hoping to sneak in some time to put the finishing touches on that new Josie outline (yeah, I’ve lost count, but I think this is the 5th one… or is it 6th?) so that as soon as I get home I can start working on turning that outline into a shiny new draft. I’ll also be preparing for the next #HistoricalFix chat (on 4/24) and the second #BookClubFix discussion (on 5/26) of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. I’ve already read this one, and if you’re a fan of Jane Eyre (here’s a peek at my fave illustrated edition) and enjoy gleefully wicked vigilante serial killers, I think you’ll get a kick out of this book, which also manages quite a commentary about the plight of women and children, and the impact of imperialism. I really hope you’ll join us for the discussion, either on Twitter or Goodreads.

Here’s to new beginnings and a gorgeous Spring!

Seventh Newsletter: An Auspicious Day

I send out a monthly-ish newsletter (more like bi-monthly-ish). This is the the seventh one, sans photos that accompany it when it goes straight to your inbox (apparently copying them from the original newsletter is technologically beyond me). If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, sign up here!

An Auspicious Day
I like to think of January 28th as an auspicious day. It’s the day the kid was born, and now, holy cow, he’s five! There we are (bottom left) a couple days after he was born, because I’m too vain to show you the pictures of us in the hospital. Exactly three years later, entirely coincidentally, I Shall Be Near To You hit bookstores. There we are (bottom right) celebrating with party horns (the kid’s idea) at our local Barnes & Noble.

Both times January 28th changed my life, most notably by bringing new people into it. One of the greatest surprises about I Shall Be Near To You making its way out into the world has been all the lovely people I’ve met or re-established connections with because of it, including many of you. All those years I dreamed of the book being at Barnes & Noble, I never dared to imagine that I might make new friends, or share intensely personal conversations, or chat on Twitter, or sit down for coffee with actual readers. It’s a marvel really, how a book can create a community, and I feel incredibly grateful every day (but especially January 28th) for the way you readers have taken Rosetta into your hearts and let me be a part of your lives.

A Little Novel News
Since January 28th feels so auspicious already, and I didn’t quite hit my goal of having a draft of my new novel ready in 2015, I made it my goal to send it to my agent on January 28th. You all are among the very very first to know that Josie is now officially in Agent Dan’s hands. I wish I could say that I feel amazing about this, but in truth I feel nauseous. It happens every time I send something to Agent Dan, because what he thinks of this manuscript is hugely important– crucial, really. I keep telling myself it’s actually a good thing I feel sick every time I think about him reading it, because it means I truly care about these characters and this story. I very much want them to have a life beyond the printed pages in a three-ring binder you see above.

An Invitation to Distraction
Now that Josie is out of my hands, my best cure for nausea is keeping busy in other ways. One thing I’m doing is buckling down on researching my next next novel (some of which is that pile of books pictured above). It’s a relief to know I have something else to work on and I’m excited about making room in my head for some new voices (does that sound too creepy?). I’m also binge-reading a bunch of novels I’ve had on my To-Be-Read pile, because most of the time I seem to only be able to find time to write OR read. I’ve been posting pictures of some of those books over on Instagram and Facebook and reviews over on Goodreads, if you’re curious. (Spoiler: I really loved Vengeance Road and I think Rosetta fans will too. Also, that cover!)

I’m also gearing up for #BookClubFix, a new book club I’ve launched with two of my favorite book bloggers (wonderful friends I’ve made thanks to I Shall), Ellice and Leah. We’ve chosen our first book, The Violinist of Venice: A Story of Vivaldi, by Alyssa Palombo and I just started reading my Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of it last night (the actual cover is much prettier than the one in the photo above!). If you’re passionate about anything creative (especially music), curious about Vivaldi, or in love with 1700s Venice, this might be just the book for you. You can learn more about how #BookClubFix came to be here, some of our future plans, and how you can join us here. I really hope you’ll put February 24th on your calendar and help distract me while I wait for Dan’s verdict on Josie.

Meanwhile, I’ll be crossing my fingers a lot and wondering what 2016 has in store.

Here’s to the New Year, new books, and new ways to connect!
P.S. As always, if you’d like to reply to this email, it’ll go straight to my inbox. I’d love to hear if you plan to read The Violinist of Venice!

True Bits: Lemonade

Recently a reader asked me whether the lemonade that shows up twice in I Shall Be Near To You was historically accurate. The short answer is yes! The longer answer is a little more complicated.

The account of the soldiers being offered lemonade by citizens of Maryland as they marched toward Antietam comes straight out of Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears, the main source I relied on for my information about Antietam. In it, Major John M. Gould of the 10th Maine is quoted as having written in his diary, “The women and young ladies opened their doors and windows to give us bread and butter, meat, apples, peaches, and preserves!” Sears adds that, “There were washtubs of cold water and lemonade at front gates along the roadside…” That little tidbit became the inspiration for the scene in the novel. Interestingly, while working on the answer to this question, I did more research (better late than never!) and came across the Civil War diary of Private Charles C. Perkins, a bugler in the 1st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, written while he was on the Peninsula Campaign in June 1862. He recounts several purchases of lemons (at a price of two for 25 cents on one occasion and three for 17 cents on another) and sugar to make lemonade.

Now, the accuracy of the lemonade that Rosetta’s mama makes during haying is a bit more slippery. The honest answer is that I made it up. That said, according to The Land Where Lemons Grow: The story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit by Helena Atlee, by 1862 there were regular steamships transporting lemons from Italy to New York. Now, would any of those lemons actually made it out to Flat Creek? Well, with the canal nearby in Utica, it’s possible, and the nice thing about historical fiction is I can deal in possibilities. Would Rosetta’s family have spent the money to buy lemons? That seems less likely. I prefer to imagine that they might have had a lemon tree planted in a protected spot in the kitchen garden. It’s possible, right?

Who would ever have thought there was so much research behind such a simple detail like lemonade! It’s a perfect example of how, when writing historical fiction, you never know what you don’t know until you’re in the middle of a scene.

Sixth Newsletter: Digging in for Fall

I send out a monthly-ish newsletter (more like bi-monthly-ish). This is the the sixth one, sans photos that accompany it when it goes straight to your inbox (apparently copying them from the original newsletter is technologically beyond me). If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, sign up here!

Getting Busy
That’s the idea, anyway

The Kid went back to preschool almost a month ago. There he is on the first day. You probably can’t read the sign, but I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said, “I haven’t decided yet.” Then he added, “I’m going to have a LEGO stand with Paw Patrol toys and nerf guns.” And that, my friends, pretty much sums up this kid right now.

I had visions of the amazing productivity I’d have working in the parking lot during the three days I’m not working in The Kid’s classroom. For various reasons I haven’t made the lightning fast progress I thought I would. One factor is that I’ve been really trying to slow down and do the hard work on the manuscript. Sometimes I find myself rushing because I really want to be able to say “I’ve got a new draft!” but I ought to know by now that fixing the tricky stuff now means I’ll be so much closer to a draft I can’t wait to share.

An Invitation or Two
and: A Cry for Help!

I have a couple events coming up that I’d love to invite you to take part in.

On Saturday, October 17, I’ll be reading as part of San Francisco’s LitQuake. If you’re in the city, I’d love to see you!

Then, on Tuesday, October 20 from 5:30-6:30 PM PST, I’ll be hosting another #HistoricalFix TwitterChat. It’s a great chance to add one million books (okay, maybe one hundred) to your “To-Read” list as historical fiction readers, bloggers, and authors come together to chit-chat about our favorite genre.

So now, the cry for help: My San Francisco reading will be in a bar and I’ve been told that in a bar it’s a good idea to read something funny… I’m stumped! What’s your favorite funny scene from I Shall Be Near To You?

Meeting a kindred spirit

Back when I was drafting I Shall Be Near To You, my professor Rosemary Graham mentioned how much she thought I would enjoy Mary Volmer‘s work. I read Mary’s first novel Crown of Dust[” target=”_blank”>Crown of Dust and loved it. I’m convinced that if her protagonist Alex and Rosetta ever met, they’d have so much to discuss. When I finally got to meet Mary, it was one of those experiences where I felt as though I’d known her for ages, that’s how easy it was to talk to her (and I love medium and large talk so much better than small talk). In any case, I had a similar experience reading this interview with Mary. So much of what she says about why her second novel felt more difficult to write feels so very familiar. And I love this idea she mentions: “Richard Bausch says to ask yourself, ‘Have you worked today?’ And if the answer is, ‘Yes,’ then you have been productive.” What a deceptively simple question to encourage really digging in.

(I can’t stop talking about seeds)

Speaking of digging, there are our baby pumpkin plants, limping along. When The Kid and I pulled out the pumpkin seeds we’d saved last year to plant this year (a month too late for even Thanksgiving– I don’t know why I find it so hard to just put seeds in the ground! We’ll see if we get any pumpkins before the frost kills them), I discovered some hollyhock seeds my mom gave me last year. They’re from a historic home named Glenwood, built in 1877. I thought I’d planted them already, but turns out I hadn’t (see above re. actually planting seeds). Even though we’ve already sprinkled one million hollyhock seeds about the yard, I’m going to find a special spot for these (I swear it). I want to see how they might be different from the ones we already have. It’ll also be a nice homage to Josie, because Glenwood makes an appearance in the pages of the new novel. Isn’t it a gorgeous place? Ever since I was a kid, driving past on the way to 4-H
meetings and the tack shop, I’ve spent many a moment daydreaming over this place and its oak trees. I still want to live there.

Oh, and that reminds me. Do you want to plant some hollyhocks too? Fall (right before the first frost) is the perfect time. I still have TONS of seeds saved and I’d love to share them if you’d like them. Just reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) with your address and I’ll send them right over!

The days are getting shorter
(which I really don’t like)

But here’s to my favorite parts of Fall– pumpkin pie, hot chocolate, and just recently, apple pie (which I made for research purposes, of course). If you need it, Mark Bittner’s pie crust recipe is the only one I’ve ever made that was actually worth the effort (every time!). For the record, I don’t have a food processor, and his best tip, which isn’t included in the link but is in How To Cook Everything Vegetarian: roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap. Seriously, it’s like magic!

All my best,

Fifth Newsletter: Summer Epistle (with seeds!)

I send out a monthly-ish newsletter (more like bi-monthly-ish). This is the the fifth one, sans photos that accompany it when it goes straight to your inbox (apparently copying them from the original newsletter is technologically beyond me). If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, sign up here!

The More Things Change… the more they stay the same (or, I am dogged by the same problem…)
Ten days after my last letter, two new baby goats were born to mama Tricksy. Aren’t they adorable? And not tooooo long after (OK, on June 3rd), I finished the second draft of To Stay Forever. Only 2 months behind (my) schedule. It feels good to have “finished” even though I also know there is still a lot of work to be done. To paraphrase fellow author Lois Leveen: if you know how many drafts you’ve done, the novel isn’t ready yet.

Sigh. The novel isn’t ready yet. But I knew it wouldn’t be. I’m trying something new for the third draft: Outlining! I’m usually a by-the-seat-of-my-pants, write-out-of-order kind of gal, but I did use a fairly detailed outline (based on this book) to get me unstuck early on. I can’t say I actually relied on that outline, but it was useful. So I’ve outlined what I actually *have* written (some of you may have seen pictures on Instagram and Facebook of the 3×5 card outline, laid out on the bed in our “friends’ roomy” as The Kid calls it). I’ve never done this before (the more things change…). But as I’ve been working on and with the outline, I’ve had some realizations (the more things stay the same…). After I Shall Be Near To You, I vowed I would never use flashbacks again because they were so tricky to organize. I mostly
stayed true to that vow. But this outline is highlighting how my frustrations with structuring continues to be a challenge. It wasn’t the flashbacks’ fault– curses! On the one hand, it was a relief to realize that this is not a new problem I’m struggling with. On the other hand: darn it!

On Inspiration: One plant, many flowers

Through one of my former penpals (hi Erin!), I recently learned about persona poet Susan J. Erickson, who wrote a poem from “real” Rosetta’s perspective. I’d never heard of persona poems before (and I took a poetry forms class as part of my MFA– wherein I learned that I really am not a poet), but I admire them and the variety of women they represent. I love the Rosetta poem. If you read it, you’ll see some of the lines that come from real Rosetta’s actual letters– lines that inspired me and found their way into I Shall Be Near To You too. I love how one source can provide so much inspiration. And I thoroughly enjoyed Erickson’s discussion of Emily Dickinson in this interview (where you can find links to her other persona poems). As much as I like that Lady Macbeth line I mentioned in an earlier newsletter (“screw your courage to the sticking point”), I think I adore Dickinson’s rejoinder “if your nerve, deny you– go above your nerve–” even more. I think of the women I like to write about as the kind who go above their nerve, which always helps me press onward when the writing gets tricky and the outline feels like a snarl.

Summer: I love it

The last two months, I’ve been enjoying two of my favorite summer-time things (in between watching baby goat antics, which is fast becoming my third favorite summer-time thing). Another thing that just never changes is how nothing spells summer to me like being in a creek or river (and yes, just like in I Shall Be Near To You, a creek plays a big role in To Stay Forever). My other favorite summer-time thing? Being outside at night in shorts and a tank top. Since May, I’ve spent many nights under the stars, listening to our resident owl hooting, and being a baby goat jungle gym while doing 1 AM feedings for one of our baby goats (because Mama Goat decided five babies were too many to feed). Sometimes I don’t bother turning on the barn lights, just so I can enjoy the starry sky even more. At that time of night, if I look in just the right direction, I can almost imagine what it might have looked like here 100 years ago.

And yes, that owl has found his way to the pages of the new novel. I just couldn’t help but include him.

An Invitation
If you’re on Goodreads or Twitter, I have two events coming up that I’d love to invite you to join.

The first is a chat about I Shall Be Near To You with the Book Addicts on Goodreads, this Sunday, 7/19 at 4 PM EST/1 PM PST. You’ll have to join the group to participate, but it’s painless, I promise! If you have a burning question and don’t want to join the Book Addicts, you can always use the “Ask the Author” feature on my Goodreads profile.

The second virtual event is the #HistoricalFix Twitterchat on Tues. 7/21, at 8 PM EST/5 PM PST. Co-hosted by yours truly, some of my favorite book bloggers, and featuring guest authors Sarah McCoy (The Mapmaker’s Children, The Baker’s Daughter) and Jennifer Laam (The Secret Daughter of the Tsar), this is your chance to discuss all things historical fiction. You can learn all about the details and how to participate here, but all you really need to know is it will be a blast (and there will be giveaways)!

A Giveaway: Or, speaking of flowers…
I have some to share!

Our hollyhocks have gone to seed. The Kid and I have collected SO MANY seeds. Too many to plant ourselves. We’d love to share some with you. I promise they’re easy– that’s the only kind of plant I grow! If you’d like some, just reply to this email (your email will go straight to my inbox) and let me know where to send them. They’re perfect to plant this Fall, and by the time they start blooming, hopefully To Stay Forever will be well on its way to being a book you can hold in your hands.

Here’s to planting seeds to enjoy next Spring and enjoying the long days and the warm nights of this Summer!

All my Best,

Fourth Newsletter: An Announcement

I send out a monthly-ish newsletter. This is the the fourth one, from May 2015, sans photos that accompany it when it goes straight to your inbox. If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, sign up here!

Mama Goat is Capacious! or, Waiting is rewarded!

I promised I’d send the next newsletter when I had an announcement, either about baby goats or the next novel draft. I had high hopes I’d beat Mama Goat on my end of the bargain, but alas, no. I also had hoped Mama Goat would deliver on her promise on Mother’s Day, but alas, she waited until the day after. But never mind that! The (human) Kid and I spent all afternoon sitting with Mama Goat while she labored, petting her, giving her compliments, and waiting. The wait was worth it.
It’s really hard to get a good picture of so many moving targets (because, wow, are they already bouncing around a lot), but here are Mama Goat’s five (5!!) baby girls, at almost exactly 24 hours old. I’m having a hard time getting much of anything done (uh oh) because they’re just so fun to watch. And it’s also fun to watch this other kid… petting a still-wet baby, and in the next picture, a day-old baby (“I’m holding my first baby!” he said), boinging along with the goaties as they test out their acrobatic abilities.

Inspiration: It comes from so many places

While we were waiting for Mama Goat’s babies, The Kid and I put to use some things we learned while reading Kate DiCamillo’s book Leroy Ninker Saddles Up last week. Oh my goodness, what a sweet, funny, adorable book! We both loved it. In it, Maybelline the horse “enjoys the heck out of a compliment” and “is the kind of horse who gets lonesome quick.” We tried to make sure Mama Goat wasn’t lonely during her hours of labor (we sat with her from 2:30 PM until 9 PM, until everyone was dry and fed), and we complimented the heck out of her. She rewarded us with lots of licks (until the babies arrived and then she was really busy licking them) and lots of talking to us when we had to leave for water breaks from the hose.

Last week, I also watched Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery-Caldecott Award acceptance speech for her book Flora & Ulysses, which we haven’t read yet but which I at least am really looking forward to. (The Kid is a teensy bit worried about the pants-eating and squirrel-sucking vacuum). What a lovely, inspiring tribute to the capaciousness of a mother and daughter’s love. I hope you’ll get the chance to watch the video (the goods start at almost 3 minutes), but be forewarned– it will make you laugh and tear up.

Mama Goat and her babies have been making us all feel more capacious– “lifted up by surprise and gratitude and joy,” as Kate DiCamillo says. I hope your Spring too is full of such wonder and openness.

Diverse Historical Reads

In case you missed it over on Paper Riot last month, here’s my guest post on Diverse Historical Reads, in honor of the first #HistoricalFix TwitterChat. You can join the fun for the next one, coming up in July– more details here.

Witness Trees

(**I’ve tried to minimize any Spoilers here, but if you haven’t finished reading I Shall Be Near To You yet, SPOILER ALERT**)

In honor of Arbor Day, I thought I’d write a little bit about trees…

In November of 2008, I came across Bob Hicok’s poem “What I Know For Sure” in that month’s edition of Oprah magazine and was introduced to the idea of the witness trees at Antietam and Appomattox. I had not yet written the battle scenes in I Shall Be Near To You, but I knew they were coming, and I knew some of what would happen– had already written much of *that* scene at Antietam, in fact– although I didn’t yet know it would happen at Antietam. But the idea of witness trees stuck with me. Reading Hicok’s poem was the first I’d heard that phrase, in fact, and I tore the poem out and posted it to the bulletin board that was above my desk at the time. When I finally got to *that* scene at Antietam, the idea of a witness tree had taken root, and I have Bob Hicok’s poem to thank for the idea of Jeremiah’s tree.

In my search for a link to the poem, I also came across photographer Nate Larson’s poignant series of portraits of the remaining Witness Trees— the only survivors of the Civil War still living. Aren’t they beautiful?