Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It's launch day for my new book, HOUSE OF GLASS, my first venture into writing domestic thrillers. It’s loosely based on the horrific home invasion/murder case that took place in Connecticut several years back, but my goal in writing this novel was to explore and empower people just like me and a lot of my readers: busy, ordinary men and women with jobs and families, trying to make ends meet and keep their marriages intact and raise kids and take part in the community.

I’m doing a couple of local events and would love to see you there. I’ll be reading with my dear friend Rachael Herron, whose gorgeous new book is PACK UP THE MOON.

In honor of release day, I thought I would share the author interview that appears in the back of the book.

Q: House of Glass is an emotionally charged, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about a family put to the ultimate test. What was your inspiration for this story?

A number of years ago, a home invasion took place in Connecticut. A family of four was imprisoned, abused, and all but the husband killed. Details of the case, and the subsequent trial and conviction of the killers, held the country in thrall and dominated the news for weeks.

I was unable to watch or read accounts of the case. Though I often write about violent characters and dark impulses, I have a low tolerance for real evil and suffering, and often take the coward’s path, burying my head in the sand until the story is supplanted by fresher news.

But several aspects of the case were impossible for me to forget. One in particular: the mother was taken from the home by one of the killers, and driven to a bank where she was forced to withdraw money. She believed that when she handed over the money, her family would be freed. She knew her husband had been beaten and her children were vulnerable and defenseless.

I can’t imagine a more desperate moment for a mother. I decided to retell the story with a different outcome, giving her a bit of luck, a few unexpected allies, and strength she didn’t realize she possessed, from a source she had forgotten.

Q: Like House of Glass, your previous novel, Garden of Stones, also featured a mother in a harrowing situation, forced to make difficult decision in order to save her family. Is this a recurring theme in all your novels? What is the message you’re trying to send about motherhood?

When my agent, Barbara Poelle, pointed out this recurrent theme, I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed that it was such a consistent thread. Soon, though, I came to see that it is the element that binds my work in all my disparate genres.

It’s probably no accident that all my published novels were written in 2007 or later. In that year, my children were twelve and fourteen, no longer children but not yet adults, and I had experienced some of the challenges of raising adolescents and glimpsed the long shadow of the challenges to come. A mother of an infant is fiercely protective; a mother of a teen - a person with some autonomy - must face the terrifying fact that she can’t protect against all the danger in the world. I think my stories were an effort to direct all this helpless maternal protectiveness and fear.

Now that my children are nineteen and twenty-one, they have experienced and survived any number of hurts, and I have been forced to admit that I am no longer the axis around which their lives turn. This, too, is an aching change for a mother. But there is recompense: the older they get, the more frequent the glimpses of their own strength and capability.

In House of Glass, both children are instrumental in helping the family survive. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think this reflects my own shift to seeing my children as powerful on their own.

Is there a message there? Other than “Parenthood is not for the weak,” I’m not sure. Maybe it would be more apt to see my work as a sort of therapy journal...

Q: What was your toughest challenge, your greatest pleasure, and your biggest surprise as you were writing House of Glass?

I was going through a divorce while writing this book, and as a result, my poor fictional couple was saddled with all kinds of angst that wasn’t the least bit germane to the story. There was a memorable three-way phone call in which my agent and editor gently broke it to me that I had to go back to the drawing board and, in essence, reimagine these characters while remembering that they are not me. I don’t think I will ever really learn this lesson - all my characters are me in some sense, from the most heinous criminal to the bratty kid down the street - but this experience did teach me to create a little distance in a very crowded creative realm.

My greatest pleasure was probably joking around with my sister about “her” character. Early in the first draft, Jen’s sister Tanya was a feckless sort who brought her own ignominious end - and also drank too much and had really trashy taste. I loved calling Kristen up and saying “You’ll never believe what you did today.” I figured it was only fair, since the early version of Jen - the elder sister - was uptight, snobbish, and dismissive. As the book progressed, I was able to report to Kristen that “her” character got stronger and wiser while Jen had to learn a few hard lessons. I’m very lucky that Kristen is a forgiving sort.

As for my biggest surprise - I suppose it would be the effortlessness of writing Ted, the husband. As someone who spends a fair amount of time bashing middle-aged white guys for any number of sins and irritations, I was surprised to find that I not only understood his motivation, his emotions and shame and longing, but that I had great compassion for him.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Women & Money: My Rant Starts Here

An interest of mine that I haven't talked much about: Financial Literacy.  I am becoming increasingly interested in this subject as I travel my journey from financial ignorance to empowerment.  It may be hard to make it sexy, but financial literacy is absolutely critical for anyone who is responsible for any sum of money.

I'm a beginning learner, but I've worked hard over recent years to get my money shit into shape. I read a lot, and the picture that emerges as I transition from consumer magazines to "financial page" coverage to books is a shocking one. Only the beauty industry, perhaps, profits so shamelessly by spreading lies and distortions and preying on our insecurities.

That's important enough that I'll say it again:

financial industry = lies and distortions and preying on our insecurities

Nearly everything I have to say on the subject applies to everyone, men and women alike, but hey, I'm here for the sisters so I'm not going to bother with inclusive language for now. I'm picturing us in my living room, with the coffee on, and this dialog is going to be ongoing, so I invite you to join in.

Let's introduce the subject by looking at  a recent essay in the NYT by M.P. Dunleavey titled "Mars, Venus and the Handling of Money." Dunleavey, a financial writer and founding editor of DailyWorth, gets a number of things dangerously wrong.  A gentle summation of the essay is that women have different learning styles and financial strategy styles than men, which isn't a bad thing, but one that purveyors of financial products should attend to and address.

But here's the core flaw in that view, which I plan to return to over and over until all of you take your money out of high-churn, high-fee vehicles: we (women) don't need different handling by people trying to sell us money management. We need to simply walk away, straight to simple investment and management techniques that we can do *almost by ourselves* without the dubious "assistance" of people earning a cut on every decision we make.

Take a look at some of the sources quoted in the article--and the true source of this data:

“The reality,” Nicole Sherrod, managing director of active trading at TD Ameritrade, told me, “is that women gather information about money differently and process it differently than men do, not that we’re less intelligent.” [TD Ameritrade makes money when you buy and sell--churn--your investments, often at a cost to you in fees, tax effects, and poor timing and decision making.]

Nearly 75 percent of women want to learn in a “welcoming” environment with other women, new data from Allianz Life shows. [Allianz Life is an insurance company, among other things a purveyor of one of the most enduring and egregious scams sold today, the whole life policy.]

Ameriprise says it’s retraining more than 10,000 advisers to be more responsive to female clients — and doubling its training budget this year to do so. [Really??? Ameriprise, another company that makes its money on your financial back, is not doing this out of any sense of sisterly solidarity or respect: this is a money grab, pure and simple. "Responsiveness" in this context means "more likely to talk you into investing.]

Shame on those who participate in this continuing misinformation campaign. I suppose it's a bit much to expect a news source that basically sells coverage of this industry to go rooting out the poison within, but I expect better.

Wow, I didn't realize I felt *quite* so strongly about this. More to come, friends.

P.S. In fairness to Ms. Dunleavey, much of what she says in the article is of value and merits discussion. Some of her best advice can be found here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Back in the Swing

I didn't realize how hermit-like I was being this month until Barbara actually emailed me to demand what the hell I was up to. Here's the thing - I was recovering from this super-minor little surgery and then I got sick for weeks and weeks and I was just plain out of sorts, and I'm a really bad patient (grumpy, ungrateful, impatient) so I was just trying to stay out of everyone's way.

But this week things have turned around. I'm still sort of deaf in one ear and I can't lift things or go to the gym until Tuesday, but I can see the end in sight. Last weekend I got a breathtaking reminder of why I live in NorCal, and I counted my blessings while watching a fire blaze on a misty coastal night - I believe in embracing our primitive natures over fire whenever possible.

driving the coast last weekend
And then today I woke to one of those breathtaking blue-sky mornings where even the worst parts of town look gilded and celestial. We took advantage of all that sunshine and had breakfast down on International Boulevard, and while putting away a trucker-sized platter I considered all the good fortune  raining down lately. In the last few weeks alone my friends have been nominated for awards, courageously quit jobs to write full time, dealt with illness, wrote hundreds of thousands of words, planned book launches and taken well-deserved vacations. My children have recovered from pneumonia and knee injury in time to write for a campus paper and play lacrosse against some worthy foes. My dad and his wife Judy traveled the Cheese Trail (it's a NorCal thing) and settled into their retirement home.

As for me, I dug into a project that has me excited just like in the old days, when it was all blank pages and full speed ahead. I'm loving it so much I can't wait to get back to the computer. I'm learning Spanish and fit-bitting with friends (it's a late revelation for me that making things competitive is hugely motivating). I had to cancel my planned trip to the Edgars/Malice Domestic, but I'll be heading out for the latter part of March for book events with bookish people, and what could be nicer?

Nosotros bebemos chilaquiles verdes
To those of you for whom Spring remains a far-off dream, have faith--the rest of us will save you some daffodils and balmy mornings and that first-barbecue-of-the-season smell when you step outside on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Back in the swing, and so happy to be here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Romance Lives!...in the NYTBR

You know I've had my differences with the New York Times Book Review this past year, but last Sunday they broke new ground (for them) and included coverage of romance novels.

Now, I can be quite tetchy and sensitive about this kind of thing, and while the BR purported to cover "love stories" this week, there are all kinds of comments I could make about the tilt of the composition and tenor of the reviews included.

But I think, for once, it might simply suffice to say Bravo - and don't let this be a one-time thing.

Here's this week's Shortlist, by Sarah MacLean, covering novels by Sherry Thomas, Kristan Higgins, Tracy Anne Warren, and Karen Rose.

Incidentally, Sarah may have been asked to write this Shortlist after she took the NYTBR to task for their exclusion of romance novels in a discussion of sex in books. GO SARAH.