Once in a Blue Moon

A blue moon is a celestial rarity and occurs when there are two full moons in one calendar month--such as the one today. It refers not to the color of the moon, but to the wonder.  The title of my fifth novel (first published in 1993) is a play on that, and refers to the rare, once-in-a-lifetime love between Sheila and Eddie, the matriarch and patriarch of the Keating family. The title also refers to a long-disappeared section of sailor's bars and nefarious doings in Newport, Rhode Island.  The name "Sheila" was inspired by Sheila Dingley Mularski, one of my favorite little girls, who has grown up to be a Title One reading teacher, working with 10-12 year olds. Her school has a small library, but no librarian, so Sheila started volunteering her lunch hour to help kids check out books. Could we take a moment of appreciation for Sheila as well as your own favorite teachers and librarians, people who encourage and celebrate reading?

I have very happy memories about the publication of Blue Moon...  The Happy Carrot had just opened in Old Lyme, Connecticut.  It was a wonderful independent bookstore owned by Paulette Zander, and this was the first reading she'd hosted.  She decorated the store windows in such a mystical way, full of blue moon-inspired art, and it was the first of many great book events we would have together.

My launch party was held at the Old Lyme Inn--then owned by my dear friend Diana Atwood Johnson, who ran it like an artists' retreat and literary salon (she's an artist herself, I was honored to introduce her at last summer's exhibition of her bird photographs at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts.)  For the Blue Moon party she served blue cocktails and seafood delicacies.  In the novel, Shore Dinners were served at the Keating family restaurant, and Diana outdid herself recreating the lobster-and-clam-bakes cooked by the Keatings.  She decorated the inn so beautifully, and we invited old and new friends.  I remember being totally surprised and delighted to look up and see the Reducers, a band I love, walk into this classic New England inn in all their black leather punk glory.

Blue Moon was later made into a CBS Movie-of-the-Week.  It starred Sharon Lawrence, Jeffrey Nordling, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, and Hallie Kate Eisenberg, and was filmed in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, one of the most beautiful seaside towns I've ever seen.  My love for Nova Scotia had already begun, but it certainly deepened during my visit to the set.

Happy memories...I am glad for the chance to share them with you.  The sky does inspire me.  I hope you look up tonight and all nights and enjoy what you see...

A Place to Call Home

homeWhere is it for you?  In The Lemon Orchard Julia drives cross-country from Old Lyme CT to Malibu CA.  She's lived her whole life on the east coast, but something inside is driving her to find a new place, make sense of life's events, hold tight to her some treasured ideas and let go of others.  She might not know it at first, but she's looking for a new home. Do you live in the same home town where you grew up?  Have you moved half a world away?  Do you love to visit the places you spent your childhood summers or have you explored new territories?

I've done both.  I love the Old Lyme beach cottage my grandparents built, and I've also left the familiar behind to search out new places.  It's not that one is better than the other; it's more a matter of listening to that inner voice and following where it leads.  Home is where the cats are, a place to sit quietly to think and write and read, a comfy chair in the shade.

What is the place that you call home?

[UPDATE May 7: Congratulations Rachel Hartwig on winning this week's drawing!]

summer day, summer night

"do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?  i always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it."  ~daisy buchanan in "the great gatsby" by f. scott fitzgerald.

one of my favorite novels, favorite characters, favorite quotes.  i think i mention it every year at this time, don't i?

tomorrow, june 21, is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year.  i'll watch for it and hope i don't miss it.  (i don't think i will...)  if my parents were still alive, it would have been their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary.  they were married in old lyme, ct, where they, and my grandparents, and my sisters and i, and friends and cats and i have watched so many longest days of the year.

we'll celebrate my parents, and summer...and reread gatsby and think of the green light at the end of daisy's dock.

happy summer--and happy summer reading--to all!

(i love the painting above--"summer night" by winslow homer, at the musee d'orsay in paris.)

With Love to Librarians and Booksellers

Now that The Silver Boat is on sale, I have the pleasure of being on book tour, meeting readers along the way. I had a great kick-off event at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison CT.  R.J. Julia has supported my novels since the early days, and I'm incredibly grateful.  They took a chance on me relatively early in my career, promoting my novels and asking me to read.  

There have been other constant supports along the way.  The Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library in Old Lyme CT is one--every summer for many years, whenever I had a new novel out, librarian Mary Fiorelli would create a wonderful, imaginative event--I would read or give a talk, sometimes by the fireplace in the library's wonderful reading room, surrounded by paintings done by American impressionists, members of the Old Lyme art colony.

Writing a novel is its own kind of magic.  But the enchantment goes to a new level once the book is in the hands of a reader.  I'm so grateful to all the booksellers and librarians who have helped bring me and my readers together.  It's incredible teamwork all around.  I would love if you'd leave a comment here, telling us about your own favorite bookstores and libraries.

I'll be appearing in Charleston SC at the Post & Courier Book and Author Luncheon on April 21st.  Between now and then I'll be guest-blogging, doing radio and TV interviews, including Better TV--my segment airs tomorrow, 4/13; please check their website to find out where you can see it in your area.

After Charleston, my book tour will take me out west.  I'd love to see you!  Thank you in advance to all the wonderful book people hosting me and coming out for The Silver Boat.

Madison, CT                          R.J. Julia / 7:00pm                                                              Friday, April 8

New York, NY                       Barnes & Noble (Upper East side)/ 7:00pm         Monday, April 11

San Francisco, CA             Belmont Library / 7:00pm                                               Tuesday, April 26

San Diego, CA                       Warwick’s / 7:30pm                                                            Thursday, April 28

Los Angeles, CA                   LA Times Festival of Books                                             April 30 / May 1

St. Louis, MO                        St. Louis County Library / 7:00pm                             Thursday, May 5

 

 

Look up

There is so much to love and find beautiful right now, while memories tug into the past, thoughts of Christmases gone by.  I find this time of year bittersweet. I think of my mother, father, and Mim, old friends, a sister who's said goodbye.  I remember the house we grew up in, on Lincoln Street in New Britain, Connecticut.

We'd decorate the tree, wrap a lauren garland  around the banister, place another over the mantle,  and drape one over the front door.  Mim would decorate the wreath, hang it on the door.  We'd bake Christmas cookies.  One year we made clay angels, and our favorite was the one that looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.

Even then, at a young age, there was longing for more connection, especially with my father.  If you've read my novel Firefly Beach, you know the story of my pregnant mother, three-year old sister, and my five year old self being held hostage one night, by the man with a gun.  It happened at Christmas, and had to do with my complicated father, so that experience is in my holiday memory bank as well.

Isn't it strange the way we sometimes miss sad or painful things?  Maybe it's the desire to go back and make them turn out right.  My father would be magically happier, the man with the gun wouldn't have come, the cold and dark would stay outside while in our little cape cod house our family would be cozy, drawn together, safe and sound.  That's the visions-of-sugarplums version.

In reality there were many visions-of-sugarplum moments.  My mother would read to us from The Cricket on the Hearth and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.

One summer we found an enormous starfish, and began to use it as the star atop our tree.  When my father was home he'd place the star; I'd always have a lump in my throat when he did that.  On Christmas Eve my mother would tell us to listen for the angels singing, it was the one time in the year that we could hear them, and we always would, just before drifting off to sleep.

Later, after my father died, we moved to the beach year-round.  We kept the old traditions but found new ones.  We heated with a coal stove, so there was an old-fashioned ritual to stoking the fire.  We'd tie red ribbons around all the candlestick holders, and light the night by candlelight.

On Christmas morning, nearly every year, we'd look out at Long Island Sound and see sea smoke: a low mysterious cloud just over the water's surface, like smoke above a cauldron, a phenomenon caused when arctic air moves over warmer salt water.

Sometimes we'd see ships passing down the sound, some with lighted Christmas trees tied to their masts--magical to look far out and see that, tiny bright spots sailing along the horizon--and we'd wonder where they were going, how the crew felt to be away from their families.

At night we'd go outside.  Maybe it would be snowing, or the stars would be blazing, and one year a comet streaked through the sky--celestial wonder.  The moment brought us close to heaven, and I'd think of my father, I think we all did, and sent him love while also wondering why he couldn't have been happier here on earth, and Mim would stand in the kitchen door calling us back inside, weren't we freezing, it was making her cold just to look at us.  We'd laugh and go in.

So many gone, but strong love still here.  My little sister and I have each other.  Her husband and daughter, and our niece and her husband, and two friends so dear they're nothing less than family to us.  We've been creating our own traditions over the last years. We've invited to the table our ghosts and lost loves, so they can be at the celebration too.  We carry them with us.

Maybe the lesson, if there has to be a lesson, is that nothing is ever all one way.  The holidays seem to promise universal goodness, happiness, togetherness.  That isn't always the way, and because of our heightened hopes, the disappointment can be all the greater.

There's beauty in every life, every single day.  Sometimes it takes effort and focus to find it.  To find that starfish, taking that beach walk we had to look down.  Even when your heart is aching for who's not here, you look around and find who is.  There's someone who loves you.  There's a cat who wants to sit on your lap.  There are bright stars in the cold, dark sky.  Position the starfish at the top of the tree.   All will be well.

Look up.

[Image at top of page: The Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church.]

Halloween

All my childhood Halloweens took place in Connecticut and all my grownup ones have been in New York City.  [Thank you to Amelia Onorato for the magical illustration.]

Connecticut is next to Massachusetts and my sisters and I had strong imaginary connections to the women, a.k.a the witches, of Salem.  We had more local witches as well--the weathervane atop E. E. Dickinson's Witch Hazel factory in Essex, CT, always a favorite sight when my family would drive down Rte. 9 to the beach.

And the  young Connecticut "witch" Kit Tyler, age 16 in 1667, the heroine of one of my favorite books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

The book frightened and thrilled me--to think about such prejudice and hatred, and to read about Kit's strength, independence, loyalty, and ultimately, faith that the truth would out.  The novel and its characters felt very close to home--Kit first landed in America at Old Saybrook, just across the Connecticut River from our beach cottage in Old Lyme.

Maybe it was Kit's story that always inspired me to dress like a witch for Halloween.  Each year I wore the same thing: Mim's ancient crinoline black slip, lace up pointy-toed boots, and a black velvet opera cape that I had actually sewn, and who knows why?--the only opera I'd ever attended was I Pagliacci, at the Bushnell Theater, with my seventh grade class from St. Maurice School.  But there came a time when my sisters and I got seriously into capes, and we sewed them, complete with hoods, silk lining, and hand-tied black frog closures.

It was all very dramatic.  Trick-or-treating down Lincoln Street, with the Whitney children (my second family and beloved babysitting charges) holding our hands in the darkness, I think we envisioned ourselves crossing some moor in Puritan times, fighting oppression and casting spells whilst collecting candy.

Halloween didn't used to be so commercialized.  Plastic pumpkins were rare--who would even want one?  We carved elaborate jack-o-lanterns, placed candles inside for scary illumination, and toasted the pumpkin seeds.  Some families actually handed out crisp apples and we liked getting them.  (At least in my memory we did.  Probably not as much as Snickers bars, however.)  The holiday was a melange of fun and gravity; candy and costumes mixed in with our Irish Catholicism--All Souls Day, All Saints Day, All Saints Eve, All Hallows Eve, with a dash of Celtic Samhain tradition as well.

It was New England, therefore spooky with bare branches raking the cold sky, piles of dry fallen leaves underfoot, the sound of wind whistling through the swaying trees, but also reverent, in that we felt and heard the ghosts and prayed for them to be released from this life into the next.

Then I moved to New York.  Halloween in Chelsea makes me happy.  So many brownstones, pumpkins, set designers who go to town on their own houses.  The late great Empire Diner always decorated for holidays, Halloween included.  I miss Renate and the diner.  Grrr, things change, and good places and people leave.  

So here's to the Whitneys, now trick-or-treating with their own children; the Witch of Blackbird Pond; the spirits of Lincoln Street; the ghosts of Chelsea; the Empire Diner; and hobgoblins everywhere.  Happy Halloween.  Please enjoy a good apple and a Snickers bar for me.

The Locals

Whenever Old Lyme threw a literary gathering, the writers would usually be the locals: Dominick Dunne, David Handler, and me.  What a thrill I felt to be included with them.  And I was always as entertained as the audience: they were as smart and funny as storytellers come. All three of us set novels in town; Dominick's fictional Old Lyme was Prud'homme, David's is Dorset, and mine is Black Hall, with the beach area of Hubbard's Point.

Earlier this summer when David and I discovered each other on Facebook, we had a happy online moment.  It turned bittersweet as we spoke of Dominick and how we miss him.

Old Lyme's light is dreamy, reflecting off Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River, and all the tributaries, ponds, salt meadows, and marshes.  Lyme Street runs through the village, lined with charming saltboxes, stately white colonial houses, stone walls, and gardens, one more seductive than the next.

There's an unquestionable reserve about our town, mystery behind the picket fences.  Such a delicious place to set novels.  No wonder David's are mysteries.

David has a brand new blog; I read the post while away from Old Lyme, and it made me homesick for everything about the town.  I hope we're asked to speak together again before too long.  I really want to hear him tell the Sid and Nancy, well more Nancy, story again.  Also, and I bet David doesn't know this, the reason I got a Fender Stratocaster is directly linked to why his character Mitch Berger first acquired his.

Dominick was wickedly witty and kind and direct and famous.  He knew everybody and traveled all over, and I think he really considered Old Lyme to be his sanctuary.  I loved his writing and consider his Vanity Fair article, Justice, about the murder of his daughter Dominique, to be one of the most riveting, honest, unforgettable pieces I've ever read.

What a time, what a town.  I want to stop by the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library and get lost in some research, and I definitely need to play my Strat more often.

No Woods

The area is called Point O' Woods, but now it might as well be called Point O' No Woods. The new houses have air-conditioning—who needs the sea breeze, and who needs shade? Instead of the rustle of leaves overhead, walk down the road and hear the low, constant hum of a big air-conditioning unit.

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