Monday, December 8, 2014

Buying American for the Holidays


"If each one of us spent $64 a year on something actually made in America, we would together create 200,000 jobs." -Diane Sawyer, ABC News.

This is the fourth year in a row that I've committed to buying products made in the USA for everyone on my Christmas list. It isn't easy and I'm lucky my list is pretty short. Besides my boyfriend, I only give gifts to children.

This year was easier than past years because I didn't waste much time looking for stores that simply don't exist. For a wide selection of reasonably priced kid toys, go to fatbraintoys. com and select American made in the search criteria. For adorable, one-of-a-kind, hand-made children's clothes, go to etsy.com

I am not trying to encourage a boycott of foreign products; I just think if I want to help American workers stay relevant, I have to be willing to put my money where my mouth is.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas - Skipping the Gifts

For several years now, my family has decided to donate to charity in lieu of gifts to each other. We have given to Unicef, Heifer, CharityWater, to name a few. Helping someone on the other side of the world to become self-reliant feels better to me than receiving a bunch of things I really don't need. (And it saves on standing in the exchange line on December 26th.) It's much more consistent with the Christmas spirit.

Last year, I chose OxFam and I was able to donate a cow, which is, admit it, just fun. If you donate to them today, they are matching donations until midnight (for Cyber Monday). You can donate a well for $175 or a duck for $30. I think I'm going to give a school meal program for one child. If I donate today, that's two kids

I never donate to charity without checking with Charitynavigator.org. I will likely give the bulk of my donation to CharityWater, which is scoring higher this year. Program expenses get 84% of their budget and the CEO makes $192,000. (I can't stand charity CEOs who make millions.) I recommend checking out your charity here before donating. You can even look at their list of top-rated charities if you need ideas.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review: The State of Me

 Nasim Marie Jafry's debut novel reads more like memoir, depicting a fifteen year period in the life a woman diagnosed with ME, a condition which also affects the author. Diagnosed in the '80s, Helen Fleet must deal with a medical community that knows so little about her condition that it's often dismissed as psychosomatic. While this book does a good job challenging that idea, it didn't feel bogged down with medical information.

The novel is anything but plot driven. About a hundred pages in, I read some reviews to see if I should keep going. The consensus was yes, and I'm glad I did, but part of what impressed me the most about this book is that there's really no conventional plot to be found in 500 pages.

What kept me reading was the quirky perspective of the narrator. She is whiny and irritating at times (especially in the beginning when she's in her early twenties), but her take on the world in which she participates differently is revealing. She discusses the way her illness affects life's practicalities- going to parties, holding a job, traveling, living on her own.

Surprisingly, the narrative is dominated by her insecurities about her dating life. In some ways, this is frustrating, but it's also rather humanizing. The expectation for many readers would be for her thoughts to be consumed by her disease, but instead she obsesses over whether a particular boy will call her.

The book is unconventional stylistically. She shifts tenses and POV (by scene, not within a scene). There are "interviews" included where Helen answers the questions of a stranger, reminiscent of the ignorance she encounters about ME. As the perspective moves closer, then further away, it seems to mimic her own experience; at times she feels she's watching herself from the outside.

I think Jafry does a really good job of showing someone who is struggling with disability, but not defined by it. So many other things are bigger, most especially her unique personality. I think we live in a society that often forgets that's true of everyone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The upside to having your email hacked

Okay, so first of all, let me apologize to anyone who was in my address book who got a strange, spammy email from my address. I've seen this happen to other people but this is the first time I've been hacked. So, in a way, that's kind of lucky. Is that Pollyanna enough for you?  No? Well, keep reading.

I've had the same email address since I was seventeen, so my address book is full of people I have lost touch with for one reason or another. So although my morning began with my boyfriend notifying me of the hack (followed quickly by my dad and brother), other emails began to pour in from across the country, people I haven't heard from in years.

I've spent the day touching base with people who were surprised but happy to hear from me. A professor from college, the copy editor for my first novel, the handyman who worked for me several houses ago. It's been a lovely trip down memory lane.

As much as the internet gets blamed for making us more isolated, sometimes it does the opposite. Hackers: bringing people together. Who knew?

So again, sorry for the spam and don't click the link!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: Ithaca

In Susan Fish's new novel, a woman who has let herself be defined by her family life is suddenly widowed and is forced to learn a new way to live. When Daisy's geologist professor husband drops dead of a heart attack she feels like her solid, sedentary life has been fracked. The spring of his passing also marks a change in her community. Anti-fracking signs appear on the roadside and Daisy finds herself wondering about them.

Where once Daisy kept herself apart, even in the weekly suppers she hosted while her husband was alive, now she feels the urge to participate. She begins to take a class to learn about fracking. Along the way she meets new people and is exposed to new ideas. She keeps hosting the Wednesday dinners, but becomes involved in them instead of watching from the outside. She begins to find her voice.

The story is quiet and sometimes slow, but Fish's portrayal of human emotion is incredibly complex and perceptive. The secondary characters are so well drawn. One is a young single mother with a struggling family farm. One is a retired professor who rents a room and confesses to having given up a child when she was young. One is a man whose wife has MS and the two of them become close. The way they become close and how close they become has as much to do with her back-story as his. Her new ability to be close to people now that her husband is gone is the main story- but the people she gets close to have complicated, real lives. They don't seem to exist just to help tell Daisy's story. You can imagine they go home and live real lives without her.

Ultimately, this is not a book meant to educate you on fracking or tell you what to think about it. It is more about how Daisy learns to engage with her community, to find her own way to contribute and recognize her value. At first, she dismisses herself as too old, uneducated, just a housewife. But she comes to see her gift of bringing people together and getting them to tell their stories. She learns to balance the parts of her old life with her new desires.

The resolution of the story is a bit open-ended (like life) and felt very true to the character. I enjoyed the read.





Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl

I don't usually review movies, but since I reviewed the book yesterday and said I'd be seeing the movie, I'm making an exception.

Often, when I love a book, the movie can be a disappointment. It's really hard to tell the same story from an external point of view when it was originally internal. The screenplay was written by the same author who wrote the novel and - as a writer - I was blown away that she was able to tell this story so well in both mediums.

There are a few minor changes to condense the story, but fans of the book will find all the things that were great about the read have been translated into the film. We watched the movie with a couple who hadn't read the book and they enjoyed it too.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: Gone Girl

This is a difficult book to review without giving anything away. It's about a marriage that has begun to fall apart when the wife goes missing. Did the husband do it?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It's told in alternating narrative and both main characters are writers. It's so well-written with such intricate details and insight into relationships between men and women and real characters with inside jokes. Halfway through the book, I was already looking forward to rereading it, and by Part Two I had forced my boyfriend to start reading it. He got custody of the book when I fell asleep and stayed up until 2am to finish it.

Gone Girl is clever, fun, edge of your seat reading. Tonight, we're going to see the movie and can't imagine how they'll translate it for the screen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Gig

I've just started writing for the Today's Author blog, which is a great site for writers to interact with other writers and get inspiration. I just wrote my first blog for them about NaNoWriMo, the writing challenge in November when all your writer nerd friends try to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Here's my take on it.

I'll still be updating this blog with my book projects, my house projects and my book reviews. But I'll probably be shifting writing focused posts to Today's Author.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Partial Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

I'm usually much more careful when I pick a book to read. When it isn't the newest book written by an author I already love, I'll start with a friend's recommendation, read lots of Amazon reviews and check out the first few pages before buying. Every time I skip this process, I regret it. You'd think I'd learn.

I bought The Light Between Oceans on a whim. The premise is killer and the novel starts with a couple of lighthouse keepers finding a live baby and a dead man when a boat washes on shore. Instead of following that thread, the book then backtracks to explain how the couple met and fell in love . . . for the next eighty pages or so. When we finally get back to the point - do they keep the baby? is she really an orphan? - we are subjected to pages of supposedly adorable moments of baby-talk and the joys of parenthood. If you removed all the scenes where nothing happens to move the story forward, this book might be thirty pages long.

I made it more than  halfway, but I give up. Life is too short and my copy of Gone Girl arrived today. I did follow my strict rules on book finding for that one so my expectations are high.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: Watch

A little over a year ago, I wrote a review for Cass McMain's first book, Sunflower. Her second book, Watch, seems like a departure, plot-wise. It certainly is a bit darker. But, readers will be treated to the relatable characters and amazing dialogue that are McMain's specialty. She is even able to write interesting conversations between children, without ever making it feel like you're reading YA.

Watch opens on a realistic family drama: Corky visits her dying uncle who is sharing family secrets before he goes. It's hard for her to make sense of his ramblings, which she first dismisses as a product of dementia. After his death, she reads his journal and is forced to confront what seems impossible: he believed her father was a vampire. Was he simply mentally ill or could there be some shred of truth there?

As Corky delves deeper into this mystery, she encounters an underground society of "Sanguinarians" who appear to be normal human beings whose fascination with vampires leads them to act out a sort of vampire culture. In an attempt to make sense of her family history, Corky is exposed to a part of the world she never knew existed and she learns that it's impossible to know a person's secrets by looking at them from the outside.

The ending felt a bit abrupt to me, but as the writer says: "it's all going in circles, so there is no end really."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J Fikry

This book was loaned to me by a friend. I never would have picked it up myself- the hokey title, the old fashioned cover that makes it look like a children's book - but I loved it. In retrospect, I wonder why my friend was not more confident in her pitch. This book is a book nerd's dream.

Each chapter starts with the main character giving his take on a well known short story. He owns a book store so the conversations in the novel are naturally bookish. They discuss literary technique and debate whether e-readers signal the ruin of publishing. In a writing class, one character complains about stories written in omniscient, present tense- like this book is. It could have come off as annoyingly self-conscious; I thought it was charming.

The characters talk about the value of ambiguous endings, how to build to a plot twist, and the age old advice that when there's a gun in the first act, it had better go off by the third. These ideas are played out within the story, which could have been simplistic lesson teaching, but was so much deeper because the story itself is lovely.

A.J. starts the story as a widower in his thirties who thinks his life is over. The next fifteen years prove him wrong.

Here's my favorite bit of bookish dialogue:

"'Show, don't tell' is a complete crock of shit," Daniel lectures her. "It comes from Syd Field's screenplay books, but it doesn't have a thing to do with novel writing. Novels are all tell. The best ones at least. Novels aren't meant to be imitation screenplays."

Now, if you have an opinion about that, you're a book nerd. Or a writer. Either way, read this book.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review: The Arsonist

I lovelovelove Sue Miller and her latest book, The Arsonist, lived up to my expectations. The plot, an arsonist terrorizes a small town in New Hampshire, is juicy enough. But it's Millers characters that make her a super-star.

Frankie returns from Africa to her parents' summer home where they have just retired. As she considers her next professional move and gets involved with the local reporter, her mother struggles to come to terms with her husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Both women contemplate love and the future while ruminating on the lessons of the past. How does Frankie make room for another person in her life without sacrificing her need to find meaningful work? How does Sylvia continue to care for a husband she doesn't love without giving up her own identity? The mysterious fires that begin to divide the town are a backdrop to this very human story.

I enjoyed every moment of the read, but found the ending a bit of a disappointment. I do not require tidy happy endings in fiction, but this one includes a paragraph that takes all the hope out of any idea that things might work out eventually. Edit that paragraph out in your mind, like I did, and the ending is satisfying.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blog Hop!

Writing can be such a solitary endeavor. It's nice to remember we're part of a larger creative community. Robin Israel invited me to participate in this blog hop as a way to do just that and to shout out to other writers I admire and support.

LIKE: Mary Vensel White, author of HarperCollins' The Qualities of Wood (and a forthcoming masterpiece I've had the privilege of reading before publication).

AND: Juliet O'Callaghan, who has started writing again after taking a contemplative break. You can read about that and you can read her chapters.


BLOG HOP QUESTION:
Why are you working on the project you are writing now? Why is it important? (to you, or to the world, or…)

As of this weekend, I have finished writing Finding Charlie. (I thought it was done a few weeks ago, but it needed another chapter.)


So my new project is deciding what to do with it. I'm working up a query letter for literary agents and weighing the pros and cons of self-publishing.


I never would have considered self-publishing my first book, but with two traditionally published books under my belt and a bit of experience with social media promotion, I'm feeling more confident. It's definitely something I'll think about.


In the meantime, you can check out my first chaptersFinding Charlie opens on the mystery of 19 year old Charlie Howard's disappearance.  As the hours turn to days, older sister Olivia tries to put the pieces together.  This is a family drama that takes place in the summer in Tucson, Arizona - the longest season of the year. Readers of Jodi Picoult, Sue Miller, and J. Courtney Sullivan would appreciate this story.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: And the Dark Sacred Night

I am a big Julia Glass fan. I even reread her first novel before starting this one because I knew she'd be revisiting some old characters. Glass is a phenomenal writer and I have read all of her books. So I was expecting to fall in love with And the Dark Sacred Night and I'm disappointed to say I did not.

Don't get me wrong: this book is well written. The dialogue is pitch perfect, the characters feel like real people, the premise is juicy. Readers of Three Junes get to find out what happened to the son Malachy abandoned. But, somewhere along the way, Glass took a weird turn in the story telling. She started jumping   months and years ahead, skipping over the complicated emotional (interesting) parts of the story and describing the mundane moments that led up to them: the board games played and meals prepared during a rainy weekend, the excruciating details of an archival job involving Inuit art.

For the life of me, I can not imagine why Fenno was in this book. I liked seeing him again, but his short friendship with Kit's long dead father did not make him relevant to this family reunion. That he might have been secretly in love with Mal doesn't give him any meaningful information to bestow on Kit. And he doesn't. While I could understand Kit's desire to connect with his biological father's family, I could not understand why he wanted his mother to spend a weekend doing the same. Or why he withholds from his children how they're related to these people they're spending time with.

The story gets back on track for the last three pages and manages a satisfying conclusion. I just wish she'd go back and rewrite the last third of the book.

Monday, June 30, 2014

House project 358 - The Ceiling

While I was house-hunting, I saw another house in my neighborhood with a wooden beam on the ceiling. I loved it and thought I could easily fix mine. Turns out, it's much more expensive than I imagined and I couldn't justify dropping four figures on a totally cosmetic change to, of all things, the ceiling.

But. I couldn't let it go. Every time I looked up, I saw this:

I knew it could be better. And I was right:


Thank you to Joey Mayer who painted the beam and installed my pretty new fan (with a remote!) He's the same guy who painted the living room. He does great work and his prices are reasonable.


Now, this is what you see when you come in the front door:


The Mantle - Final Draft

I've been fussing with this particular house project since I moved in. Here's the finished version:





Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review - Nineteen Minutes

I heard about Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes back in May when a NH parent complained his 14 year old daughter had to read it for school and he hadn't been notified despite some sexual content he found objectionable. I pretty much never agree with parents wanting to protect their teenagers from information contained in books - especially when that reading is taking place under adult supervision.

I still don't agree with this parent but, to be fair, the scene he objected to is a quite graphic description of teens having sex. I was never given anything remotely like this when I was in school. Nobody had sex in the classics I was assigned.

I mostly read this book to see why it's being assigned to high school students. The premise is that there has been a school shooting committed by a student who'd been bullied. I do think this book could open up conversation about bullying, gun control, and sexual consent - all issues kids should be thinking about.

The structure of the book is very clever. With multiple narrators, it shifts back in time before these particular children were even born, showing the events that shaped them. Of particular interest is the midwife and mother of the future shooter who delivers at least one future victim, befriending her mother. This structure allows Picoult to give several different perspectives without telling the reader what to think.

I don't know if Picoult typically writes from the perspective of teenagers, but it didn't work for me here. It seemed like a caricature of how adults think teens talk. Also, her use of metaphors and similes were universally awful. (No, the smile was not "as wide as the summer sun", the cop's new girlfriend doesn't remind him of "that first crocus you found in the snow." ) Her editor should have cut them all.

The book drags toward the end but I kept reading to find out what the hinted at plot twist would be. Actually, I had an idea what it could be, but thought "oh no, that's way too stupid." But, that's what it was. I won't give it away other than to tell you to imagine the worst plot twist possible. That's it.

I probably wouldn't recommend this book to a literature class. For the benefit of conversations it could inspire, it might work for health class or even politics. And that's coming from someone who wants high school students reading more books by women that have greater relevance to contemporary life.

But not this one.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited take part in this blog tour by Mary Vensel White. She’s the author of HarperColllins’ Qualities of Wood, which has just been released in paperback. After reading her blog entry, I was reminded how similar we are in terms of writing process. I’ll try not to copy her answers!

1)      What are you working on?
    Right now, I’m more than halfway through my fourth novel, Finding Charlie. This is another book with alternating narrative and fans of my first novel, Monsoon Season, will rediscover a familiar character. (Though it is not a sequel.) In Finding Charlie, Olivia is searching for her younger sister. It opens on that mystery, but the journey becomes much broader than just figuring out what happened to her. It’s a family drama, at it’s core, like most of my stories are.

2)      How does your work differ from others of its genre?
    What makes this question hard is my love/hate relationship with the term “genre”. I write fiction- but that’s pretty broad, so I throw tags on it like “contemporary”, “commercial”, “literary”, “women’s” and even “book club fiction” to make it more specific. But in doing that, you risk narrowing your audience. For instance, men might be alienated by “women’s fiction” while some readers find the term “literary fiction” a little snooty.
    My work is different from other works of fiction in that it’s mine. You’ll find me in it. If you know me well, you might find yourself. Hopefully, I’ve disguised us so we won’t be immediately recognized, but it’s all deeply true. The fact that the stories are fiction can’t change that.

3)      Why do you write what you do?
    I’ve always written. It’s part of who I am and how I exist. When I sit down to write, I don’t usually know where the story is going. I just have a sense for my characters. I’m not a tortured artist. Figuring out where the story goes is fun for me. Selfishly, I write because I enjoy it. But I also love the connection I'm able to make with a reader.

4)      How does your writing process work?
    It has changed since getting published. I wrote my first three books without a clear idea that they would be read by anyone besides my mother and a couple of my best friends. The book I’m writing now is moving much more quickly. I have given myself permission to consider it legitimate work so I make time for writing in a new way. I set goals. This month I’m part of a group of writers trying to finish twenty thousand words in a month. That’s like twenty pages a week. It’s hard, but so far I’m on track. (I wish this blog post counted toward my word count!)

These are the writers I’ve persuaded to join the blog tour:

Alice Adams is the author of a beautiful, as yet unpublished novel. I discovered this book on authonomy.com and can’t wait to gift hard copies to everyone I know. You can read about her writing process here. You can also find a fascinating interview with her cat about the real estate market. (She funny.)

Naomi Ortiz is a nonfiction writer working on a book about self-care for social justice activists. We met a few years ago at a writers’ conference, making her one of my few writer friends from real life. Naomi will post about her writing process next week on her blog, Think Freestyle, which is wonderfully introspective and provides creative "food for thought" for all kinds of artists.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pima Writers' Workshop

This is the fourth workshop I have attended in Tucson. The last one I went to had many more speakers who were published authors, talking about their process. I wrote about it here. This year, there seemed to be an emphasis on literary agents discussing how to write a good query letter and how to choose the right agent for you.

What I found the most interesting about the agent speeches was their discomfort with the idea that they were "gatekeepers", although they obviously are. They admitted they're more likely to get their writers from referrals and urged people to include any personal connection at the very beginning of a query letter, perhaps even the subject line of the email.

"We're really more like matchmakers," one agent insisted, ignoring that she is in the position to choose who gets matched (and who doesn't) based on criteria that's meaningful to her. I don't begrudge her this position, but that's what it means to be a gatekeeper. It seems silly to pretend otherwise.

The consensus seemed to be that a literary agent gets hundreds of queries a week, makes dozens of manuscript requests and may take on two new clients in a year.

Two. In a year.

As sobering as that was, I did not get the impression that I got from speakers at the Tucson Book Festival that publishing is dead. None of these agents suggested a writer should hire their own editors or PR firms in order to secure representation.

Maybe the most useful aspect of this conference is the chance to have your work evaluated by one of the professionals speaking at the event. I'd recommend submitting work for a consultation if you think you're ready to start the query process.

The reiteration of how few writers agents take on each year makes it easy to understand why so many writers are self-publishing.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review - Three Junes

My boyfriend gifted me with the newest Julia Glass novel, And the Dark Sacred Night. Glass is one of my favorite authors, and when I read the synopsis, I realized this book would have some familiar characters. So I went back and reread Three Junes, the novel that first made me fall in love with this writer.

There are three separate stories here, the "three Junes" the title alludes to, and the main character in each story is connected to the others, sometimes in ways only the reader will ever know. The first June tells the story of Paul McLeod, newly widowed and finding himself in the anonymity of a group tour of Greece. The second June follows his son, Fenno, years later. Fenno is the only character to appear in all three Junes, and he narrates in first person while the other stories are told in limited third. Fenno's June is years after the first and finds him preparing for his father's funeral while reminiscing on the death of a friend from AIDS and the tense atmosphere surrounding the disease in New York City in the 80's. The last June, more years into the future, has Fenno crossing paths with someone his father met in the first June. The fact that neither of them recognize this connection is a bittersweet prize that belong to the reader alone.

This is character driven literary fiction about how we're all connected in ways we may never fully comprehend. For writers in this genre, there is no better "How To."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Writerly Update

So spellcheck is telling me I've made up a word, but that's what all my updates have in common: they're writerly.

I am 120 pages into my new WIP (work in progress, for those of you who are not writerly.) To read about that, check out the Finding Charlie page of my new author site. I'm also posting chapters on wattpad.

Oh, and by the way, I have a new author site. It's pretty cool. My very own domain was an anniversary gift from my very awesome boyfriend: katieorourke.com. That's me.

Hmm. What else? Antigone Books, my local indie bookstore, is selling copies of Monsoon Season. Even if you can't trek to Tucson, you can get your own paperback of Monsoon Season or A Long Thaw.

I'm going to the annual Pima Writers' Workshop again at the end of May. That's always a great place to recharge the writer battery and hear from professionals about this wacky, ever-changing industry.

Okay, I think that's it for now...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Long Thaw: Review

Image
“Looks like it’s going to be a long thaw.”
Here's my review from A Well Read Woman:
Abby has always had a safety net, unlike her cousin Juliet, who has an absent father and a drunk mother who depends on her financially. Abby is her cousin’s keeper and protector. Not that Juliet can’t protect herself…
Juliet is tough, in many aspects of her life, except when it comes to love. Perhaps her poor choices in men are because her father abandoned her and her sisters at a young age. All Juliet wants is a man who won’t leave her, and then there is Abby, who has a list of 50 qualities that are required in her perfect mate.
Allen made a mistake ten years ago, and as a result he lost his wife and his daughters. He rationalizes that they don’t need him, they have each other, but he tells his family otherwise. At Thanksgiving dinner, a family secret is let out, leaving everybody to question, “why?”, and “how could I have missed so much?” “What can be done to make things right?”
This broken family sets out to make things right, because life goes on, and as long as life goes on, there will be more chances to get it right.
I liked this story, because I like stories that center around family. Juliet and Abby have a bond that cannot be broken. Even after not seeing each other for ten years, they immediately click back together. They take care of, and lean on one another. These girls act more like sisters than cousins. They are lucky to have this bond, and they both need each other more than ever.
Read the rest on April's blog.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Book Review - He's Gone

"But no man, no anyone, is ever just an angry person. They are tender, and silly, and confused, that's the problem. No person is ever just one thing, angry or unfaithful or critical or guilty or victimized or weak or strong; do you hear what I'm saying?"
                                                                                      -Deb Caletti, He's Gone

When Dani's husband goes missing, her worry for him is mixed with doubts about their relationship. She can't shake the feeling his disappearance might have been intentional. As her leads turn into dead ends, she's forced to take an honest look at herself and her marriage. And while she's being honest, there's a memory she knows she has to face.

This marriage is the second for both of them, built on the destruction of the ones that came before. Dani has a guilty conscience; she can't help but think she's paying the price for all the heartache she caused. When Ian goes missing, she begins to take responsibility for that and she also realizes that she made another mistake. She thought her second husband could rescue her from her first, but she was only repeating a pattern: out of the frying pan, into the fire.

The mystery element of this book is fantastic. It had me turning the pages hungrily and I didn't figure out the ending until I got there, which is refreshing and rare.

But the deeper part of this novel is Caletti's ability to create complicated, lovable, flawed characters you root for and are disappointed by and understand. No person is ever just one thing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Finding Charlie - What Would You Do?

When her younger sister goes missing, Olivia has to decide how worried she should be. Charlie is 19 and has been missing for less than a day. She has left behind her car and her cell phone. The police aren't concerned.

But what Olivia keeps coming back to is her gut feeling. Something's wrong. This isn't like her.

How worried would you be if it was your sister? What should Olivia do next?

If you'd like to start this blog feature and red excerpts from the beginning, go here. To read the first five chapters, check me out on authonomy. If you have a membership there, you can show your support for the story by voting for it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Finding Charlie - Rationalizations

Before Olivia leaves Carmen, she finds one more piece of information about her sister's disappearance:
            I rubbed my palms against the top of my thighs. They were so clammy. I was worried for nothing, I told myself. She was nineteen and I hadn’t heard from her in a day. A day was nothing. “If you hear from her, tell her to call home, okay?” I stood up.
            Carmen nodded.
            Before I left, I tried the door to the car, but it was locked. I cupped my hands around my eyes and peered through the window. There, sitting in one of the cup holders, was Charlie’s cell phone. 

If you'd like to read more, come back tomorrow. And, if you'd like to start this blog feature from the beginning, go here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding Charlie - "This isn't like her"

When Olivia goes to Carmen's house, she gets a few clues about Charlie's disappearance. For one thing Charlie has left her car in the driveway. Carmen tells Olivia that Charlie was at her house the night before and had been up talking with her new boyfriend, Isaac, when Carmen went to bed. Olivia didn't know Charlie had a boyfriend, so this is news.
            I looked at my watch. My father would have gotten home by now. No phone call. “This isn’t like her.” I said it like a statement, but I was looking for reassurance.
            “I know.” Carmen wrapped her bare arms tightly around herself. “She always texts me back. Even if I text her in the middle of the night. She always keeps her phone with her while she sleeps and she will just text me back a smiley face so I know she’s listening.”
            Among a group of framed photographs on the surface of a dresser, there was a shot of the two girls with their faces pressed together, grinning. They were both missing their front teeth, which would make them, what, six or seven? Their faces were painted like butterflies, caterpillar middles along the bridge of their noses, antennae on their foreheads. It had been taken at the 4th Avenue Street Fair; there was a copy of that photograph at my dad’s house.
            I turned back to Carmen. “How well do you know this Isaac?”
If you'd like to read more, come back tomorrow. And, if you'd like to start this blog feature from the beginning, go here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Finding Charlie - What does Carmen know?

Are you getting worried about Charlie? Here's the end of what I posted yesterday:
            It was Carmen who came to the door. I could just make her out through the mesh of the security screen: dark hair flat on one side, wild on the other. She was wearing baggy shorts that hung low on her tiny hips and a red tank top.
            “Olivia,” she whispered. She reached to unlock the security door and I pulled it open. Her face crumpled and she stepped back. “Oh, god.”
And here's more:
            It was not the welcome I had expected. I tried to hold my voice steady. “Where’s Charlie?”
            Carmen blinked and her face smoothed. “You don’t know?”
            “No, I don’t know!” I was yelling. Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to hit her, this girl I’d known forever who was nearly as much a sister as my sister was. She knew something; she was hiding something, taunting me.
            Carmen put a hand to her chest. “Oh, you scared me. I thought you were coming to tell me something had happened.”
            “Something like what?”
            “I don’t know. I’ve been texting her all day and she hasn’t texted back. I’m worried.”
            “Her car’s in your driveway.”
            “I know. She was here last night.” And then, finally: “Come in.” She shut the door behind me and led me into the living room.
            “My dad was calling the house all day,” I said.
            She sat in the oversized recliner in the corner and pulled her feet under her, making herself even smaller than she already was. “My parents are away. I don’t answer the house phone. It’s never for me.”
            I sat down on the couch across from her. “Carmen, if you were worried about her, why didn’t you try to get a hold of me or my dad?”
            She looked startled by this suggestion. “I didn’t want to get her in trouble.”
            I sighed. Kids. “So she was here last night?”
            Carmen nodded, warily.
            “Did she sleep here?” 
            “Well, I thought she did. But, I’m not sure.”
If you'd like to read more, come back tomorrow. And, if you'd like to start this blog feature from the beginning, go here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Finding Charlie - Who Saw Her Last?

Last week, the excerpt I shared had Olivia's distraught father informing her that Charlie hadn't come home the night before. Olivia poo-pooed her father's worry and to further placate him, she's gone to see Charlie's best friend:
            Carmen lived in one of those developments with three different housing plans repeated a few dozen times and painted in HOA approved pastels. It would be easy to get lost if I didn’t know the neighborhood by heart, having spent all the years since I got my license picking up or dropping off. I took the corner onto her street and was awash with relief: there, in the stubby driveway, was Charlie’s yellow Volkswagen bug.
            By the time I rang the doorbell, my relief had already turned to anger. What was she thinking? How could she let us worry like that- especially my poor father. He’d missed a day at work, something he never did, indicative of just how scared he’d been.
            I banged on the door, righteous adrenaline behind every thud.
            It was Carmen who came to the door. I could just make her out through the mesh of the security screen: dark hair flat on one side, wild on the other. She was wearing baggy shorts that hung low on her tiny hips and a red tank top.
            “Olivia,” she whispered. She reached to unlock the security door and I pulled it open. Her face crumpled and she stepped back. “Oh, god.”
And on that note, I'll stop. If you'd like to read more, come back tomorrow. And, if you'd like to start this blog feature from the beginning, go here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Finding Charlie - The Opening

Tuesday, April 22nd 2014:
            It was the neighbor’s dog that woke me.
            The curtained window was outlined in sunlight. The thick fabric had been advertised as “black-out curtains”, but there are some things that are simply too much to ask for. Even this early, there was no keeping the day outside.
            Rick’s arm was heavy across my chest, trapping me in the bed like a stupid metaphor for this relationship. As if I needed it underlined. Officially, we’d broken up three months ago. But, in that time, I’d managed to wake up this way more times than I wanted to count.
And so begins the day Olivia discovers her little sister is missing. It starts like any other day, the self-centered worries that will seem irrelevant in just a few hours. She doesn't know yet.

I finished writing my three pages yesterday, so I'm on target for hitting 100 by the weekend. Tomorrow, I'll share an excerpt from the moment Olivia first learns Charlie has disappeared.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The New Book - Finding Charlie

I'm about a third of the way into my latest creation. Yesterday, I wrote three pages. The goal is to hit 100 by the weekend. Nagging is welcome. I am a writer who gets easily distracted. Facebook My writer's forum. The household chores. The sunshine in my back yard.

(I swear once they invent a tablet that can be used outside, I'll be as prolific as Steven King. And super tan.)

So I'm kicking off a new blog feature for this book. I'll be sharing excerpts as I go along. For today, I'll just give you the pitch:
When nineteen year old Charlotte Howard doesn't return from a party, only the people who know her best are appropriately terrified. 
It's not like Charlie to stay out without calling. As the hours turn to days, older sister Olivia tries to put the pieces together. She finds a lost cell phone, an abandoned car and an untrustworthy boyfriend she'd never met before who was the last person to see her sister alive. And he's not the only secret Charlie's been keeping.
Want to read the first page? Check out tomorrow's post.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

House Project 357: the mantle

I had this unreasonable expectation that I'd get all the reno projects done within a year. Well, it's been two years and I'm not finished. I've got the big things out of the way: the kitchen, the master bath. But the mantle has been getting done in dribs and drabs.

When I moved in, this is what it looked like:
Shortly after moving in, I had a doorway added between the living room and kitchen:
The fake brick wasn't my taste, so I had it removed about a year ago:
Last summer, I finally had the room painted, getting rid of all that white:
This week, I got my custom sandblasted beam from fauxwoodbeams.com:
I may paint the bump out white before I really call it done, but I'm happy with it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Future of Publishing

Yesterday, I went to the Tucson Book Festival and had the chance to listen to several speakers from the book industry talking about what they know. It was thoroughly depressing.

The agents said writers should be prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars editing and promoting their work. The publishers said self-published books are horrible and that self-publishing is pretty much required in building your platform. The writer/publicist/publisher "team" were proof that if you have a recognizable name and the money to hire someone to help write and promote your story, you can get multiple publishers to make you an offer.

It wasn't so long ago that the way to spot a publishing scam was to find yourself asked to spend your own money. Now, that seems to have changed.

Honestly, this has not been my experience. I've had two books published and they never asked me to kick in a dime. And despite all the industry professionals saying publishers aren't giving advances to new writers anymore, I got one. So as depressing as the day was, I'm not sure all the information was accurate. Maybe they're just trying to discourage us, keeping the slush pile manageable.

Perhaps the most depressing information of the day was the trend that readers have begun to assume that books aren't something you pay for. As writers continue to publish their work for ever-lowering prices, they're perpetuating this idea.

Monday, February 24, 2014

This Is How I Write

It was during my last semester of college that I was introduced to "creative nonfiction" and that was the bridge that led me to write fiction (after years of writing angsty, introspective poetry). People who know me well can find the sections in my novels that have been "stolen" from real life. The danger in writing autobiographical fiction is that people begin to make assumptions about the rest of the novel. All of my characters are created from fragments of actual people, but none of my characters are based on a single person. So if someone recognizes themselves in my fiction, the risk is that they will think everything about that character is based on how I think of them.

In my most recent novel, A Long Thaw, there's a section where Abby is creating a collage. It's an apt metaphor for the way I write:
This is her hobby. She pretends that it’s soothing to create collages on the covers of photo albums or journals. The truth is that she stresses over them, fitting the pieces together like a schizophrenic puzzle. A long triangle of a navy blue satin gown, the sun setting on a horizon, a pair of eyes clotted with mascara, a phrase usually from an advertisement for cosmetic surgery, something like be your best, disempowerment repackaged, out of context. She gives them as gifts, personalized.
It's funny; I didn't recognize the symmetry when I wrote this. It was not intentional. But this is the way I write, taking something true and repackaging it, changing the context so that it means something different in the story than it meant in my life.  

The other part of the metaphor is the way that I often present my writing as a pleasurable hobby -- and there is a significant element of pleasure that I get from it -- but the truth is more complicated. My writing is something I stress over, fitting the pieces together, peeling them apart, resetting the glue. The pleasure comes in fits and starts, sometimes only with the relief of having it done.

Right now, my current work in progress is eating at me. I think about these made up people all day. I decorate their kitchens and imagine their first heartbreaks and research their path through dental school. They're with me, always, nagging at me to finish their stories.

And on that note, I need to go write about a kitchen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Stuff

Since my second novel, A Long Thaw, was published at the end of January, I've gotten a few reviews. One of the best parts of this process has been getting feedback from readers. One such reader, Casee Marie of Literary Inklings, wrote a lengthy review, saying (in part):
The pacing of O’Rourke’s prose is beautiful in itself, her narrative handled with serene straightforwardness; the recollections of Abby and Juliet’s New England summers as children captured, at least for me, the truest and most personal essence of familial memories. The novel’s atmosphere had a way of feeling instantly familiar while the story and structure were a constant reminder of its singular uniqueness. That alone makes A Long Thaw a worthwhile read, but perhaps its greatest charm lies in the full-heartedness of its two heroines and the contagious feeling of connectivity we get from them. With its deeply thoughtful prose and warm, honest storytelling, A Long Thaw proves again O’Rourke’s talent for taking us out of our own world and into the realm of truly engaging literature.
Reviews like this one mean so much.

Last week, I was able to write this article for the Women's Fiction Writers blog about the sexist reading habits we develop in school. It's an idea that's been percolating for awhile and a conversation that seems way overdue.

And for those of you who are still resisting the digital reading craze, I've made A Long Thaw in paperback.



Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Long Thaw: Published!

My second book came out today. It's available on amazon. It's been a bit more low-key than when the first book came out, but I'm still pretty psyched. The sales for Monsoon Season were way beyond my expectations, so I'm feeling a lot less pressure this time.

I'll be sending signed printed copies out next week, at which point I will post a link for those who still haven't gotten the hang of this e-book thing.

Here's the synopsis from my publisher:


Following on from the bestselling ebook MONSOON SEASON comes O’Rourke’s second novel, which explores the power of secrets and the unbreakable bonds of family.

Cousins Abby and Juliet were born into one big, close family. But when Juliet’s parents divorce, it tears the family apart and sends the girls in very different directions.

Juliet grows up too quickly, forced to be responsible for her younger sisters as well as an alcoholic, single mother. Abby grows up a pampered, sheltered only child.

As women, they try to mend the rift and come to terms with the way their shared history connects them, in spite of the years apart.

Told in alternating narrative, A Long Thaw explores how the two women are shaped by the traumas and triumphs of childhood. It’s a story about the power of secrets and the unbreakable bonds of family.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book Review: Faith

Last year, I read Jennifer Haigh's The Condition and called it my favorite book of the year. Having just finished another of her books, as early in the year as it is, this may be it.

Faith centers around the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church, specifically Boston in the 2000's when the scandal was exploding in the city. But the novel is really about the McGann family. The oldest son, Art, is a priest who stands accused of abusing a child. His family is divided in their support of him. His brother is disgusted by his mother whose trust in Art's innocence is absolute.

Worse, his sister, Sheila. "If he did it, you'd forgive him," he says to her, and she doesn't deny it.

Sheila narrates the story, assuming an omniscient viewpoint that allows her to tell it from each character's perspective, combining her knowledge of them with the versions they have told her. Faith is another portrait of a dysfunctional family, as sick as it's secrets. Sheila's awareness that by writing it all down, she'll be shattering that silence, had me checking and rechecking the book jacket to be sure this wasn't a memoir.

I thought I knew where the story was going, but was happy to be wrong. Haigh is an expert at depicting the complicated history and specific architecture of family. I am very glad to see she has other novels out so I don't need to wait another year.