I grew up in the English countryside with a love of nature and dreams of becoming a novelist. So, armed with a history degree from York University, I ended up in London, promoting fashion during the heyday of the British Designer Show. (Think Princess Diana.) My job allowed me to write—endless press releases bashed out on a manual typewriter—and travel. Flying home through JFK Airport one Thanksgiving, I fell for the handsome American professor who picked me up with a well-informed comment about P.D. James. (Fiction matters, people.)
Eighteen months later, I was a faculty spouse, freelance writer, and marketing director in a small Midwest college town. I also had a dirty little secret: I was writing a novel. A spectacularly bad novel. Seven years passed, and I was pregnant. At the same time, my beloved was offered a distinguished professorship at the University of North Carolina. We moved to the forest outside Chapel Hill, where I became a stay-at-home mom and a woodland gardener. Both passions would guide and shape my writing voice.
I abandoned my crappy first manuscript and started Dogwood Days, a love story about grief. The idea had rooted as I watched my mother navigate widowhood and a dark thought settled: “What if that were me?” After a summer spent interviewing young widows, I found Tilly, a Brit living and gardening in North Carolina. Her husband, a brilliant academic, had died of heart failure while teaching, and my husband loves to elaborate on how I killed him off in the backstory.
I wrote in the cracks of family life, took evening writing classes, and taught myself the business of publishing. But everything ground to a halt when our young son was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and OCD.
Throughout my childhood, I had watched family members struggle with mental illness in secrecy, silence, and shame. I was determined our son would follow a different path. Therapy—and his gift as a wordsmith—gave him the skills to reclaim his life and manage a chronic illness. I found my own therapy in gardening, writing, and ranting at varmints destroying my flowerbeds. I also blogged about parenting and OCD as part of a collaborative project called Easy to Love But Hard to Raise and joined the nonprofit A2A Alliance as an OCD advocate.
In the middle of this, a charismatic entrepreneur with severe OCD drove into my imagination in a vintage Alfa Romeo sportscar and refused to leave: James Nealy. I rewrote Dogwood Days with James as my hero and discovered my writing niche: creating characters who battle invisible disabilities with courage, hope, and the golden mantra, you are not your disorder. James also helped me land an agent and a two-book deal right before my fiftieth birthday party.
Dogwood Days became The Unfinished Garden and won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book. The In-Between Hour, which was chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick, followed. The Perfect Son was picked for Amazon’s Kindle First Program and became a Goodreads Choice Award 2015 Nominee for Best Fiction. Echoes of Family was chosen as a finalist for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s annual Star Award, and The Promise Between Us was a 2018 Nautilus Book Awards Winner and a 2019 American Fiction Awards Finalist.
And that guy I met at JFK? We’ve celebrated thirty-two years of marriage, brainstormed eight novels (in 2018 I abandoned another manuscript), and raised an extraordinary human being. We’ve also managed three successful publishing careers—my fiction, my husband’s internationally-acclaimed academic books, and the beginnings of our son’s career as a poet and singer/song-writer.
Zachariah, formerly known on social media as the Beloved Teenage Delinquent, is also my trusted first reader, with such brilliant comments as, “You’ve written a sermon when you should have written a parable.” He pushes me to write better, answers every text that screams word choice emergency, and draws pretty plot diagrams because he knows I work better with visual aids. His diagram for my work-in-progress, The Gin Club, is currently taped above my computer screen. Without him and his father, I would have no stories worth telling.
When I’m not writing or reading, I garden, watch birds at my feeders, and attempt to outwit critters who munch on my flowers and dig up my plants. Like Felix, the protagonist of The Perfect Son, I really, really hate squirrels.