I grew up in the English countryside dreaming of a future as the next Beatrix Potter (or a reincarnated Bronte sister after I discovered Jane Eyre). So, armed with a history degree from York University, I decided to pursue fashion journalism. Yup, my brain is a mysterious place, but writing is writing.
My dreams took another detour, and I ended up promoting designers during the heyday of British fashion and Princess Diana. In addition to typing endless press releases, the job gifted me another benefit: free 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 and freelance writer in the Midwest. I also had a dirty little secret: I was writing a novel.
Seven years passed, I became a marketing director, and the novel floundered. When my New Yorker was offered a distinguished professorship at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, I persuaded him to move to the southern forest. Surrounded by birdsong and dogwoods, I became a stay-at-home mom and a woodland gardener.
Both passions would guide and shape my writing voice.
I abandoned my rubbish 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 of interviewing young widows, I found my heroine and what would become the backbone of my research habits: one-on-one interviews with people living the experiences I wanted to explore.
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 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 through gardening, writing, and outwitting critters who destroy my flowerbeds.
I also blogged about parenting and OCD for 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. His name? James Nealy. I rewrote Dogwood Days with James as my hero and discovered my writing niche: creating characters who battle invisible disabilities with courage and the mantra, you are not your disorder. Thanks to James, I landed an agent and a two-book deal months 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, chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick, followed. The Perfect Son was honored as an Amazon First Read and 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 (for books that foster change) and a 2019 American Fiction Awards Finalist.
And that guy I met at JFK thirty-five years ago? Despite an internationally-acclaimed academic career, he’s a gifted storyteller who’s helped me brainstorm eight novels (in 2018 I abandoned another manuscript).
Our bookseller-poet son, and now MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College, is my trusted first reader. 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.
Thanks to him and his father, I found the courage to follow my heart and spend three years excavating The Gin Club, a novel about men, trauma, and a drunk groundhog.
And the story continues …