Location, Location, Location!

I have a friend who has lived in Indiana most of his life, except for going to college in Texas and working for a brief time in Washington, DC. He said to me recently that even though he only spent a few years in Texas, that state feels like home to him. I’m sure there are Texans wondering why everyone doesn’t feel that way.

I understand how he feels. A place can exert a powerful pull on a person, even if the person hasn’t spent much time there. Maybe it can happen even if the person hasn’t spent any time there.

That’s why book settings are so important. Could Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier take place anywhere but the Cornish coast of England? Could The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner take place anywhere but Mississippi? The setting of a story is often its most essential element; in other words, there are stories that simply wouldn’t make sense if they were set somewhere else. IfRebecca took place in Paris, the story wouldn’t have the same heavy atmosphere and spookiness that it has in Cornwall. If The Sound and the Fury were set in small-town Vermont, what would be the source of Quentin’s cultural angst?

Secrets of Hallstead House is set in the Thousand Islands, one of those places that has a strong pull for those who have spent any time there. I don’t know of a single person who has been to the Thousand Islands who didn’t want to return. Could my story be set somewhere else? Not as far as I’m concerned. The St. Lawrence River and Hallstead Island are characters in the story just as much as any of the humans are.

Amy Picture 2

The same is true with The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, my story set near Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that stays with a person. Have you ever been to Charleston? It’s inhabitants are passionate about their city, much more so than lots of other cities. And I can see why–it’s a beautiful city with a rich history and culture all its own. It’s like no other city in the South.

I am lucky enough to live in a place which has that pull, a place that people return to year after year (particularly in the summertime). When I first moved here, I was amazed at the number of kids who went away to college and wanted nothing more than to return to their hometown to find work upon graduation. Their happy memories of many seasons spent at the beach, of surf and sand, of the boardwalk and sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean are strong enough to make those people want to return.

So in that same vein, my third story, as yet unnamed but tentatively entitled Hanging Jade Hale, (pronounced “hah-lay”), is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. I know of exactly two people who have been to Hawaii and didn’t absolutely love it. It’s a place where people experience a kind of magic that is only found there, a magic that comes from the ocean and the mountains and the trade winds and the knowledge that Hawaii is alone in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. A story set there can’t take place anywhere else in the world, and that makes its setting special.


Is there a place that calls you back, even if you’ve never been there? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,


New Year’s Resolutions: Breaking News

I am happy to announce that I have completed one of my New Year’s resolutions: this past weekend I ran my first 5K! I was on Maui to watch my husband compete in the ‘Ulalena Warrior Challenge (10K, followed by a mile race, then a full marathon the next morning) and he convinced me to give the 5K a try. I was passed by everyone from a 5-year-old to an octogenarian, but I managed to finish the race and I am very happy with my results. I even plan to do another one someday! My training for this race consisted of walking a 5K on the treadmill exactly three times before the race, so I figure that I can do even better in the next race if I actually do a bit of training! At some point I will post pictures of the 5K, but I haven’t quite gotten around to doing that yet.

If you remember my list of resolutions for 2014 (not that I expect you to), I also wanted to improve my writing. I don’t think that kind of resolution can be quantified, but I do know that I’ve done a lot more writing this year than last year, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction. I’ve also spent more time this year reading what other authors have to say about writing and hopefully learning from them.

I’ve also increased the number of Twitter and Facebook posts that I put up, so those resolutions are being fulfilled, too. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, I invite (is “beg” too strong a word?) you to follow me and “like” my posts!

I am not as happy to announce that some of my other New Year’s resolutions have gone largely ignored for the first two-thirds of the year. My kids do not yet have new closet doors and my garage and attic are still nothing short of dangerous. But it’s only September, so I’m optimistic!

I know I’ve been remiss the past couple of weeks getting blog posts up on time, but I intend to be back on track next Tuesday.

In the meantime, I’d love it if you would share with me the status of your 2014 resolutions!

Until next week,


What’s Today?

When this post goes live, it will be Tuesday, September 9th. For those of you who aren’t aware, September 9th is National Teddy Bear Day. It is also the second Tuesday of the month, making it National Ants on a Log Day. It is also the anniversary of my husband and me, and of my mom and stepdad (but those are, alas, not national holidays).

In honor of National Teddy Bear Day, I am posting a picture of a bear who lives on my bed. I would tell you his name, but some things just have to remain private. He has been a fixture in my room since I got him (when I was about twelve years old). He went to college with me, then law school. He’s been on vacation to lots of places that most teddy bears don’t get to go.

National Teddy Bear Day

And before you say it, I already know he isn’t a “real” teddy bear. He’s a koala bear, but I’m celebrating his existence on Tuesday anyways.

And that, finally, brings me to my point.

Especially in these last few weeks, I have been reminded how important it is to celebrate and be thankful for the little things in life. And the big things. Sometimes I get so caught up in the day-to-day busyness on my family’s schedules that I forget how lucky we really are to be so busy and to have such full lives. It took something drastic to remind me that it’s easy to take small things for granted and that I need to spend more time celebrating the so-called “mundane.”

So here is a short list of some of the things I celebrated this past week:

kayaking for the first time with some wonderful friends in a beautiful place; phone calls with my grandfather; being able to write every day; having three kids who love (well, two kids love–one kid likes) to go to school each day; Facebook and the ability it gives me to connect with distant members of my family and lots of friends; dentists (I know–not something I usually celebrate); my husband’s jokes; and seafood risotto. There are so many other things I’m thankful for, but I gave myself just a few seconds to brainstorm and those are the ones I came up with first.

In the limited research I did for today’s post, I also found that September 9th is also National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day, Wonderful Weirdos Day, and Wienerschnitzel Day. Here’s a list of the online sites I visted:


So on September 9th I’m going to have myself a plate of ants-on-logs and celebrate the little things in life. There are so many! Happy Anniversary to my husband and to my mom and stepdad!

Until next week,


Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! Millions of kids all over the country are feeling apprehensive, excited, nervous, and keyed up over starting new classes, meeting new teachers, and seeing all their friends again. My kids are no exception. Two of them are starting new schools (high school and middle school), and the third is starting the downhill journey to the end of high school.

Millions of parents all over the country are feeling apprehensive, excited, nervous, and keyed up, too, but for different reasons. They’re thinking the same things that parents think every year: where did the summer go? Will the kids like their teachers? How can school supplies cost so much?

I have mixed feelings when the kids go back to school. Part of me is glad to get my schedule back; I can work in silence and get a lot more writing done. The house is finally clean. But I always end up wishing we had done more over the summer. I wish we had taken that bike trip to Delaware and I wish we had gone to the botanical garden that’s nearby. We’re still planning on going to both those places, but it will be in the fall. And the fall calendar is already filling up quickly.

This year has me thinking about back-to-schools of the past. I know I’m revealing my age here, but I remember when school shopping was done once a year, in August. Our family would pile into the car and drive 75 miles to the nearest shopping mall for a very long day of picking out the clothes that would take us through the school year. Corduroys? Check. Blouses? Check. Jacket for spring and fall? Check. Dress? Check. We got shoes, too, and an ice cream cone if we were good. And we weren’t alone. Families everywhere were making that same trip, buying clothes and shoes that would last the kids all year, and getting ice cream as a reward for behaving.

There was always something very exciting about getting school supplies, too. But back then school supplies were very different from the ones we buy today. We needed notebooks and folders back then, plus one blue pen, one black pen, and a few pencils. Some kids even got Trapper Keepers. Now we need nylon book covers (remember when book covers were made at home out of paper bags? We could decorate them however we wanted!), folders in five different colors, six glue sticks no matter what grade the child is in, 4 packs of Post-It notes, binders varying in size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches depending upon the class, a flash drive, an obscenely expensive calculator, crayons, colored markers, colored pencils, composition notebooks, and an exhaustive arm-length list of a gazillion other things that we never used to need. I’ll never forget the year my son had to send in 96 sharpened pencils on the first day of school.

Really? 96?

And school is different now, too. Very different. Just today my oldest child was telling me that the hardest part of the PSAT she took last year was writing the no-cheating pledge in cursive. She said the kids needed extra time to write the pledge because none of them knew cursive writing. I think that’s a shame, because cursive writing is so much more beautiful than printing in the hands of someone who knows how to do it correctly. And the stuff my kids are reading in English? I read some of it and it makes my blood run cold. Whatever happened to Charles Dickens? Whatever happened to Thomas Hardy? Right now my daughter is in the dining room reading a story that has a horrific amount of violence in it, a book that is required reading for AP English. I don’t know how she’s able to get through it. She reads passages to me and they make me sick.

But kids are learning so much more than I used to learn in school, too. One of my kids is taking a class in art appreciation this year. That wasn’t an option for me until I went to college. And two of them will be taking their standardized state tests online this year, if I understand it correctly. My girls are taking classes that were never available to me in high school, and they know so much more than I did at their ages. I’m very impressed. My son, too, is much further ahead of where I was in sixth grade. He knows more about computers than I’ll ever know. I was a senior in high school when I first tried coding, and I’ve not done any since then. I have a feeling he’ll be writing computer code before he finishes middle school.

So back-to-school is bittersweet. It reminds me every year that time marches on whether I’m ready for it or not, and that things are always changing. Sometimes the change is for the better, sometimes not. And someday my own kids will reminisce about their back-to-school days with a mixture of happiness and sadness, just like me.