Death in Tinseltown

Over Her Dead Body by Susan Walter

If you like twisty tales with jaw-dropping twists told from multiple points of view, you’ll want to keep reading.

I read Over Her Dead Body in a matter of hours because I couldn’t help myself. The mystery has a fascinating cast of characters, and I had a love-hate relationship with almost every one of them. The story starts out from the point of view of Ashley, a struggling actress in LA. She’s had a few bit parts, but she’s still waiting for her big break (what she doesn’t know is that it may be her heart that experiences the big break).

There’s Louisa, a former casting director who lives near Ashley in a cartoonish house down a creepy, overgrown drive. There’s Nathan, Louisa’s nephew and the only person in Louisa’s family who will have much of anything to do with her.

Louisa’s kids, Winnie and Charlie, have loads of personal issues. Their relationship has gone south in recent years, as a result of Winnie’s descent into alcoholism and Charlie’s marriage to a woman Winnie can’t stand.

There’s Jordan, Ashley’s roommate and probably my favorite character.

When you mix all these personalities together, there’s bound to be an explosion. And what the author gives the reader is an unforgettable explosion preceded by a gradual unfurling of mystery, drama, and high tension.

I love stories that are told from different points of view because the reader gets a glimpse into the psyches of the characters and is able to see different sides to every scene.

Here’s the basic outline: When Ashley’s dog, Brando, runs off for a midnight romp on Louisa’s property, the scene ends with warning gunshots and Ashley is, predictably, terrified. She runs home sans Brando. She and her roommate are leaving to search for him when she gets a phone call. It’s Nathan, Louisa’s nephew, letting her know that Brando is safe at Louisa’s house. Good thing Brando was wearing his collar with Ashley’s contact information.

When Ashley arrives to collect her dog, the sparks fly between her and Nathan. And it gets better—she is delighted to learn that Louisa might be able to help her land a plum movie role. Louisa has Ashley visit her over the next day or two to work on scripts … but everything comes crashing down when Nathan gets a phone call notifying him of Louisa’s sudden death. And—surprise!—Louisa has left her considerable fortune to someone whose identity shocks everyone.

What follows is a zigzag tale of greed, dreams deferred (or abandoned altogether), jealousy, and revenge. By the end, I was feeling (in a good way) like I had whiplash. Can anyone in this story be trusted?

The Hollywood angle is a brilliant stroke of storytelling. This novel wouldn’t be as scintillating if it were set in any other city because the manipulation on display mirrors that which we all associate with Hollywood. There’s glamour, certainly, but it’s mostly in Louisa’s past and that glamour hides a lot of pain. There’s betrayal in spades. If Hollywood wished to mock itself, this would make a great movie.

I highly recommend Over Her Dead Body to anyone who loves wry humor, satirical mystery, and an easy, fun read. Note: there’s some strong language at play in this book, so if you don’t like a lot of swearing, it’s probably not the book for you.

And Now for Something a Little Different

I can’t read fast enough!

I have been busy lately with writing and research (including an overseas trip! More about that in an upcoming newsletter) and that’s left less time than usual for reading anything but nonfiction—and listening to audiobooks by Agatha Christie, but I figured I’d let up on the Agatha Christie reviews for a while.

So rather than skipping a week, I decided to share with you someone else’s review of a book I’d like to read. This one is on my TBR (To-Be-Read) list and I’m very eager to get to it.

My hope is that you’ll share the title of a book on your own TBR (and maybe even a review of it) in the comments below, because if there’s one thing we all need, it’s more books to read. *waves frantically from underneath a pile of books*

I don’t even remember where I heard about the Detective Hiroshi series by Michael Pronko, but they sounded interesting and a switch from the mysteries I usually read, which are set in the US and UK. This series is set in Japan. Pronko, who was born in Kansas, has lived in Japan for two decades and is a professor of American Literature. I’m guessing his experiences lend a unique perspective to his books.

I had a look on Amazon and the fifth book in the Detective Hiroshi series was released earlier this month.

So here’s one of the reviews I found of The Last Train, Book 1 in the Detective Hiroshi series. It appeared in Blue Ink Review in May, 2017.

The Last Train wastes no time grabbing the reader’s attention: It opens with a mysterious Japanese woman who leads her hapless American victim to a Tokyo subway station, then pushes him into the oncoming last train of the night.

After this breathtaking start, we meet police detective Hiroshi Shimizu, still recovering from a breakup with his American girlfriend. He’s assigned to financial crimes because he speaks fluent English, but a friend and mentor keeps pulling him into homicides. He’s placed on this murder because the victim was American and his English skills might be helpful.

From there, author Michael Pronko deftly weaves together a plot that flashes back and forth between the killer, who we learn is named Michiko Suzuki; her dark, tragic past, and Shimizu’s determination to track her down. Along the way, Pronko introduces a cast of fascinating characters, including Shimizu’s gruff mentor Takamatsu; sumo-wrestler-turned-cop Sakaguchi; an accountant and photographer who have been helping Suzuki with her killing spree, and the Tokyo yakuza (organized crime syndicate).As the plot unfoldsPronko takes readers through Tokyo’s sexually explicit “hostess bar” underground scene in the city’s lively Roppongi nightclub district, authentically rendered by the author.

For anyone who loves crime and cop novels, or Japanophiles in general, this is a terrific thriller. And fans of author Barry Eisler’s early novels featuring John Rain, a Tokyo-based half-Japanese assassin, will find the same satisfactions here. Pronko lives in Japan, and his knowledge of the culture and settings are obvious and impressive. The characters are believable and never condescending. Japan isn’t a mere exotic locale for the narrative; the story closely follows Japanese cultural values such as loyalty, honor and reciprocation.

In all, this is one you won’t want to miss. The Last Train will leave you scrambling for Pronko’s two other books featuring detective Shimizu: Thai Girl in Tokyo and Japan Hand.

***

What do you think? I’m not a fan of sexually explicit scenes, so I wonder how the author handles the hostess club angle, but I’m interested enough in the plot of this book to keep an open mind.

***

If you’re interested in joining me for fun content, a free downloadable cookbook, quizzes and games, and behind-the-scenes looks at writing books, click here to join my newsletter! I look forward to welcoming you.

P.S. It was Murder

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

The Postscript Murders, Book 2 in the Harbinder Kaur mystery series, is not only a great whodunit, but the author’s love letter to books.

Harbinder Kaur is an officer with the West Sussex police department, and she’s got a doozy of a murder investigation on her hands. Peggy Smith, an elderly woman with a penchant for thinking up ways to kill people, has been instrumental in helping a number of authors craft unique ways to murder characters in their books. Those authors, grateful for her assistance, have dedicated books to her and thanked her countless times in back-of-the-book acknowledgements.

But now Peggy is dead, and the question is this: was hers a natural death, or was it murder? When her demise is followed rather quickly by the deaths of authors who have used her “murder consultant” services, signs begin to point toward murder.

Harbinder is drawn into the mystery when a trio of Peggy’s friends reach out to her with their suspicions about Peggy’s demise. Natalka, Peggy’s nurse, found Peggy’s body. Her friends Benedict, a former monk who owns a seaside coffee shop, and Edwin, a retired BBC radio presenter who lives in the same sheltered living facility as Peggy, are convinced that Peggy did not die by natural means and they are determined to figure out who killed her and why.

Harbinder Kaur is a fabulous main character. She’s thirty-something, gay (but single), Sikh, and still lives with her parents. She has the complexity to carry a series, and though she was not as major a character in the first book in the series (The Stranger Diaries, see my review here), I hope readers will see more of her as the series progresses.

The story is told from the point of view of Harbinder and her three new friends, all of whom fancy themselves amateur sleuths and have backstories of their own which unfold gradually throughout the book. The relationships among all the characters are compelling and intricate, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I delighted at the literary festival in Aberdeen, the friends’ stay at a safe house, Harbinder’s partner (and the hilarious ways he is described), and the easy pace of the plot. There are plenty of juicy turns, and I loved the conclusion, which came as a series of shocking twists at the very end of the book. Each and every thread in the story is tied up neatly, and left me eager for the next book in the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a great crime mystery, a book about books, and a companionable group of friends who team up to solve a puzzle.

And Now for Some BSP: Blatant Self-Promotion

My latest release, The House on Candlewick Lane, is on sale for 99¢ and I’m trying to spread the word far and wide. If you’ve read the book, thank you very much. If you’ve read the book and left a review, you are awesome.

And if you haven’t read the book, this is your chance!!

Here’s a quick summary of the novel:

It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Greer Dobbins’ daughter has been kidnapped—and spirited across the Atlantic to a hiding place in Scotland. Greer will do anything to find her, but the streets of Edinburgh hide a thousand secrets—including some she’d rather not face.

Art historian Dr. Greer Dobbins thought her ex-husband, Neill, had his gambling addiction under control. But in fact he was spiraling deeper and deeper into debt. When a group of shady lenders threatens to harm the divorced couple’s five-year-old daughter if he doesn’t pay up, a desperate Neill abducts the girl and flees to his native Scotland. Though the trail seems cold, Greer refuses to give up and embarks on a frantic search through the medieval alleys of Edinburgh—a city as beguiling as it is dangerous. But as the nightmare thickens with cryptic messages and a mysterious attack, Greer herself will become a target, along with everyone she holds dear.

Doesn’t that sound like something you want to read TODAY?!

Here’s the Amazon link if you’re interested: http://amzn.to/2ruijTR

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2kJMNLO

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2s3VUKO

Google: http://bit.ly/2kV6JNQ

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2rkeD7M

Thank you! If you’re inclined to share this post, I would be most grateful!

Until next week,

Amy

Just Two More Weeks!

House of the Hanging Jade cover with USA Today (2)

House of the Hanging Jade comes out in two weeks: at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, April 26th. In case you’re counting (I know- I’m the only one who’s counting), that’s just 356 hours and 1 minute from the time this post goes live. So it’s time, don’t you think, for an excerpt? Maybe two?

***

I was still working for Geoffrey a couple weeks later, still floundering through the endless winter weather and finding our relationship a bit awkward. He made excuses to be wherever I was, whether it was in the kitchen or the basement of the restaurant or while I was coming to work or leaving work to go home. I was actively looking for a job on the Big Island, and didn’t want to return home without any employment prospects, but I was seriously beginning to consider going home without a job just to get away from Geoffrey. I had told all my friends and colleagues in DC and on the island of Hawaii that I was going back home; everyone wished me well.

One night I worked very late at the restaurant. I couldn’t catch a cab, so I had to walk home. I walked briskly on the dark sidewalk, trying to stay warm. I slipped on a patch of ice at one point, dropping my bag. As I stooped down to pick it up, I noticed a man walking not too far behind me. He had a toque pulled low over his forehead. I walked a little faster after that, not wanting to be the only woman on the street late at night. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed that the man walked a little more quickly too. A shiver of apprehension crept up the back of my neck. I ducked into a tiny twenty-four-hour grocery store and browsed for a few minutes, buying nothing, but giving the man plenty of time to walk past me and continue on his way.

When I went back outside, I looked left and right to make sure no one was following me. Seeing nobody, I kept walking, but it wasn’t long before I noticed the same man walking slightly behind me and on the other side of the street. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t because the sidewalks were too treacherous. All I could do was fumble for my cell phone and have it handy to call 911 if he came any closer. I looked over my shoulder again; he was crossing the street, walking a bit faster. I went faster too.

I took off my gloves and shoved them in my coat pocket so I could dial 911 quickly. I was almost in front of my building, pulling my phone out of my other pocket when I heard footsteps directly behind me. The man grabbed my elbow and I let out a cry.

“Kailani, it’s me.”

“Geoffrey! You scared me to death! What on earth are you doing?”

“I was just following you to make sure you made it home okay,” he said, still gripping my elbow.

“You’ve never done that before,” I said, my voice grating in irritation. “Why start now?”

“I was just concerned about you, that’s all.”

“Thank you, but I’m fine. Don’t ever do that again. You really scared me.”

“I’m sorry.”

I shook his hand off my elbow and walked away. As I unlocked the door to my apartment building, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, watching me. I shivered, but not from the cold. Now I really couldn’t wait to leave Washington. And Geoffrey.

***

I was crouched down, looking for a Dutch oven, when Akela came in. “Kailani, there’s someone here to see you.”

“Who is it?”

“He didn’t give his name. He’s waiting at the end of the driveway. The police wouldn’t let him come up to the house, so one of them came to escort you.”

I followed Akela to the front door, where an officer stood waiting. He explained that he and his partner could not allow anyone on the property and said he would take me to see my visitor. We walked in silence to the end of the driveway. Another officer was stationed by the large gate, and on the other side of it a tall man in shorts and a T-shirt stood with his back to me. Even before he turned around I knew who it was.

“Geoffrey? What are you doing here?” I asked, incredulous. I had only emailed him a couple times since leaving Washington, and none of those emails had included an invitation to visit or the location of my new job. I opened the gate slowly.

He turned to look at me, a big grin spread across his face. “Surprise!” He came forward and gave me a big hug. I pushed myself away gently.

“I can’t believe you’re here! What made you decide to come all the way to Hawaii?”

“You! What else?” I stole a glance at the officers, who were politely looking in the other direction.

“Wow. I’m flattered. I wish you’d told me you were coming, because I could have met you at the airport or something.” I faltered, searching for the right thing to say. I thought he had realized that I didn’t want to see him anymore. That he wasn’t part of my life in Hawaii the way he had been in Washington.

He stepped back a bit. “Is it okay that I’m here? I mean, do you mind? I just thought it would be a nice surprise.”

“Oh, no,” I assured him quickly. “It is a nice surprise. I just can’t believe you came all this way, that’s all. How did you know where to find me?”

“It’s a long story,” he said vaguely. I let that go for the moment.

“Why are the police here?” he asked.

“Someone died here last night.”

His eyes widened. “Really? Who?”

***

As release day approaches, I will be updating my blog about my blog tours (lots of giveaways!) and other places online where you can find excerpts of House of the Hanging Jade, other guest blogs, and interviews. I hope you’ll take a look!

And one more thing: I’m 51% of the way to my goal in my Thunderclap campaign! I hope you’ll consider lending me your voice of support on the day my book comes out- Thunderclap does all the work. All you have to do is click the link and sign up to support me on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr! Here’s the link: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/38945-be-a-part-of-a-book-birthday. And thank you!

Until next week,

Amy

 

Meet Amna Boheim

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My guest today is  Amna Boheim, debut author of The Silent Children. I’m thrilled to have her on Reade and Write to answer some questions about her new book. Welcome, Amna!

Tell me about your new book.

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The Silent Children is a supernatural mystery set in Vienna, Austria, following Max Gissing in the aftermath of his estranged mother’s suicide. Shortly before her death, she had sent him a disturbing black and white photograph, with the words, you knew written on its reverse. When he returns to his old family home in Vienna, he starts to experience things which play on his mind. The photograph, too, continues to haunt him, pointing to a secret which he can’t ignore. As Max uncovers his mother’s long-buried past, he makes a horrifying discovery that will mark him for the rest of his life.

Who is the audience for the book?

It’s for anyone who loves a good mystery and the element of the supernatural, all set against the backdrop of Vienna, past and present.

Tell me about the setting of your book—how did you choose it, what kind of research did you have to do, why did you choose it?

The Silent Children is set predominantly in Vienna. I fell in love with the city shortly after I fell for my Better Half. Vienna has an impressive yet quietly restrained atmosphere. Behind the grand neo-classical façades, a dark undertone flows through the city. Perhaps it’s to do with the history of the place, the role it succumbed to before and during World War 2, and the role it played on the frontline of the Cold War. Vienna has a repressed air about it, too. I’ve visited the city a few times, although I went on a ‘field trip’ to explore the areas specific to the story I was writing.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

The Silent Children is my first novel, and as such, the process of writing it was a learning experience. Other than a story I wrote when I was thirteen years old (see below), I’ve never written a story – short or long form. Sorting out the plot, the characters, was like sorting out the wheat from the chaff and it took a long time and a lot of iterations before I was happy with it.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the main characters?

At the time The Silent Children came out, I cautioned you should never moon over who should play the lead in your novel. In my case, I found that the times I imagined who should play the lead – Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddy Redymane – I never made any progress.

Have you written any other books?

When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a story called The Cloaked Figure of Archway Hall. I gave it to my older sister to read and she ripped it apart. I cried. Then I re-wrote it. She said it was, ‘a bit better.’ She’s very hard to please. My dad, however, kept hold of it. He thought it was amazing. Naturally, he is my number one fan.

Are you in one or more critique groups or partnerships?

I have a small circle of people from my Faber Academy Writing a Novel class who read drafts of my novel. My Better Half is a brutal critic.

Do you write every day?

I try to, but my time is limited as I have three children under the age of five. At best, I try to write for a couple of hours, Monday through Friday. It’s a good day if I write more than 500 hundred words. And I don’t write at all during the holidays.

When you read a book, what authors do you like best? What genres do you like best?

I read a range of books – literary fiction, thrillers, mysteries. I love novels featuring flawed characters and stories that don’t necessarily end all happily ever after. I’m not sure why that is! I love anything by Ian McEwan, Agatha Christie, Vikram Seth, Margaret Atwood, Sebastian Faulks, Simon Mawer, Tom Rob Smith, Henry James … and then I’ll read something by a particular author, but I won’t necessarily read anything else by that person. It depends on the story and whether the blurb on the back of the book captivates me.

Where would you like to go more than anywhere else on earth?

Tough question! New Zealand is on my bucket list. And if I’m being sentimental: anywhere I can hear my children’s laughter.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Just keep writing, enjoy it and don’t think about getting published. Just write the best story that you can and don’t give up.

What is your favorite movie and why?

The English Patient. I loved the book and the film was beautiful – the music, the cinematography. It’s one of the few films which captures the book and its characters. The same goes for Atonement by Ian McEwan. The novel is one of my all time favourites and the film was brilliant. I love stories that take place when the world was on the cusp of World War 2, and I enjoy plots where characters cross boundaries and challenge the status quo.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be confident in yourself, and don’t balk at the idea of giving up your day job to have a family; you can have many careers throughout your life.

Describe yourself in three words. 

I just asked my Better Half as I find this is one of the hardest questions to answer … this is what he said: determined, organized and … charming (of course, he had to say that …)

Where can readers connect with you?

Readers can find me on Facebook (facebook/akboheim), Twitter (@AmnaKBoheim), and on my website: http://akboheim.com which houses my blogs, poems, flash fiction as well as further information on The Silent Children.

 Where can readers find The Silent Children?

It’s available from most e-retailers, including:

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/The-Silent-Children-Amna-Boheim/dp/1784625167

Amazon (UK):

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-Children-Amna-K-Boheim/dp/1784625167/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448665146&sr=1-8&keywords=the+silent+children

Kobo

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-silent-children

Waterstones

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-silent-children/amna-k-boheim/9781784625160

WH Smith

http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/the-silent-children/9781784625160

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Amna K. Boheim worked in investment banking before turning her hand to writing. She has completed two Faber Academy writing courses, including the six-month Faber Academy Writing a Novel (online) course.  She authors a blog under the title, Djinn Mamu … & Other Strange Stories and posts snippets on life  and writing. The Silent Children – a supernatural mystery set in Vienna – is her debut novel.

I absolutely loved your responses to my questions, Amna. Thanks so much for the interview and congratulations on The Silent Children!

Until next week,

Amy

 

This has been a big week for me. I’ll be doing three virtual book tours over the next month or so, and I’ve been busy writing guest blog posts, answering interview questions, and choosing excerpts from my novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, that don’t contain any spoilers.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting much more often here on my own blog to let you all know where I’ll be online so you can visit if you’d like. There will be several giveaways of my book, so you might want to check out those sites periodically.

For today, allow me some shameless self-promotion as I announce that Secrets of Hallstead House is now available in paperback! You can find it online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Hallstead-House-Amy-Reade/dp/1601833008/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404719479&sr=1-1&keywords=secrets+of+hallstead+house) and Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/secrets-of-hallstead-house-amy-reade/1118882335?ean=9781601833006).

Long links, I know.

The ebook comes out on July 17th, about a week and a half from now.

I’ll close by thanking my family and friends who have been so supportive of me while I write and promote my book. I’d also like to thank all the people who have visited my blog, visited my website, or followed me on Facebook or Twitter. I appreciate each and every one of you!

Until next time,

Amy

A Preview of SECRETS OF HALLSTEAD HOUSE

Before I forget, please visit the next blogs in the blog hop this week: http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com and http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com.

Breaking News: As Vanessa Coggshall was preparing for the blog hop yesterday, her baby decided it was time to be born! Vanessa’s blog may be offline for a bit!

And now to my post, since I’m done having children. My post today is an excerpt from my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House.

***

My journey was almost over.

It was raining, and I looked out through the drizzle across the
blue-gray water of the Saint Lawrence River. Only a few boats were
out on such a raw and rainy day. From the bench where I sat on the
Cape Cartier public dock, I could see several islands. Each was covered
with trees—dark green pine trees and leafy maples, oaks,
birches, and weeping willows. In the chilly late September air, the
leaves were already tinged with the colors of fall: yellows, reds, oranges,
browns. I could glimpse homes on the islands, but I didn’t see
any people. It was beautiful here—so different from the city I had
just left behind.

Even though twenty years have come and gone since that day, I
can still remember the calm that settled around me as I waited for my
ride to Hallstead House in the middle of the Thousand Islands. My
nerves were still ragged, but the river had an immediate and peaceful
effect on me. I was only twenty then, but I had been through so much.
Though I had been traveling for just a few hours, my journey to this
place had begun six long weeks earlier.

As I listened to the raindrops plunk into the river, the sound of the
motor from an approaching boat cut into my reverie. It was an older
boat of gleaming mahogany with a large white awning covering most
of it, protecting the cabin and the pilot from the rain. It puttered up to
the dock slowly and in a few moments had pulled alongside, close to
where I sat. The pilot moved to the stern and climbed out quickly, securing
the boat to the dock with a thick rope. He turned to me with a
questioning look and said, “Macy Stoddard?”

“Yes.”

He shook my hand curtly. “I’m Pete McHale. I work for Alexandria
Hallstead. She sent me here to pick you up. That all the luggage
you brought?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

He shot me a disapproving look and said, “I hope you brought
some warm stuff to wear. It starts getting cold up here pretty early in
the fall. It’s colder here than it is in the big city, you know.” He
smirked.

Determined to stay positive, I ignored his look of reproach and
replied that I had plenty of warm clothes. Once he’d stowed my two
large suitcases in the boat under the awning, he helped me on board,
where I chose a seat in the front so I could see where we were going
and stay dry. I had been in a boat once as a child when a furious storm
blew up, and I had hated boats ever since. Still, though I was unhappy
and nervous to be riding in one, there was absolutely no other way to
get to my island destination. Pete untied the boat and we slowly
pulled away from the dock. As he scanned the river and began turning
the boat to the north, I glanced at his profile. He looked like he was
in his mid-thirties—medium height, with light-brown, windblown
hair, and green eyes with creases in the corners that made it look like
he squinted a lot. He wore faded jeans and a Windbreaker.
When he had steered the boat out of the small, sheltered bay at
Cape Cartier and into the more open channel, he glanced at me and
said, “We’ll be at Summerplace in about ten minutes.”

“Summerplace?”

“That’s the name of the house on Hallstead Island.”

“Oh. I thought it was called Hallstead House.”

“Its official name is Hallstead House. The people who live on the
island just call it Summerplace.”

We sat in silence for several moments, and finally I asked, “Why
is it called Summerplace?”

Pete sighed. Evidently he didn’t relish playing the role of tour
guide. “It’s called Summerplace because it used to be a summer retreat
for the Hallstead family. Now Miss Hallstead stays there for as
much of the year as she can. In early to mid-October she moves the
household over to Pine Island and spends the winter there.”

To keep my mind off my abject fear of being on the water, I turned
my attention to the islands we were passing. Each one had a home on
it, and all of the homes were beautiful. Some looked empty, since
their occupants had probably left after the summer ended, but some
still had boats tied to docks or housed in quaint boathouses. The
homes themselves, most of which were huge and had large, welcoming
porches, were surrounded by the ever-present trees. Several had
bright awnings over the windows.

In the face of Pete’s apparent ambivalence, I had determined not
to ask any more questions. But as I sat looking around me I forgot my
self-imposed rule. “Are there really a thousand islands in this area?”
I blurted out.

“There are actually over eighteen hundred islands in the Thousand
Islands,” he replied. To my surprise, he seemed to warm to this
subject and continued. “In order to be included in the count, an island
has to be above water three hundred and sixty-five days a year and
support at least two living trees.”

I continued to draw him out, asking, “What do you do for Mrs.
Hallstead?”

His attitude changed again, becoming colder. “It’s Miss Hallstead.
She never took her husband’s name.”

***

Until next week,

Amy

The Power of More-Than-One

This past Sunday I had the rare treat of getting together for brunch with some of the members of Women Who Write, a community of women writers based in northern New Jersey.  I had to drive two hours to get to the brunch since I live in far southern New Jersey, but I wouldn’t have missed it.  Within Women Who Write, there are a large number of women with hugely varying interests in writing:  poetry, children’s books, picture books, young adult, middle grade, fiction, screenplays, and the list goes on.

Members of Women Who Write are invited to join critique groups in which members submit pieces of writing for feedback by other writers.  I am a member of the only online critique group in Women Who Write (all the other groups meet in person), and the members of my group write in several different genres.  We are a mix of women of different ages with different careers and interests, but we have one passion that brings us all together…writing.  We submit our pieces of writing once a month and a few weeks later each member of the group submits her critique of each submission.

At brunch on Sunday we got talking about the importance of being in a group, and I was thinking on the drive home that being part of a group, even if it’s just a group of two, can have a huge affect on a person.

First, being in a group makes you accountable to people other than yourself.  There have been times when the women in my group, myself included, have been unable to submit because of other commitments or schedules that are way too full.  But each of us feels like we’re letting the group down when we can’t submit.  We have made a commitment and we know that in order for the group to work optimally for everyone, we all need to submit.

Second, being in a group helps you set and keep goals.  Each November brings the NaNoWriMo challenge.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it is an opportunity for writers from all over the world to challenge themselves to write a novel in one month.  The goal is 50,000 words.  The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that the challenge is the same for everyone.  Not everyone enters the challenge intending to write a novel; lots of people join just to give themselves a kick-start, to see how many words they can write if they really focus for an entire month.  But the goal of 50,000 words is there if people wish to give it a try.  The amount of online support from the writing community is enormous, and that support is what helps many writers keep pushing towards and even beyond their goal.

Third, being in a group encourages you to meet people you might not otherwise have met.  I am a member of a Pilates studio where I have met some wonderful people in my community that I would probably not normally run into in the course of my daily activities.  They have become an important part of my day, and I miss seeing and talking to them when I can’t get to the studio for a day or two.  They are a diverse group of people with interests and hobbies different from mine, and it’s great to get out of my own world every day and talk to these wonderful people.

Finally, being in a group is healthy!  Whether I’m going to the Pilates studio or a brunch in northern New Jersey (or meeting other people while I’m walking my dog or going to a PTA meeting or the list goes on and on), I’m getting out and talking to others and maybe moving- just a little- out of my comfort zone.  It’s great for my attitude and keeps me from getting bogged down by the things that go on in my own day.  And on the rare occasion that I don’t enjoy my time in a group, well, that just helps me to appreciate the time I spend alone at my desk even more.  And that’s good, too.

Are you part of any groups?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Until next week,

Amy