Tag Archives: writing


This article was first published in the online literary magazine Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

My name is Josephine Strand and I’m the author of my first published romance novel, Misty Dreams, released in April 2021. I’m what is known as a literary late bloomer. Three years ago, I was a soon-to-be novelist past the age of sixty, and utterly unprepared for the work that goes into publishing a book—before and after it’s out in the world. Years of insecurities and setbacks prevented me from taking my craft seriously. I didn’t think I had it in me to write anything good enough to share with the world. I hope to inspire new writers with my story, and perhaps help them avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.

Since my teens, writing has always been like a hobby, a sort of creative outlet. In my twenties, I wrote short stories and novellas, drawing inspiration from the famous authors whose books I read. I didn’t have a routine; I wrote when inspiration struck, and at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. When years later I was struck with the idea for a full-length, standalone novel, I went into it with the same casual, freewheeling approach.

During what I call the disillusionment period, I wrote the initial draft of Misty Dreams. I was living in Italy at the time, and although I was fluent in both Italian and English, it made more sense to write it in Italian, my native language. When my husband and I made the life-changing decision to relocate to the United States, my inner creative was shut down for years. The adjustment to a new country, a new job, a new life, left little time for fantasies. It was much later that I was seized by the desire to resume writing. I was going through empty nest syndrome and needed a distraction, so I dusted off my manuscript and started working on it sporadically. I translated it into English and played around with it, updating references to places and events to make it current. In the process, I was making it better and better, surprising myself. It was then that I began to see the possibility of turning it into a book. I was pleased with the result, and being able to share it with the world would represent the ultimate reward for all my hard work.

But I had a huge problem on my hands. Literally. In years of erratic writing patterns and utter disregard for wordcount, my manuscript had grown to around 360,000 words. And that was just the beginning. My writing hadn’t been seen by any eyes but my own. I had never belonged to a critique group or discussed my book with anyone. That’s when I knew I needed help.

My first step was to find an editor. I needed a professional to do a developmental check and reassure me my manuscript wasn’t a total train wreck. Besides, something had to be done about the length, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. It was thanks to my editor that I was able to shrug off my insecurities and take those dreaded final steps. Ultimately, through her expert advice and guidance, I was able to shrink my manuscript to just under 90,000 words. It was a daunting process, painful to say the least. Separating the manuscripts into two books would have been the easier way out, but the idea of ending Book 1 on a cliffhanger didn’t appeal to me. Thus began the slaughtering. It wasn’t just a matter of eliminating redundant words or tightening sentences; it meant cutting off scenes and killing off characters deemed ‘unnecessary’ to the advancement of the story. It was like cutting off pieces of me, one limb at a time.

It was during the final revisions that I began to query agents and publishers. I wasn’t holding my breath; the chances of a first-time author snagging a contract from a traditional publisher were a drop in the bucket. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I allowed myself six months for the querying process. I submitted dozens of letters, only to receive a handful of polite rejections in return. I had lost enough time and I didn’t want to be stuck on publishing the old-fashioned way. One way or another, I was going to bring a book into the world, and if that meant jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon, then so be it.  

The decision was easy, but I was facing another quandary. I was going to have to promote my book myself. I didn’t have a strong following, and I had no clue how to go about getting my book into the hands of potential readers. I was social media-shy, and the idea of setting up advertising platforms seemed overwhelming. The huge amount of work to get my manuscript to marketable standards had taken up all of my time and energy, so that there was none left for building visibility as an author. I created a website but had nothing to put on it. I had a manuscript that was getting the last touch-ups, a bunch of cover designs I couldn’t decide on and was querying agents and publishers. I told myself I couldn’t possibly find time to create content for Facebook and Instagram to promote my book. I realized other debut authors were way ahead of me. They had a blog, a newsletter, a street team to cheer them on, as well as ARC readers pledging to post reviews on release day, and they were planning launch parties. It was a sobering discovery.

Since then, I’ve come a long way in overcoming that last hurdle. Yes, I was late to the party, but I showed up for it. I made up for lost opportunity by dedicating myself wholeheartedly to improving my marketing skills. I don’t have a huge following, but I’m working on it, acquiring more confidence along the way.  Writing my book has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and now as a published author, it continues to give me joy through the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I regret letting my insecurities get in the way of my writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had believed in myself a bit more. The best advice I can give new writers is, don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Learn the fundamentals of writing and become more competent in your own abilities. Finally, look beyond your goal. Writing a book doesn’t end at the words ‘The End’. There’s so much work to be done, before and after the publishing process. Ultimately, all this can be immensely gratifying almost as much as the writing itself.

Photo attribution: <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/aerial-view-man-typing-retro-typewriter_3213042.htm#query=typewriting&position=25&from_view=search&track=robertav1_2″>Image by rawpixel.com</a> on Freepik

Review: Of School and Women, by D.S. Marquis

Of School and Women by D.S. Marquis is a riveting, nostalgic dive into the past. It’s brilliantly written and humorous, cleverly mingling cultural nostalgia with great life lessons. I wasn’t living in the United States during the 80s, but in all democratic countries the same fundamental changes in standards of living were taking place, and similar critical societal issues were being felt worldwide. It was like hopping into a time machine and being brought back to a simpler way of life, of better social communication, and a time when we were devoid of today’s existential worries.

Lynette and Marie are two college students in Tallahassee, Florida, who despite their different personalities become fast friends and confidantes, while navigating life’s challenges with bravery and resourcefulness. Through their commitment to their education and work, they are determined to put past mistakes behind them and build a foundation for a better future.

The story touches on some sensitive themes, like drinking, drugs, domestic abuse and human trafficking, though the details are woven naturally and casually into the narrative, without weighing it down. It paints a vivid picture of life before the internet and social media, when interpersonal relationships meant getting together and enjoying each other’s company, or simply showing up to apply for a job. The unrestricted comings and goings in Lynette’s workplace are a great example of the higher degree of freedom enjoyed back then, when circulating liberally in airport terminals was a luxury no longer accessible in today’s society.

D.S. Marquis does a phenomenal job of recreating the spirit, the vernacular and carefree, unhindered lifestyle of the times, tapping into her own experiences as a college student. The characters are vibrantly relatable, each in their own captivating way, the narrative attention-grabbing. It certainly gave me more than a few smiles while reading.

Not quite fiction, nor non-fiction, but thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. A refreshing, evocative read, one I recommend to all readers over 18.

BOOK TALK: How I got hooked on reading

When I was a young girl, the local library was one of my favorite places in which to spend the afternoon hours. It was before the internet, even before computers made it into our homes. It was where my friends and I would meet to do research for a school project, do our homework, or simply take out new books to read. There was always an excuse to go to the library.

When I think about my childhood, the same memory invariably pops to the surface, the one of when I visited the local library for the first time. The passage of time may have enhanced the visual aspects, but the memory is real, as are the feelings it aroused. I can visualize the exact moment it happened and feel the same wonder and delight at seeing so many books all in one place. A whole new world had opened to me, and I was hooked. Nothing made me happier than bringing home new books to read. Being a new immigrant in an English-speaking country, I struggled at first, but as my understanding of the language improved, I was enthralled by the countless stories I could read.

Like most typical seven-year-old girls, I was initially drawn to fairy tales. Their magical allure pulled me in, transporting me to wondrous places inside my head. But best of all, they all ended in a happily-ever-after. I later discovered classic children’s books, like Little Women and Pollyanna, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But my favorite of all time is Anne of Green Gables. I read all eight books numerous times through the years. I was fascinated by Anne’s hyperactive imagination and upbeat attitude, and by her ability to make people see the world differently, even the most cynical ones, like the grumpy Marilla. I’m delighted to say that it’s my daughter’s favorite classic as well, and we long ago promised ourselves a trip to Prince Edward Island, which life’s circumstances have caused us to postpone several times.

As I grew into my early teens, my reading preferences extended to more modern adventure books, like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series, by Enid Blyton. I went through a phase in which I was enamored with everything ballet, and devoured ballet novels faster than they could be written. My favorite were the Drina series by Jean Estoril. I’m pretty sure I read all eleven books in the series. It was around that time that I started to write my own stories. I’m firmly convinced that if Anne of Green Gables built me as a reader, the Drina ballet series made me as a writer.

What kind of books do you remember reading as a child and which are your favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

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Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is the best medicine. How many times have we heard this phrase? Experts say it’s good for our health. Among other benefits, it boosts the immune system, relaxes the muscles, and reduces stress by releasing endorphins, making you feel less burdened. I’m a firm believer of this theory. Who doesn’t need a little less stress in their life? But as a teenager I was convinced that one could die of too much laughter.

You see, my father was constantly telling jokes and making funny remarks. When we gathered with family or friends, he was the proverbial life of a party. He was loved by everyone, young and old. No one could make me laugh like he did, and sometimes I’d laugh so much I couldn’t stop. I’d lose my breath, literally. During those terrifying incidents, my lungs felt like they would burst, and I would have to isolate myself in a place where I could calm myself down and breathe air back into my lungs. I did this in secrecy, worried I’d be made fun of. In hindsight, it was probably more in fear that my father would stop making me laugh.

But can you die from too much laughter, I’d sometimes ask myself?

Not according to my father. Laughter adds years to a person’s life, he would always say. I believe that’s why he lived a long and healthy one. To this day, I’m terrified of losing my breath, which is probably the reason I’m not a good swimmer. Staying underwater for more than ten seconds is an impossible feat for me. Being stuck in the MRI tube holding my breath for twenty seconds at a time is pure torture. Not to talk about plunging down a sharp drop in a roller coaster. The first and last time I ever tried it, I thought I wasn’t going to make it out alive. But I’m not terrified of laughing anymore. Now that my father is no longer on this earth, I miss his clever jokes and his positive outlook in life. He taught me to always look on the bright side of things and to never stop laughing, so I look for humor wherever I can find it—in a baby’s gesture, a puppy’s cute trick, a funny movie or book, but often I look for it in my memories of him. Sometimes, though, I long to experience those breath-stealing, lung-bursting, all-consuming laughing fits, because despite the agony they brought, they marked some of the happiest moments of my life.

Image from Pexels

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Finding inspiration in the simple things

About a year ago I posted about my own experience finding inspiration in the places I visit: Have travel, Will write. That was at the height of the pandemic, when traveling was still a distant vision. But by this spring, my wanderlust was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. One trip to Italy last September hardly qualified as a vacation, since the purpose of my trip was to visit with my elderly mother who couldn’t get around because of her health issues and sort out her complicated personal matters.

Finally, earlier this month, hubby and I were able to take our first real vacation in almost three years. If truth be told, it was an almost ‘stay-cation’, since the location was only a two-hour drive away. Nothing exotic or extravagant, just a short trip to the Jersey Shore, nonetheless an escape—a much-needed one.

But I’m not one to not take full advantage of an opportunity, however small. It’s not a coincidence that I chose Cape May, New Jersey’s southernmost beach town as our destination. I was also in dire need of inspiration for the setting of the novel I’m working on, and it seemed like the ideal place. Cape May has inspired dozens of sweet romance authors with its ornate gingerbread homes and pristine sandy beaches. From its lovely promenade that runs along the beach, to the manicured gardens and narrow tree-lined streets, this little town is a delight to stroll through. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s almost like taking a step back in time. Although I’ve visited the area many times before, I felt I could benefit from a ‘refresher course’.

For fiction writers in general, there’s no better way to get the full experience than to visit the place that inspired their setting in person. Browsing through travel blogs for research will only go so far. Only by being there in body as well as in spirit can you sense the smells and feel, learn about the customs and architecture, explore the local wildlife or study the weather pattern. Not to mention how much fun it is to discover unique natural scenery and hidden nooks and crannies. Almost anything can come in useful in crafting a plot or in world building. And even if we end up not using most of the information we’ve absorbed, having experienced it firsthand helps us visualize the story setting and improves the story’s flow.

I decided to keep it simple. No lounging by the hotel pool, no scheduled sightseeing expeditions—none of that cliché stuff people do on vacation. We were going to make the most of our time there by doing things organically and at our own pace. Just beach time in the mornings and long walks in the afternoons and evenings to enjoy the unique beauty of the town. Hubby seemed to be on board with my sudden urge for improvising. He’s all for simplicity, so it wasn’t a surprise he was such a good sport about it.

We set off on self-guided walking tours so that we could study the grand Victorian houses up close and browse the quaint retail stores. The sunsets in Cape May are a true spectacle, so we made a point of walking to Cove Beach or driving to nearby Sunset Beach to admire them whenever we could. We steered clear of the crowded restaurants and lunched on homespun meals at a working farm and picnicked on sandwiches on the beach. All the while I took notes and jotted down ideas. I felt supercharged, both spiritually and physically.

While I was at it (talk about opportunities!) I mapped out the Little Free Libraries scattered throughout the neighborhood and took hubby on a walking tour to drop off copies of my book. To his credit, he didn’t complain—that is, after I agreed to stop at his favorite ice cream shop in the Washington Street Mall on our way back. Did I mention hubby’s one of those men who need to be bribed into doing something he doesn’t normally do?

All in all, a satisfying and productive break. And now, back to the keyboard!

Tackling the second novel. From climbing a hill to scaling a mountain.

Writing a book is hard work. I didn’t realize how hard until I started writing my second one.

Writing my first book was fairly easy – like walking up a steep hill and slipping and falling a few times along the way. But that was all right, because no one was looking. I didn’t nurture any hopes of ever becoming a published author at the time. I used writing as a creative outlet, and as long as no one knew what I was writing I wasn’t experiencing any of the pressure and the anxiety and self-doubt that come with publishing in mind. I wasn’t concerned what anyone would think about the finished product, since it was only for my own eyes. The fact that my first novel turned into a published book is still something I’m wrapping my head around.

The hardest part of being a writer is sitting and doing the job.

I didn’t realize ‘second novel syndrome’ was a thing until I sat down to write one.

Once my post-publication euphoria simmered down, I couldn’t wait to get started on my next project. My head was full of ideas I couldn’t jot down fast enough. But when it came to putting those ideas together, it turned out to be more challenging than I had anticipated. All my creativity came to a screeching halt. Suddenly nothing I wrote seemed good enough. I was besieged by self-doubt. What were the chances that I could come up with something as good as my first draft? The last thing I wanted was for my second book to be compared to the first in a negative way. What if it wouldn’t live up to my readers’ expectations? If I wanted it to be successful, I told myself, I needed to raise the stakes.

The hating game.

So, while fellow indie authors were turning out books at the rate of four-five in the first year, a year after I published my first book I was still on chapter eight of book two and second-guessing every word, every comma or nuance, and even spending hours just coming up with a name for my characters or for a particular setting. No matter how many times I told myself “It doesn’t matter, just write the dang story!”, I was constantly editing or deleting and making very little headway. I kept changing the sequence of events and character traits like it was a constant game of Whack-a-Mole. The more ideas popped up, the more I struck down. Halfway through the second chapter the villain sounds too nice as a high-powered lawyer? Whack!!. . . better to make him a sleazy cyber-criminal. My female MC’s name doesn’t quite fit her personality? Whack! . . . she gets a brand-new name in the middle of chapter five. My writing mood see-sawed between empowering moments when I felt I was onto something really good, and moments when I wanted to trash everything and give up.

But wasn’t that what I was doing when I started writing my first book? I reminded myself at some point. Even then, I was constantly tweaking and changing things around, but at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. It was fun. And that’s when I realized it was exactly the kind of mindset I had to get into if I wanted to get the job done.

Lower your expectations. Remember why you started writing in the first place.

At this point in time I’m happy to say that following my own advice has started to produce the desired results. I’m still a work in progress and some writing habits are impossible to beat, but I’m not as stressed as when I first started on my draft. I’m starting to enjoy writing again.

The best advice I can give to other writers experiencing second-book syndrome—or third, or fourth, for that matter—is, lower your expectations and write like it’s your first book. Make it new and different and better, but make it yours. Write the story you want to write and that feels your own. That’s why you embarked on this journey in the first place, what made you excited to sit down to write. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to reach the finish line, as long as you’re enjoying the journey.

Fellow writers and aspiring writers out there, I would love to hear what your biggest struggle is in your writing.

Image by Pixel2013, Pixabay

My author interview on March 19, 2022, courtesy of author Jill Piscitello



What was the inspiration behind your latest release? 

The idea for the story came from a series I wrote in my late twenties. In between caring for my daughter and helping my husband in his business, I wrote several novellas set in a vacation resort on a tropical island. It was superficial, frivolous stuff that will never see the light of day. I had grown to love two of my characters so much, Clare and Richard, I wanted them to have their own standalone story. What laid the groundwork for the plot was probably my deep-seated regret for not having been blessed with a sister. In Misty Dreams, Clare’s sister plays a key role in the mystery the story revolves around.

Where do you get your ideas? 

The books I read are the inspiration for my stories. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write.  When I’m experiencing the dreaded writer’s block, reading a good book will get me back in the mood.

Have you ever traveled when researching information for a book? 

When it comes to research, I’m mostly a couch surfer, though I draw inspiration from my actual travels. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved traveling to new places. I believe traveling and living in different parts of the world have helped shape me as a person and as a writer and impacted the way I see the world.

When did you begin writing? 

I don’t remember not ever writing. As a little girl I loved writing essays for English class. One of the first fiction pieces I wrote was in elementary school, a fantasy short story on book characters coming to life in the school library when the clock struck midnight.

What has been your biggest challenge? 

My biggest challenge has been English not being my first language. Although I read a lot of English books, using the English lexicon in my writing doesn’t come easy to me. I worked on Misty Dreams for several years before I felt comfortable enough to send it out into the world.

What does literary success mean to you?

Literary success to me doesn’t mean monetary reward. That would be nice, of course, but just knowing people are reading my book gives me a great sense of fulfillment. Having doubted for so many years my ability to write for other people’s enjoyment, I still have trouble believing I can and did.

What writing tips or marketing advice would you like to share

The most important advice I would give new or aspiring writers is, don’t let your insecurities get in the way of your writing. Don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Spend time learning the fundamentals of writing and becoming more competent in your own abilities. On the marketing front, I would advise to start setting up social media platforms well ahead of a book launch to start building an audience. I was never a fan of social media, and the thought of putting myself out there for the whole world to see was terrifying. Today, I regret not having had the foresight to do that.  

Which authors inspire you?

Nicholas Sparks is a long-time favorite, and the one I draw the most inspiration from. Despite his obsession for serious subject matters and less-than-happy endings, he writes books that impact me on an emotional level and that stay embedded in my memory. I’m also a big fan of Jojo Moyes since reading “Me Before You”, for the humor and warmth she infuses in her books.

What project are you currently working on? 

I’m currently working on a second stand-alone novel. For a while I toyed with the idea of a Misty Dreams sequel, but I struggled to find inspiration. Not being a fan of romance series, I decided to write the story I wanted to read.

An Unexpected Visitor

Image by Katerina Kerdi, Unsplash

Taking a page from an article I read on The Writer blog: Resurrect your darlings: How to recycle deleted material from your manuscript, I decided to ‘resurrect’ some of my deleted material from the original MISTY DREAMS draft and post it here. This is the second in the series. For those who have read the book, this piece explores the friendship between Clare and a young nun at St. Isabel Monastery, Sister Teresa.

Teresa’s muffled voice seeped through the haze in Clare’s brain, reaching her as if from afar. She was being asked something, but her mind was still on Monks’ Beach and a pair of silver-blue eyes glinting in the April morning sun.

“Hello, Earth to Clare?”

Clare blinked and snapped out of her reverie. “I’m sorry . . . You were saying?”

Sister Teresa angled her head, her dark eyes regarding her piercingly. It always surprised Clare to see how startling a contrast they made with the white of her wimple.

“I was asking,” Sister Teresa said putting emphasis on the last word, “what you think about using red anthuriums for the pedestal arrangement in the choir stand. They’ll make a beautiful contrast with the dark paneling, don’t you think? Maybe toning it down a little with a few pale pink peonies and a sprinkling of baby’s breath?”

Clare nodded, trying to infuse some enthusiasm into her voice. “I think that’s a perfect combination. You’re a flower genius, Teresa.”  

Instead of giving her usual smug grin, Teresa’s perplexed expression intensified. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

The nun tapped a finger on her pursed lips. “Well . . . let’s see. Perhaps because for the past fifteen minutes you’ve been staring into space with an air of mystical rapture only a choir of angels singing above your head might produce?” she quipped.

Clare dropped her eyes to the frayed edges of the antique brocade runner on the Carrara marble altar, feeling the heat rush to her face. “Sorry, I was . . . distracted,” she mumbled, nestling a pink powder puff blossom between emerald ferns.

“It’s because of the mysterious doctor, the trespasser on Monks’ Beach, isn’t it?”

Clare’s gaze cut to her friend. “How do you know about the trespasser?”

This time Teresa’s smugness came through in her wide grin. “I have my sources,” she said, and smartly chopped the ends off the stems of the anthuriums with the wire cutter she’d brought along.

“It was Jimmy Ramirez, wasn’t it?” Clare guessed. That boy was a troublemaker, as well as a notorious tattle-taler.

Not that she had anything to hide or be ashamed of, Clare told herself. The nuns had complete trust in her when it came to her commitment to keep the children safe.

She stooped to pick up some baby’s breath from the bucket. “He’s a new guest at Serena. He was sailing around the island on his sailboat and missed the keep-off sign at the mouth of the cove. We chatted for a bit,” she said nonchalantly.

“Mighty neighborly of him.”

Clare sensed Teresa’s curiosity behind the sarcastic façade. “I couldn’t very well turn him away, him being a Serena guest and all,” she said defensively.

“Of course not. That would have been extremely inhospitable.”

Clare narrowed her eyes. “Are you laughing at me, Teresa Maria Alvarez Moreno?”

“Just having some fun, is all.”

Clare poked her friend playfully in the ribs. “Oh, you . . .”

“So, tell me,” Teresa said poking her back, “is he handsome, this mysterious new guest of your mother’s?”

“Sister Teresa! Have you no shame? And in the Lord’s house, too.”

“Is he, or isn’t he?” Teresa repeated, disregarding Clare’s mock reproach.

Teresa’s expression was one that could easily pass for salacious, if Clare didn’t know her friend was a devout nun who took her vows seriously. She drew in a slow breath then let it out in a rush. “All right, yes.”

Smiling broadly, Teresa leaned her elbows on the marble and rested her face on the palms of her hands. The filtered light from the stained-glass windows of the chapel created a multi-colored aura around her veiled head, like a celestial light. “Pray, tell,” she drawled with a nuance that was anything but heavenly.

Clare rolled her eyes. “There’s barely anything to tell. He told me he’s a neurosurgeon, and that he’s taking a hiatus to work on a book he’s writing. I doubt he’ll show up again.”

She rolled the stem of a peony with fingers that shook a little. She hadn’t considered the possibility that she might never see Richard Kelly again. She’d just assumed he meant it when he’d said he’d like to come back to the cove.

Her encounter with the troubled-eyed surgeon from New York had had a strange effect on her. She remembered feeling like a giddy schoolgirl meeting her first crush. It was the first time she had been instantly drawn to a stranger. After he was gone, the entire ordeal had felt surreal, as if she had had an out-of-body experience. If the monastery children hadn’t been there to witness it, she’d have thought she’d dreamed it all. Every time she thought of him, a storm of butterflies unleashed inside her belly reminding her of the gentle brush of his hand against her cheek when he’d casually curled a lock of her hair behind her ear. Who knew what dark secrets he harbored behind those guarded eyes of his?

“What sort of book?” Teresa asked.

“A medical textbook. Of the brain.” Clare bit her lip, remembering too late her promise not to reveal Richard’s real profession. “He prefers to maintain a low profile while on St. Isabel. His fellow guests think he’s a fiction writer in search of his muse.”

“Serious and educated. Young?”

“Early to mid-thirties, I think.”

She stiffened when she saw the naughty grin on her friend’s mouth. “Whatever you’re thinking, forget it. Like I said, it was probably the first and last time I’ll ever set eyes on the man. Hand me a couple birds of paradise, will you?”

Teresa plucked two fiery-colored long-stemmed flowers from a tall canister and handed them to her. “I was only making a point. It’s time you stopped being a recluse and explored new interests outside of the confines of Monastery Hill,” she said, no longer playful.

“I get out. Who do you think organizes all the field trips?”

“Playing chaperone to a bunch of preschoolers doesn’t qualify as me-time. You need to be with adults, making new friends.”

“You’re saying I should date?”

At Clare’s incredulous look, Teresa shook her head. “Girlfriend, you may not be a nun like me but you sure act like one.”

Clare raised her eyes to the ornate crucifix hanging above the altar and crossed herself. “Really, Sister Teresa, I’m appalled at your impious insinuations. If I were you, I’d make sure to say a few extra Hail Marys tonight, or the Powers That Be might start to have doubts about the legitimacy of your vocation.”

Teresa’s expression softened. “Never mind a few Hail Marys. Your happiness is worth at least a nine-month novena, and I’d recite it all in one breath if it served the purpose.”

Clare’s eyes filled even as she stifled a laugh. “Oh, Teresa,” she said giving her friend a hug. Never like this moment had her heart swelled with so much affection. Teresa was like and older sister to her, more so than Courtney. She had a big heart, and she was caring and protective in ways her real sister had never been. “I’m happy the way I am, truly,” she argued. “I have friends up here, and I have you and the children. I have everything I could possibly want.”

“So you always say, but you’re not like me, Clare. You have a special calling too, but of a different kind. You’re made for marriage, to raise children of your own. I believe you’ll make a wonderful mother someday. But you won’t be able to do any of these things by secluding yourself up here or working yourself to death. Besides,” Teresa added with a suggestive wink, “a man who can put that dreamy look in your eyes has to be special.” Clare laughed and threw up her hands. “Oh, Teresa, you’re incorrigible!”

Fields of Poppies and Other Childhood Memories

How many times do we come across an image that reminds us of something we experienced in the past? Imagine a vast green field scattered with bright red poppies as far as the eye can see. It may sound unoriginal and travelblog-ish, perhaps, but for me it has great meaning. Poppies represent one of the best memories I have of when I was a young child. I find them evocative and inspiring. As a child I may have taken them for granted, but as an adult, they always bring a smile to my face. These fragile looking flowers have deep roots and a too-short lifespan. Yet they’re resilient, and every spring they show up, popping up from the wreckage of winter. Unsurprisingly one of the first items my husband and I bought as newlyweds was an oil painting of poppies. It traveled with us when we moved to the U.S. and still hangs in our house today.

According to studies on childhood autobiographical memory, memories with strong emotional associations are most likely to stay in your mind longer, possibly forever. Coming across this image sparked an involuntary memory associated with a grassy field close to my grandparents’ house. It was a place where I liked to play whenever we went to see them, a sort of overgrown, natural playground where poppies grew plentiful in the springtime. I have vague images inside my head of a family picnic amid a sea of red and green, of treasures found embedded in the soft earth—a shard of pottery from broken stoneware or glass from a vase. I saw my grandparents for the last time when I was seven years old when I left Italy with my family, yet I envision them so vividly in my mind.

Some of my best childhood memories are associated with my passion for reading and writing. As a young child, I was enamored with pencils and notebooks. A neighbor family had five children, all much older than me. At the end of every school year, they would tear off the written pages of their notebooks and give me the part with the blank ones to write in. I lived for those special gifts. Sometimes, if I was lucky, they’d give me some colored pencils. I treasured those pencils like nothing else, even saving the broken tips inside a small pill box. What I thought I could do with those tips is still a mystery today.

Then there’s my paternal grandmother, whom I credit for my thirst for storytelling. One of my earliest memories is of my cousins and I sitting around our ‘nonna’ and listening to the stories she told, stories I couldn’t get enough of. Only years later did I find out they were mostly made up, conceived on the spot, though no less enthralling to the ears of small children. Back then, books were a luxury we couldn’t afford, and public libraries were nonexistent in our small town, so television and my nonna’s storytelling were the only ways to feed my imaginative mind. No matter how progress and technology have changed the way we listen to, see, and share our stories, those memories continue to inspire me in my own writing and in my everyday life.

Music was also a big part of my past. My father was a drummer in a band. He played at weddings and events, and all through my childhood and into my teens I would often tag along with him. I associate music with the happiest times of my life and have a greater appreciation for it because of those treasured moments. I studied piano for a few years, though sadly I wasn’t blessed with good hand coordination and was never very good at it.

Every one of us has experiences that stay with us for life. They create our purpose, determine character and values. When I think back to my early years, I feel comforted by the memories I still preserve and often find myself yearning nostalgically for a time when things seemed simpler and easier. As the years progress, I cling to these random shreds of joyous moments, blessings that helped shape me and make me who I am today.

Book Review

The Midnight Library, By Matt Haig

(Spoiler alert!)

As a fiction reader, I want to read books that are all-absorbing and make me forget the negativity of real life, stories that even if they aren’t all smooth sailing, pull me in and uplift my spirits. It has never crossed my mind to read a book that has suicide as a focal point. But when I read a review of The Midnight Library in my granddaughter’s school newspaper of which she is chief editor, I was intrigued. Being the book a New York Times best seller and a worldwide phenomenon, it was heavily promoted, and I don’t usually pick my reads based solely on its popularity. So when I decided to give it a go it was with a good deal of skepticism.

The Midnight Library is a brilliant mix of mystery, comedy and fantasy told through the eyes of Nora Seed, the 35-year-old protagonist. She has just lost her job and her cat, and feels her life has no purpose. Deciding to call it quits she overdoses on antidepressants. These details alone would have put me off reading the book, if not for that brilliant exposé in a high school newspaper (you have to love these budding journalists!).

While Nora is suspended between life and death, she finds herself in a library where she runs into her old high school librarian, Mrs. Elm. The librarian tells Nora she can pick a book from the shelf and find a new life for herself in which she could find happiness. Each book Nora picks allows her to experience a different life path. She’s given the opportunity to explore other possibilities, such as follow her music career, pursue her swimming talent, or become a glaciologist, but each life either ends in tragedy or makes her feel unfulfilled. Each time she ‘enters’ a life she feels optimistic she’ll finally find happiness, only to return to the library disheartened. After yet another disappointment, Mrs. Elm tells Nora there is no more time left and she needs to pick her last book. After this last attempt at a new life, Nora realizes she doesn’t want to die, after all, and that her true happiness is in her root life.

This book has a clear message: there’s no point in tormenting oneself over what-ifs. Imagining a different life doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a better one, and as Nora realizes, “It is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.”

Despite touching on heavy topics such as death and suicide, the light and deeply philosophical tone of the book kept me engaged and left me with a good feeling inside. The romantic angle and HEA were certainly the cherry on the cake for me.