Why We Need Love Stories

These days, we need them more than ever. We need to tell our love stories, and we need to live our love stories. We cannot pass them off as “fluff,” as less than, as something not lofty because it’s not “literature.” We need love stories because we need love. Not just romance, but energy.

It’s the second Wednesday of the month, and I was all set to write a post centered around the skill or craft aspect of The Writer’s Habit. But it’s also Valentine’s Day, and it’s the launch day of my ninth novel and eleventh book.

So, I kind of wanted to write about love.

In particular, love stories.

Despite Romance being the most popular genre, outselling just about every other genre, love stories seem to get passed off as nothing more than feel-good fluff. It’s not literature, a reviewer writes, but I liked it.

Even the tagline I use, “beach books with a brain,” is clever and fun and makes for a clear visual description. And yet, I sometimes feel guilty using it because it implies that beach reading is brainless.

And maybe for some it is.

I will tell you that I never aspired to write “literature”—I wasn’t interested in validation from my peers (although it’s always nice to be liked), and I was OK with being excluded from college reading lists (although I am proud to say that my memoir Friends of Mine made the cut in a course about the 1980s).

But I always, always want to tell a good story.

And I love writing love stories. I enjoy exploring the relationship one has with the world around her, be it love of home, of music, of food, of family. Love of self, especially. It’s not solely about the happy ending and getting what you wanted. Sometimes it’s about getting what you didn’t know you wanted, or losing what you thought you wanted. Sometimes it’s about giving what you wanted.

My husband and I were on Yellowstone Public Radio the other night (you can listen to the interview here). We told our hosts stories—about how we met, how our books came to be, how we collaborate as authors and business partners, and more. At the end, they said to us, “May you never run out of stories.”

We began as Facebook friends. And we transitioned to friends when we started reading each other’s stories. We evolved to close friends when we started telling each other stories—the stories of our past, of growing up in suburbia, of teenage angst, of favorite bands and foods and firsts.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were writing our own love story. And that has become my favorite love story of all time. Not because there’s a happily ever after (cue the Zen Master: “We’ll see”), but because we get to keep writing it as we go along. We get to engage in the process day after day. Some days it’s messy, and other days it’s like great jazz. It consists of good characters (flawed, yet worth rooting for), intentions and obstacles, and dialogue—lots and lots of dialogue. And we practice. Every day.

We need love stories.

These days, we need them more than ever. We need to tell our love stories, and we need to live our love stories. We cannot pass them off as “fluff,” as less than, as something not lofty because it’s not “literature.” We need love stories because we need love. Not just romance, but energy. Music. Art. Dance. Mr. Rogers. Chocolate. A sunrise and a sunset. A cat that falls asleep curled up beside you. A dog that is ecstatic to see you when you walk through the door. A stranger for whom you held open the door.

Each of these things comes with a story.

What is yours?


cake photo
Our wedding cake courtesy of Audrey’s Bakery in Sayville, NY. It tasted even better!

What Does it Mean to Be “Well Read”?

I guess what it all comes down to is this—is being well read about quantity or quality?

When I was teaching college writing, I used to assign my students a literacy narrative in which they write about their history with reading and writing. I had written several as a grad student, and when my peers read their narratives out loud, I used to feel self-conscious because I didn’t believe myself to be as well read as they were.

It didn’t stop there. Often times I’d hear colleagues use “well read” as a marker of character. “I wouldn’t put much stock into what he says; he’s not very well read.” Or: “You’d like her. She’s well read.”

My students also had an expectation of me to be well read. To them, “well read” was not only having read all the classic literature in the world, but also having memorized it. Especially Shakespeare. Seriously, you’d be surprised how many of my students were shocked that not only had I not memorized Shakespeare, but I could remember the few plays and/or sonnets of his I had read. In fact, some students had decided me a substandard instructor the moment I told them my bachelor’s degree was not English, but rather psychology, which, trust me, has served me way more and better than an English degree ever would.

For most of my life, I too believed “well read” meant one who had read—and absorbed—a lot of classic literature. Willingly and aptly. When NPR or Publisher’s Weekly or some other bookish media site releases a list called The 100 Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime or something like that, and my Facebook friends proudly boast their numbers: “I’ve read 60 of them!” “72!” “85!” I keep silent because I don’t come close.

So what, and how much, have I read?

It’s a question I’m asked as an author, and I’m always afraid to answer it for fear of being judged. But I’ll try to go out of my comfort zone here.

For starters, I have always been a creature of habit. If I fall in love with a writer (not literally, with the exception of my husband), I’ll read just about everything in his/her canon. As a child, I loved Dr. Seuss. Then Judy Blume. I didn’t only read each of their books once, but repeatedly. Like listening to an album and then letting it play over and over.

As a teenager, I can’t remember reading much of anything, especially whatever was assigned in school (with the exception of The Outsiders; my older sister loved it so much she read it to my twin brother and me, and I was totally stoked when we were finally assigned it in school.). I especially can’t remember liking any reading that was assigned. I was a teenager and a Duranie, so naturally I devoured every magazine that featured the Fab Five: “Simon Tells All!” “A Day in the Life of Jaunty JT!” and so on. I didn’t only look at the pictures (although, come on—it was all about the pictures). I read the articles (probably few of them true), and during this time I wrote Duran Duran fan fiction, not knowing there was a genre by that name. I read a few novels here and there, but none that stick out in my memory.

In my late teens and early 20s, I had lost my way. I was in a rather toxic relationship with someone who abhorred reading, couldn’t be bothered with it, found it lame and unsexy (how wrong he was). As I started to break free from his clutches, it was books that helped me escape—some were of the self-help variety (I recently wrote a post about the most influential one), some nonfiction like All the President’s Men and Barbarians at the Gate because I’d liked the movie adaptations, and eventually I found my way back to novels.

Then, in 1995, I went back to college.

At UMass Dartmouth, I was immersed in academic reading, including novels for classes such as “Comedy and Satire” and “Literature and Society,” essays for “Writing About Popular Culture,” and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning for a psychology paper on existentialism. (Also a book that has left a lasting impression on me.) The reading intensified in grad school—by then I was immersed in Aristotle, rhetorical scholars like Kenneth Burke and David Bartholomae, and a little Noam Chomsky here and there.

At some point I found myself craving “pleasure reading,” and sought more humorous work, including Douglas Adams, Nora Ephron, and David Sedaris. I’d wanted to write more humorous essays, and found them influential.

Reading Stephen King’s On Writing was the game-changer, however; King’s classic advice of “read a lot and write a lot” sunk in. I was astounded when he said he read sixty to seventy books a year. My graduate work prevented me from coming anywhere near that total, but I definitely upped my game. I listened to audiobooks (including the Harry Potter series) in my car, read a little bit before bed, and tried to get through two or three books per summer. I still don’t come close to the sixty-to-seventy total.

So what do I read now?

Anything from books on how to improve productivity or boost your Kindle book sales to a memoir about Cary Grant or Dick Van Dyke to my friends/ fellow authors’ novels to novels that have come highly recommended in Facebook book groups to books on writing craft. I’m not loyal to any one genre, especially not my own. I also read the occasional blog post, political article (although I’ve cut back on those because they anger me too much), or Top Ten list.

And I’m still a creature of habit. I named 2017 A Year of Nora Ephron and (re)read just about everything of hers that I could get my hands on. I enjoy Marian Keyes’ and Jennifer Weiner’s and Sarah Pekkanen’s books. I read screenplays written by Aaron Sorkin and William Goldman. And all of Craig Lancaster’s books, of course. The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter is my favorite, having read it three times, including before it was released. I have standalone favorites: Richard Russo’s Straight Man. Steve Hely’s How I Became a Famous Novelist. Duran Duran bassist John Taylor’s memoir, In the Pleasure Groove. And more.

And yes, I’ve read a few of the classics. They’re not in a league of their own, as far as I’m concerned. Some I liked and some I didn’t, like anything else I’ve ever read.

As a writer, it’s hard to read anything these days and not be looking at it with a critical eye. All part of the profession. But I love when I read something and think, “God, I wish I’d thought of that.” I also like reading something, putting it down, and thinking, “Well geez, I could do way better than that.” Both instances motivate me need to step up my game. And I don’t ever want to sit back and think I never have to be better than I already am.

So am I well read? I’m sure some will tell me I’m far from. Others will tell me they wish they were as well read as I am. I guess what it all comes down to is this—is being well read about quantity or quality? If it’s the latter, then who is the gatekeeper of that quality?

If you know the answer, tell me later. I’m in the middle of a really good book.


Craig's books


What’s It Like Being Married To an Author?

We love this story. We don’t ever want it to end.

If you’ve been following me on Facebook, Twitter, or this blog, then you know that I’m married to an author.

We’re still newlyweds, in fact! We got together a little over two years ago, evolving from a friendship that followed our meeting at a publisher’s party in New York in 2011 (we also share the same publisher).

Craig Lancaster is best known for his Edward series. In fact, quite the fan following has developed in the UK thanks to some rather devoted followers of #TeamEdward, as they say.

Earlier this year, I had put out a call for “Ask the Author” questions to respond to on my author blog. One of my husband’s most loyal fans asked me this:

What’s it like waking up with a literary genius each day? Do you have to pinch yourself?

I never answered it on my author blog, so I’ve decided to respond here:

What literary genius?

Oh. Right. My husband.

Yes, of course I’m kidding. Is he a really literary genius? It depends on how you define that word. I don’t see him as such, nor do I believe he sees himself that way either, and he’s OK with that. That said, the truth is that my husband is one of the most talented writers I know, and I know a lot of them.

I like being married to a fellow author because he understands both the process and the business of writing. He understands the core philosophy of The Writer’s HabitKnowledge + Skill + Desire—and, like me, believes in the importance of craft. Like me, he believes it’s not just about the words, but the story. It’s about the truth that lives in the heart of the lie—the “lie” being the fictional world we create and, for a time, live in either as a writer or a reader. I like that he understands the struggles. I like that I never have to go far to get help on a scene, a sentence, or a conflict.

It’s also rather nice that I get to spend most days with him. Even when we’re both holed up in our offices, he’s just a door away. We’ve even started a freelance business together. Our combined skills pack a good punch.

Plus, our own conversations ultimately end up as novel dialogue. It’s inevitable.

But here’s the really awesome thing: One of my favorite pastimes is when Craig and I read our books to each other prior to publication day (we’re currently in the middle of my new novel, Big Skye Littleton, which launches on August 22). In fact, this is the first time we “read” each other’s work in its finished form. I’ve written about the intimacy of such an act, and how we became close because we told each other our stories over time. And as we continue to grow together, our story develops. New chapters. New scenes. New snippets of dialogue. New conflicts and resolutions. We love this story. We don’t ever want it to end.

And that makes me want to pinch myself. Because this love story is very real.

What Writers Can Learn from Duran Duran: 5 Secrets of the Fab Five’s 40-Year Success

The first song my husband and I danced to at our wedding was Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “If I Could Write a Book.” The second was Duran Duran’s “Pressure Off.”

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Duran Duran is still around, did you? In fact, they’re celebrating 40 years next year.

Or maybe you didn’t know there’s such a thing as Duran Duran Appreciation Day. It’s today, in fact.

If you know me, however, you know how big a Duran Duran fan I am. In fact, I wrote a memoir about my thirty-plus-year-long “relationship” with the band. And so, I thought today would be the perfect day to share the tenets of that success, and how writers could learn from them.


Duran Duran Had A Definite Plan

Founding members John Taylor and Nick Rhodes had a vision—not only for the sound, but also for the look and trajectory of the band. They were among the pioneers of the fusion of punk and disco called New Romantic, a hybrid of David Bowie and Chic. In the way the Beatles had donned mop tops and suits, they had donned frilly shirts, leather pants, and makeup. They wanted a record deal with a major label. They wanted to play Madison Square Garden by 1984. And guess what—they did. In fact, some say they achieved the kind of stardom that hadn’t been achieved since the Beatles.


Writers can sometimes be vague in their intentions. “I just want to tell great stories,” they say. Or, “I want to be on the bestseller’s list someday.” The lack of a definite plan makes those goals more difficult to achieve. Telling great stories means learning everything you can about the craft—how will you go about that? By reading great stories. By reading about how to tell great stories. By learning from master crafters. How will you get on the bestseller list? By continuing to write great stories. By researching the benefits of getting a literary agent and a traditional publishing contract as opposed to the benefits of self-publishing. By learning everything you can about marketing and promotion. And so on. The more clear you are about what you want, the better you’ll be able to plan for it.


Duran Duran Endured Setbacks

In 1985, after having back-to-back #1 hits (“The Reflex” and “A View to a Kill”), coming off a mammoth tour, and being arguably the most successful pop band in the world, Duran Duran’s performance at Live Aid was the last time the original lineup performed together for almost two decades. The 80s, it seemed, had ended in 1985. Although the band produced another hit with the single “Notorious,” album sales dropped. So did their popularity. Princess Diana’s favorite group went from being a quintet of pinup stars and fashion icons to a trio trying to re-invent themselves musically and visually. They also struggled personally. For example, bassist John Taylor has talked and written openly about his cocaine addiction during that time.

No matter what, they didn’t quit. If an album failed commercially, rather than walk away from the music business, Duran Duran went back into the studio and made another one. They toured and played each venue as if it were Madison Square Garden. And something happened along the way. They matured. They improved at their craft. They persisted. Moreover, the teenage fans grew up with them. And guess what? They came back—first in 1993 with their hit “Ordinary World,” again in 2003 when the original five members reunited and toured, again in 2011 with their album All You Need is Now (produced by Mark Ronson), and again in 2015 with their hit “Pressure Off” (produced by Nile Rodgers).


Just about every writer/author goes through peaks and valleys throughout their careers. Whereas my debut novel Faking It has sold over 150,000 units, my seventh, The Second First Time, face-planted right out of the gate. That hasn’t stopped me from being proud of both novels and both efforts. I’ve seen changes in the industry and in consumer behavior in the last seven years. I’ve had four different editors since signing with my publisher. It would be easy to long for the years when I sold 5,000-10,000 units a month, or for another one of my novels to hit the way Faking It did. It would be even easier to quit altogether, thinking, “What’s the use? I’ll never be on top again.” But it’s better to persist. Persistence pays off—not always extrinsically, but intrinsically. It makes you a better artist, composer, musician, performer, writer. It makes you focus on what really matters—not the glory, but the work itself—and it makes you grateful for what you’ve learned along the way, as well as for those who stuck with you no matter what.


Duran Duran Never Look Back

The band could have easily become a “nostalgia act”—going on tour year after year and capitalizing on their catalog of 80s hits. (And I’m not knocking those bands that do—they make their fans very happy and put on great shows.) Or, they could have capitalized on the sound that made them so popular (their albums Duran Duran and Rio) and made various incarnations of them over the years. But Duran Duran has never looked back. Regardless of an album’s commercial standing or what’s trending in music, when they go into the studio, they strive to never repeat themselves. The result is 14 albums and counting—the fans love some more than others—but each album is different in theme and design and production while still retaining the Duran Duran musical identity and brand. That is the sign of musicians who are in touch with the creative process. And yet they still aim to be trendsetters and produce music that people will dance to when the world around them is dull or discouraging. Every show echoes this.

Even All You Need is Now, which was touted as “the follow-up to Rio,” contained the perfect blend of modern and retro. It wasn’t a throwback to or repeat of Rio as much as it was an evolution.


As an author, I don’t seek to write a repeat of Faking It—I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. I can, however, identify those traits that keep readers coming back to my novels and turning pages. Crack dialogue. Engaging characters. A good, entertaining story with a sound structure. I want to keep evolving in my creative process. From a place of craft, I want each book to be better than the last. And I don’t want to dwell why some books exceeded expectations while others greatly disappointed them. Like Jed Bartlett on The West Wing, when I’m ready to get back into my writing studio, I say, “What’s next?”


Duran Duran Appreciate their Fans

We’ve stuck with them for a long time. And some are just discovering them in the last year or two. Regardless, the band has always expressed gratitude, be it in their performance onstage (like playing a deep cut or a classic B-side), at a record store signing, or in an interview. Today may be the official day for Duranies to appreciate Duran Duran, but it’s also the day John, Nick, Simon, and Roger (and Dom!) honor and appreciate us right back.


My husband recently had this to say about readers:

Readers are wonderful. Readers are a gift. If you want to write, and you’re actually audacious enough to think that your words should be printed and bound and distributed, readers are who you want on your side when it’s all done. Absolutely, you want your agent to be your champion. You want an editor who’s in love with your book and can persuade all the other people who have to say yes to love it, too. You want booksellers who adore your book so much they put it in the hands of their customers and say, “You HAVE to read this.”

If a reader loves your book, she shares the love. She tells her friends, and her brother, and her mom. You end up getting these messages: “I bought five copies and gave them to all my friends for Christmas” or “My aunt gave me your book for my birthday, and I loved it!” And you’re so touched by that, you cry. Why wouldn’t you? That’s an amazing thing.

Here’s another amazing thing: If you have ten readers or ten million, you have gold.

He’s right in every way.


Duran Duran Always Puts the Music First

If you came of age during the 1980s, you probably couldn’t walk five feet without seeing Duran Duran—on a teenage girl’s t-shirt or pinned to her denim jacket, on MTV in one of their videos shot in Sri Lanka or Antigua, in the record stores or pop magazines or on the radio or at the top of the Billboard charts. An outsider might think they were all about image. But an insider knows they’re all about music.

They wrote and played their own music. Became masters of their instruments (“Roger uses two hands for his!”). They famously said they wanted to be the band everyone was dancing to when the bomb dropped. When they play “Ordinary World” in concert, they dedicate it to “lost friends” or someone who has passed away, or a group in need of comfort. “The song is no longer ours,” singer Simon LeBon said. “It belongs to all of you now.” I still have my pin-ups and posters and pins and scrapbooks from those teenage years. Saved all my ticket stubs, and still collect memorabilia every now and then. But what has kept my torch burning all this time has been the music. I listen in my car. Or when I’m on the treadmill. When I need inspiration. When I need a pick-me-up. The first song my husband and I danced to at our wedding was Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “If I Could Write a Book.” The second was Duran Duran’s “Pressure Off.” (I think they would have approved.) In their hit song “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise,” which has become something of an anthem, the lyric that has summed up everything about the relationship between the band and their fans is “The music between us.” Andrew “Durandy” Golub showcased this in his book of the same title.


As writers, publishing contracts and literary agents and Amazon rankings are great, especially if things are going in your favor. But never forget what got you there. Never forget why you got into this racket in the first place. It was the writing. You couldn’t not do it.

Wishing you all a fab Duran Duran Appreciation Day, and happy writing!



Go here to get one! (one day only!)


FoM title page signed by the band!