Category: Uncategorized

Escape to Camelot

I am so pleased to take a break from all things virus and chat with my fellow Berkley author, Stephanie Marie Thornton, about her brand new book, AND THEY CALLED IT CAMELOT, a story about the enigmatic Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Read to the end to see how to get in on a signed copy! Grab a cuppa and get cozy!

Stephanie, Jackie O seems to permanently reside in our hearts and curiosities, but what inspired you specifically to write a novel about her life and legacy?

As a high school history teacher, I had always associated Jackie with her iconic pink suit and the photograph of her scrambling over the back of the Lincoln Continental limousine moments after JFK had been shot. However, as I began researching her as the potential subject of a novel, I realized that so much of her personal story has been forgotten in the decades since her death. This was a woman who endured so much struggle and loss—most especially the assassination of her husband before her very eyes—and yet, she became the icon for everything that was poised and graceful. While there are countless biographies about Jackie, I wanted to reimagine what it was like to be her, to let readers experience her life unfolding through her own eyes.

So what do you think made her both an icon and turned her into an American legend?

At the heart of Jackie’s legend was her love of everything that is beautiful and cultured. She had a bit of a Midas touch about her, and used that magic to transform not just the role of First Lady—a position that had typically been held by much older (and less fashionable) women—but also that of the entire American presidency. There’s a reason that the JFK White House years are called Camelot—it was a time where men dared to dream big while dancing with beautiful women—and that was due in large part to Jackie’s influence. She was already an icon during her husband’s administration, but it was his assassination that turned her into a legend. The images of Jackie’s pink suit in that Dallas motorcade and as a black-draped widow holding her children’s hands during JFK’s funeral procession are forever seared onto America’s collective memory.

What kind of research did you do to write AND THEY CALLED IT CAMELOT? 

To start, I read what feels like every biography ever published about Jackie, the Kennedy family, Aristotle Onassis, and also the Bouviers. I was also fortunate to catch the Portland Historical Society’s High Hopes exhibit about JFK’s path to the presidency as well as making numerous trips to Washington, D.C. to visit the Smithsonian and Arlington. Finally, a trek to the JFK Presidential Library provided me with many more historical details.

And with all that research in mind, what was the most intriguing fact you discovered about Jackie O?

We’ve all seen images of Jackie in Dallas in the back of the Lincoln Continental limousine and then wearing her blood-spattered pink suit standing next to Lyndon Johnson while he took the oath of office on the day that JFK was assassinated—it’s impossible to truly imagine how horrific that day was for Jackie. However, one thing I didn’t realize until I started researching is that Jackie—and not Bobby’s wife Ethel or even his mother, Rose Kennedy—was the family member who signed the consent forms to terminate Bobby’s life support after he was shot at the Ambassador Hotel during his primary campaign. It seemed to me further proof of Jackie’s deep well of strength—that this woman who had survived so much—was able to muster the courage to face so many tragedies.

You’re right. I hadn’t known that fact. Surprising and moving. What do you hope readers will take away after reading And They Called It Camelot?

My greatest hope is that readers take away a deep admiration for the woman that was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. So many of Jackie’s great personal accomplishments—including her renovation of the White House and preservation of Grand Central Station in New York—have been forgotten, but this was a First Lady who left a beautiful mark on our country and who was revered around the world. Jackie’s grace, poise, and strength made her into a true American legend, and I hope readers close the book with a sense of awe over the life she lived.


Susan here again:

Thanks so much for stopping by, Stephanie. Always a treat to chat with my fellow Berkley gals. Friends, if you’d like to get in on an opportunity to receive a free copy of this gorgeous novel, just comment below by noon Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day, a fitting close to the drawing) and I will have draw a winner. Would love to hear your thoughts on what you know about this extraordinary woman.

Have a safe and quiet weekend, folks. Wash your hands, be kind to one another, read books. They are virus-free!

My Favorite Christmassy Things! Day 11

I’m pleased to be part of a dozen authors who’ve gotten together through time and space to present My Favorite Christmassy Things! My post today is the eleventh of 12. We’ve got some grand prizes that you can get in on and LOTS of individual giveaways (I have a mini-giveaway of my own today – read to the end to see what it is). But the grand prize is big ol’ box of books and there are two smaller grand prizes to be won. I have a list of all the other participating authors at the end of my post here so that you can get in on the big good stuff and the individual giveaways. I was given the prompt My Favorite Christmas Vacation. So here it is.

Mittelbrunn, Germany

To be honest, Christmas 1991 wasn’t exactly spent on vacation. I’ve actually never been on vacation at Christmas time. I’ve either been at home with my big extended family or at home with my own little one. But that particular Christmas my husband and our then three children were living in southern Germany in a sweet little village called Mittelbrunn. My husband was in the Air Force at the time and stationed at Ramstein airbase. We lived 15 minutes away from the base in a skinny but splendid four-story house with tile floors with woods for a backyard and a little corner bakery that I could send the kids to get brotchen from and American neighbors on the other side of us in case I needed to borrow something I only knew the English word for. The village was so tiny, there was only the bakery, a gasthaus, a church or two and seven hundred or so German residents.

That was the Christmas that we fell in love with lebkuchen and pfeffernusse. It was the Christmas where I attended my first Christmas market in Rothenberg (see the video!) and where I learned how to properly say “Fröhliche Weihnachten” and  I nearly sounded like I had grown up saying Merry Christmas like that.

But the best part of that Christmas was waking up minutes before dawn on Christmas morning to the sound of church bells. The world outside our bedroom window was a shade of pale sapphire in those moments before sunrise. Snow glittered like diamonds on the streets and rooftops in the waning moonlight. And even though the world was still asleep those bells rang out with such joy.

It was as if the very air outside the house was calling out, “He’s here! He’s here! It’s Christmas! Wake up! Wake up! The savior of the world is here!” I didn’t mind for a second that the pealing of those bells tugged me from slumber and the children too. Those bells made me want to run outside with chimes of my own and ring out a response. I had never heard bells on Christmas morning like that, not like that. There has never been another Christmas quite like that one. We left Germany eleven months later in November 1992. That was to be my first and only Christmas in Germany. But I’ve never forgotten the sound of those bells.

Me, today, with lebkuchen I got at World Market.

I still eat lebkuchen every Christmas and I drink the same German coffee I fell in love with while there but I don’t live where it snows anymore and I don’t live where church bells ring out the arrival of Christmas Day. There is no little corner bakery I can send my children to and even if I could, my children are not children anymore. But I am so grateful for the gift of memory that allows us to revisit Christmasses past so that we can relive treasured times and those oh so scarce moments that remind us the true reason we celebrate anything at all this time of year.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

He’s here.

Fröhliche Weihnachten, friends!

Here on my blog I am giving away one early reader’s copy of my soon-to-be-released novel (March 2019), THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR, which incidentally takes place here in the States and in Germany, not very far from where I lived for a year and a half, You can be on the drawing for it by just saying hello here in the comments and on Dec 22, I’ll have choose a winner from those who  comment.

Do check out all the other blog posts below for chances to win fun stuff and for sure don’t forget to click on the Rafflecopter for the BIG prizes! Thanks for stopping by…


Dec 10: Catherine West – Welcome to My Favorite Christmassy Things

Dec 10: Cynthia Ruchti – My Favorite Christmas Tree

Dec 11:  Tamara Leigh – My Favorite Christmas Carol

Dec 12: Lauren K. Denton – My Favorite Christmas Disaster

Dec 13: Ronie Kendig – My Favorite Christmas Movie

Dec 14: Jody Hedlund – My Favorite Christmas Food

Dec 15: Elizabeth Byler Younts – My Favorite Christmas Ornament

Dec 16: Beth K. Vogt – My Favorite Christmas Decoration

Dec 17: Rachel Linden – My Favorite Christmas Service

Dec 18: Courtney Walsh – My Favorite Christmas Memory

Dec 19: Rachel Hauck – My Favorite Christmas Book

Dec 20: Susan Meissner – My Favorite Christmas Vacation

Dec 21: Catherine J. West – My Favorite Christmas Gift

Enter by midnight on 12/21/18 USA Eastern time! Winners will be drawn on 12/22/18 and posted on Catherine West’s site.

Draw open to US addresses ONLY, with apologies to our international readers.

Major Prizes:

1st: All 12 Print Novels
2nd: $50 Amazon gift card and $20 Starbucks Gift Card
3rd: $50 Amazon gift card

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cheers for The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Nearly every time I speak to a book club or at a library event or literary festival, I get asked to name my favorite authors. I always begin that list with historical fiction author extraordinaire, Kate Morton. She is a fantastically gifted wordsmith, clever and creative, and her prose is delicious. Her novels are multi-layered in so many ways, and her characters are perfectly drawn. I’ve been looking forward to her newest, THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER for months, ever since she first posted it was headed our way. I got a copy the day it was released and started reading, slowly at first – to savor it – but then voraciously when I got to the last quarter and couldn’t put it down. This one will be one of my all-time favorites of hers, like THE SECRET KEEPER and THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN – two previous books of hers that still resonate with me years after having read them.

Kate’s books always take me back to England, where I spent three glorious years as an Air Force wife, and where I fell love with the land. This story takes place in at a country house in Berkshire over a period of a century, with multiple people coming in and out of the house and bringing their individual stories with them as the leave part of their story there. I love stories where a house figures in prominently (I did something along those lines with A SOUND AMONG THE TREES and again with SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE) and I really enjoyed the chapter narrated by the gentle voice of the ghost of Birchwood Manor, a woman, not a phantom. A woman tied to the house but not with chains as much as tied to it for comfort and solace. It was the same kind of benevolent voice I gave to my ghost in A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN. I am not a fan of ghost stories per se, but I am a fan of stories that feature compelling characters that feel timeless to me, and if they happen to be ghosts, fine with me if they better have a good reason for it. Kate’s THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER delivers. I highly recommend.

Here is a gorgeous video of Kate describing this novel:

Get, read, and enjoy!

P.S. There are many characters, all wonderful, but it might be a good idea to keep a little note on in the inside cover as to who is who….

She’s here!

Just a quick note here to let you know that the new book, AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN, was released into the wild today! My first hardback, and I’m so very excited to let it fly. I hope you will shop at your favorite indie bookstore to pick it up. And do let me know what you think! Your opinion matters to me and always helps me shape the next book I write.

In a nutshell, this book is a weave of our collective thoughts about life and death, the resiliency of the human spirit, how we cope with loss, and the ironic truth that it is precisely because of our mortality that our existence has value. It’s because we all die that life is precious and exquisite. We are each only given one life. Just the one. It matters to us how spend it and who we spend it with.

I had heard of this pandemic prior to writing As Bright as Heaven, but I hadn’t known the depth of its impact on the world; how many lives it took, how many lives it reshaped. An estimated one-third of the world’s population was afflicted, and as many as fifty million people are believed to have died. That is a staggering number, and makes it the worst plague in history, with a death toll higher than even the Black Death of the fourteenth century. When I learned of the number left dead by it, that, to me, was fifty million stories crying to be told.  I decided to imagine just one of them…


February Tour Dates!

Hello, reading friends!

I’ve been holed up at the writing desk working on something new for you but I wanted to pop on the blog for a moment and let you know where I will be in February when AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN is released into the wild. I would love to see you at one of these events!!


Hosted by Bookmark Shoppe at
Cebu Bar and Bistro – 7 PM (ticketed)
8801 3rd Ave Brooklyn NY 11209-4601
With my Berkley fellow author, Chanel Cleeton and her new release, NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA


Hosted by Aaron’s Books at
Bent Creek Country Club – 6:30 PM (ticketed)
620 Bent Creek Dr.
Lititz, PA 17543


Hosted by Head House Books
Philadelphia City Institute – 6:30 PM (free)
1905 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-5730


Hosted by Litchfield Books at
Kimbel’s Wachesaw – 11 AM (ticketed)
1930 Governors Landing Rd
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576

Litchfield Books – 2 PM (free)
11421 Ocean Hwy
Pawley’s Island, SC  29585


Hosted by Bookmiser at
Milton Public Library – 2 PM (free)
Meeting Room C
855 Mayfield Road
Alpharetta, GA 30009


Warwick’s Books – 7:30 (free)
7812 Girard Ave
La Jolla, CA 92037


Hosted by Adventures by the Book at
The Claim Jumper  – 12 PM (ticketed)
18050 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92078

Let me know if you will be able to come!


Silly Old Bear


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the world of Christopher Robin — his Thousand Acre Wood and a toy bear named Pooh and all his toybox friends: a donkey named Eeyore, a Tigger that bounces, a Piglet who forever stays a piglet, Kanga and Roo, and Owl and Rabbit.

I’ve had this 1958 copy of The House at Pooh Corner (pictured above) since I was a kid, and when I had my own littles, I must have watched the VHS tape of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day a thousand times with them. And Winnie Pooh and the Honey Tree, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too. I could recite the entire scripts and sing every lyric of Heffalumps and Woozles.

When something is woven into the best memories of your childhood, and then into your children’s childhood, you tend to feel a bit possessive of it, even if the thing itself isn’t really yours.  So when I heard a movie was being made about A.A. Milne and the genesis of the books and characters I loved, I felt a pang of instant caution. I wanted to run headlong into whichever studio was trifling with perfection and yell at the top of my lungs, “Whatever you do, don’t muck it up! You hear me? Do it right or don’t do it at all!”

But then I saw this trailer and my heart was pricked and my emotional center was engaged and I thought to myself, “I think this might be very good.

I actually can’t wait to see it. And I probably shouldn’t assume from the get -go that movie studios just want to get it wrong. After all, I was so pleasantly surprised by such movies as Mr. Holmes, Saving Mr. Banks, and Finding Neverland, so at least by my count, they’ve gotten it right more than they’ve gotten it wrong.

How about you? What do you think of this trailer? What do you think of movies that bring beloved characters and their creators to life? Have you been happy with what the movie industry has given us? Tell me…

Ellis at last!

WsigningatEllishen A Fall of Marigolds – a novel set primarily on Ellis Island in 1911 – was published two years ago, I daydreamed of signing this book at the bookstore in the main immigration building someday. I didn’t know if the opportunity would ever present itself but I remained optimistically hopeful. Well, as if often the case, that optimism paid off. Last Saturday I spent a wonderful five-hour stretch signing A Fall of Marigolds at Ellis Island, with all the proceeds from the sale of the book going to the Save Ellis Island campaign to restore the hospital buildings.

The Save Ellis Island staff who prepared a table for me and chatted up A Fall of Marigolds to bookstore customers and to hospital tour attendees, were so very kind and welcoming. The hours just flew by. And the best part was playing a small role in the effort to raise awareness for the plight of these historic buildings. If read A Fall of Marigolds, you will remember that Clara’s story takes place largely in the Contagious Wards of Ellis Island Hospital in 1911. Those hospital buildings — and there are many — will continue to rumble into ruin without intervention. Save Ellis Island exists to spearhead the restoration effort to keep that from happening.

920607While I was there, the event planner, a wonderful gal named Jessica, showed me a book that is a recent add to the bookstore inventory. The outside cover drew me at once and then I opened the pages and fell in. The Arrival by Shaun Tan is not like any other book that explores what it was like for immigrants to forever leave all that was familiar to come to a land of supreme unfamiliarity. There are no words in this book, only masterfully done sketches. It’s truly a graphic novel, in every sense of the word.

Here’s the description of this book from the publisher, because it so aptly describes this book:

“In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He’s embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life- he’s leaving home to build a better future for his family. Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant’s experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can’t communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character’s isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy.”

TheArrival2It’s a book to ponder slowly because the story is one to be discovered not one to be fed to you. If you’ve wondered what would it be like to strike out for a new and foreign horizon where the only certainty is your desire to go, this is the book that will show you, in heart-tugging detail, what you give up, what is handed to you, what you must chase after to do it. Highly recommend it.

Have you been to Ellis Island? Any of your relatives come through there? Did they share any stories with you? Share away…

Where it all began


From left: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, producer David O. Selznick, and Olivia de Havilland.

I’m in Atlanta as I write this, sitting inside a hotel room at the Georgian Terrace Hotel, the very place were the Gone With the Wind premiere party was held in December 1939, and where all the stars of the film stayed the night of that momentous occasion.

I had the distinct pleasure last night of speaking at the Margaret Mitchell House about writing STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD and why I chose the movie set of Gone With the Wind for its backdrop.

When first I learned I was going to be speaking about this book here in Atlanta, I wanted to do cartwheels. I was that excited. A couple seconds later, though, I fully realized that I’d be speaking to a group of people who are more tied in to this film and the book than I could ever hope to be, and at a far more intimate level. That’s when I needed, if you’ll pardon my reference to Aunt Pittypat, my smelling salts.  What right does a San Diegan have to speak about Gone With the Wind to an Atlantan crowd, seated in the very place where Margaret Mitchell wrote it.

But you know, everyone who loves Gone With the Wind, and there are millions of us, is connected in a small way to the mother tree, if you will. What I brought to the gracious attendees who came to hear me speak last night was my own personal bit of ponderings and musings about this story, from way out on my little limb. It was a lovely evening!

Here are a few photos from the inside of the Margaret Mitchell House (If you get to Atlanta, it’s a must-see). The tour offers so many insights into how Peggy Marsh’s life experiences influenced her the story of Gone With the Wind.

Have a lovely weekend!


The front porch of the house looks onto Peachtree Street. Margaret was born in 1900 a few blocks away, just off Peachtree St, and died in 1949, a few blocks the other direction, also right off Peachtree Street. She was hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street.


The furniture inside the apartment are period pieces that are close copies of what John and Peggy Marsh had. So you can actually sit in this blue chair if you wanted to…

The Margaret Mitchell House used to be an apartment building for ten renters. Peggy Marsh (aka Margaret Mitchell) and her husband John moved in to apt 1 on their wedding day on July 4, 1925.

The Margaret Mitchell House used to be an apartment building for ten renters. Peggy Marsh (aka Margaret Mitchell) and her husband John moved in to apt 1 on their wedding day on July 4, 1925.

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Before Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal. Here she is with the heartthrob of the day, Rudolph Valentino.

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And this is me, sitting in the exact spot where Margaret Mitchell created such memorable characters as Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashely Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton.

Echoes of the Past


A view of the main hospital from the immigration building.

Two years ago when I was in the final stages of writing A Fall of Marigolds, I planned a trip to Ellis Island to see for myself the hospital buildings where I set the story and which have been unused for more than fifty years. They weren’t open to the public then and I was going to be given a private and guided close-up look for research purposes. I had my plane ticket, a hotel room booked, even a reservation on the ferry all set up, but Hurricane Sandy swept in a little less than a month before I was to arrive. Ellis was one of the places that the storm hit hard. The damage to the landing docks was extensive and Ellis would end up being closed for repairs for more than a year. I still went to Manhattan. I met with my editor, took photos of the Upper West side to find the best spot for my fictional Heirloom Yard fabric store, went to the 9-11 Memorial, touched the building that had been the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, looked out over the river toward the island and the hospital buildings, and hoped there would be another time, some day, when I could walk the halls that Clara walked.

This past week, I finally got my wish. On Friday I finally got to see and touch and feel the hospital buildings that served as the detail-rich setting for this book. This part of Ellis is open now to hard hat tours by reservation only. I highly recommend the tour if you are a history devotee, if you enjoyed A Fall of Marigolds, and especially if you wish to join in the effort to preserve the buildings. They are crumbling into ruin as old buildings do if they are left on their own to time and the elements. Proceeds from the tours go to the Save Ellis Island effort. It’s also easy to donate toward the preservation campaign on their website. I send a small portion of the royalties from A Fall of Marigolds to assist in this endeavor.

The primary photo you see above, is the reflected view of the Statue of Liberty, visible from a mirror above a sink in a room in an isolation ward. The terrible irony here is that the patient whose room this was, was likely a third-class TB patient who would never be allowed to immigrate while infected with tuberculosis. He or she would be stabilized until healthy enough to make the journey back to where they came from…


One of several curved hallways in the contagious ward. Curves, so it was believed, kept bad air from settling in the corners.


The caged area was where those with supposed mental illness could get some fresh air during their stay. The mentally ill – diagnosed back then as imbecile, idiot or moron – would sadly be sent back to where they came from as it was believed they would become a burden to society. Only those who could work and make their own way in life were allowed to emigrate.


During the hospital’s golden years in the early 1900s prior to 1930, the lawns and landscaping were professionally cared for. After the buildings were abandoned in the late 1950s, trees overtook the empty spaces and their limbs broke more windows than vandals and heavy storms.

A hallway in the contagious wards. Clara walked down it many times…


Many of the window openings have been covered to keep out the elements. But not this one.


Being a public hospital, it was also a teaching hospital. This was the autopsy theater.


Unfortunately not everyone admitted to the Ellis Island Hospital could be cured. Hence, the morgue. The top two shelves would be packed with ice.


A haunting artistic display is currently on exhibit at Ellis. A French photographer has placed many of these images in different places. You can see more of this exhibit on the website linked above.


This is Ward K, where I put fictional Andrew, who wore the scarf around his neck on the day Clara met him…


Me in my hard hat!

Me in my hard hat!

Staying the course

Ever had a season in your life when everything that is constant in your personal universe decides to change? One moment you’re putzing along in your little boat on a lazy, little river of which you know every bend, and the next you’re speeding down foamy rapids that don’t know the meaning of lazy. I’ve had times when big changes tossed me out of the boat for a cold, hard swim (no more of those, thank you) and I’ve also had times when the deviated course made for a thrilling ride (the changes were for the most part good), but that didn’t mean I could just lay back and trail my hand in the water – know what I mean?

There is this little joke spinning about the planet that says if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. We smile at that, but really I don’t think plan-making makes God double over in holy chuckles. I don’t think he’s the cosmic prankster some have made him out to be. I think life truly is what happens to us when we’re busy making other plans. It’s great that we get to make plans. But it’s also imperative that we adapt to the unplanned. Making plans is smart, forward-thinking, reasonable. Adapting to the unplanned is exactly the same, I think. Some people like change, some don’t. But change is like rainy days and the fifteenth of April and trips to the dentist. It will come, whether we like it or not.

I am in one of the seasons where the river is changing its course; it’s all — for the most part — pleasant and exciting. This is the time to sit up, take the oars (if nothing else than for something to hold onto) and enjoy the ride. The water will settle in time and there will be a new normal for awhile. I don’t want to not get there. And I don’t want to close my eyes to all the sights and sounds around me while my boat heads down an unfamiliar stretch of water. There are things we learn when we’re not where we’ve always been, and not doing what we’ve always done. “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.” – Carl Rogers

The best stories I’ve read and certainly the best I’ ve written are the ones about characters responding to change.

So here’s to a more thrilling life story! See you ’round the bend…