During the 1970s Boston underwent a process of school desegregation which resulted in “forced busing,” where children from white neighborhoods were assigned to schools in neighboring black neighborhoods in order to achieve racial balance across the school system. My earliest memories were of boarding a bus in my safe and middle-class white neighborhood and driving through the blighted areas of Roxbury and Dorchester to my elementary school. On the way we passed run-down houses, boarded-up storefronts and empty lots filled with litter and marked by graffiti.  Continue reading...

I would love to say that the idea for Pub Speak: A Writer's Dictionary of Publishing Terms came to me as I was browsing dictionaries in a library in Rome, or speaking about book publishing with my favorite author in a French café. But actually, the idea came to me while I sat on a hard plastic chair and flipped through a magazine in the waiting room of a car shop.  Continue reading...

As soon as I read about them, I was drawn to the real-life rags-to-riches story of the Fox sisters. Two ordinary farm girls from Western New York, Maggie and Kate Fox gripped their community by claiming to be able to communicate with the dead. They became celebrities in the bargain, sowing the seeds of an international religious movement that would eventually claim a million followers.  Continue reading...

Delta Girls is a book born from rejection. When Ballantine Books bought my novel Self Storage, they offered me a two-book deal, which of course was thrilling and affirming to me as a writer. I wrote a novel with a 12-year-old narrator, My Life with the Lincolns, and turned it in, thinking I had fulfilled my contract and would have a new book in the world soon.  Continue reading...

When Tillie Harris goes into premature labor, she has no one to turn to but her estranged father. Their relationship has been strained since Tillie was eight years old and her mother mysteriously vanished. Up From the Blue follows young Tillie's startling discoveries about what happened to her mother, as well as grown Tillie's struggle with a relationship that’s stuck in the past.  Continue reading...

The title story of my collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, began with me falling in love with a word: Madagascar. I fell head-over-heels for the cadence, for the way it evoked a Jacques Cousteau-esque sense of adventure and mystery.  Continue reading...

I used to play at being a writer.

Afternoons in Boston, in my early 20s, I'd pour three fingers of Black Bush whiskey, feed a page into my typewriter, and surround my desk with books by whoever I was reading then — Bill Knott, Marguerite Duras — and add to that bibles and newspapers. I'd open to random pages and write down whatever caught my eye, whatever seemed anachronistic or poignant, then I'd make a hash out of it.  Continue reading...

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