Writer’s Life: Camille Di Maio


Author Camille Di Maio and I have a couple things in common: we both like to belt out show tunes on a whim, and to have travel adventures. Someday I hope to add to that list what she has accomplished today — the publication of a second novel. Today marks publication day for Camille’s second novel, BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS — no easy feat for a home-schooling mother of four! Meet Camille:

  1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I have four children, ages 18, 16, 12, and 8. What I have learned through homeschooling them and running a large business out of our home is that they are watching everything. Whether any of us is aware of it, they are influenced by our every action, positive and negative. How did that affect my writing? It motivated me to press on through all the hardships that come with writing a book — finishing it in the first place, receiving rejection letters from agents, and pushing through difficulties to achieve a dream. I thought that writing a book was something I would do after they were grown, but through the process, I realized that it was so very important that they were there to see it all play out. Whatever they choose to do in the future, they will face adversity. They need an example of perseverance. So, the need to set a good example affected my writing in that it propelled me to write in the first place.

  1. Where do you write? What do you love about it?

My favorite place to write is a coffee shop. It can be hectic to write at home (although truthfully, that’s where most of it takes place). I’m an introvert at heart, so I love the buzz of having people around me but the privacy of  being in my little cocoon. I also love to write at a beach. The vastness of water is so inspiring to me. We are making a big life change to move from Texas to the East Coast, so that we will have more opportunities to enjoy a coastal life!

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

My favorite motto comes from (Saint) Mother Teresa of Calcutta:  “Let no one come to you without leaving better or happier.” It is paramount to me that every encounter I have with someone is positive and loving. This is not always possible depending on the circumstances, but I can say that I try with everything I have. The smallest things can make or break a person’s day.

  1. Who inspires you?

My Aunt Cheryl inspires me. There is nothing she won’t try, no adventure she won’t go on, and she boldly sported a bald head as she fought through two bouts of cancer. She is unashamedly herself and her thoughtfulness knows no boundaries. She always puts others first. I aspire to be half the woman that she is.

  1. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

For many years, I have run an unofficial group called Camille’s Theater Club. I organize group tickets for hundreds of people when Broadway shows tour through San Antonio. This has helped many families — including my own — receive huge discounts on ticket prices, introducing many people to theater who might not otherwise have been able to afford it. Many times, a group of us met before a show for dinner, and that camaraderie was so much fun. Sometimes we wait at the stage door to meet the stars of the show. We have seen some amazing performances and created great memories.

  1. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

Right now, I am reading an early copy of THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter. It is my favorite book of the year and I think it will be a tough one to topple. My favorite book of all time is OLIVIA AND JAI by Rebecca Ryman. It was her debut novel and is simply breathtaking.


Find Camille here:    camilledimaio.com    Facebook    Twitter

Writer’s Life: Ellen Umansky

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First, some high praise garnered by Brooklyn-based author Ellen Umansky’s debut novel, The Fortunate Ones.

“The Fortunate Ones” is a subtle, emotionally layered novel about the ways art and other objects of beauty can make tangible the invisible, undocumented moments in our lives, the portion of experience that exists without an audience but must be preserved if we are to remain whole. —The New York Times Book Review 

Umansky’s richly textured and peopled novel tells an emotionally and historically complicated story with so much skill and confidence it’s hard to believe it’s her first. — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Now that you have hopefully clicked the link above to buy it, I’ll reveal that Ellen and I were good buddies in our Santa Monica middle school. Our paths diverged, but not too widely, as we both attended Penn, and recently reunited for a reunion author panel called “Words with Friends.” I could not be more proud of her, more excited to read her novel, or more pleased to introduce you. Meet Ellen Umanksy:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

My immediate response to this question is a pragmatic one: I have so much less time to work than before I had children, but I’m a better, more disciplined writer now. I’m less precious about my writing; as a parent, you can’t afford to be. You simply have to get your words down on paper and take it from there.

My mother, who passed away a year ago, was my role model in all kinds of ways, large and small. She was sick for several years, but she rarely complained. She was a cheerful and warm person, almost relentlessly so, and because of that, it was easy to overlook her persistence and resilience. She pushed through some seriously painful months — years, actually — during which she continued to work, travel, spend time with her family, her grandchildren in particular. I think of her determination all the time, and try to apply that to my own work and life.

Where do you write? What do you love about it? (or I suppose, what don’t you love…)

I write anywhere I can, but often I’m at my desk in our house in Brooklyn; that’s where I am right now. A big window to my left overlooks a parking lot, but affords a slice of trees too—a light-filled urban view. There’s something I love about working in my house alone. There’s usually so much chatter and noise, questions being asked of me—mom, where are my gym clothes? Mom, I can’t find my [insert random toy here]—but then they leave for school and it’s suddenly, blessedly quiet again. For the next five hours, the space belongs only to me. When I’m stuck in my work, I find it useful to get up and take care of a mundane, household task. I might have no idea where I’m going plot-wise in a story, but emptying a dishwasher? That I can do.

I’m also a member of the Brooklyn Writers Space, a collective workspace where I’ll often decamp in the late afternoons or if I’m working on a weekend. When my kids were young, that space was a lifesaver. I know a number of other writers who also belong, and it’s nice to run into them and chat and be reminded of that camaraderie. Writing can be such lonely business, and that fellowship, wherever you find it, is essential.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Get it down on paper. You can always revise. And revise. And revise.

Who inspires you?

So many people: My mother; a big, ever-changing mix of writers, Grace Paley, Wilkie Collins, Elena Ferrante, Jane Austen, and Lore Segal; my daughters; my husband, too. He’s a psychiatrist and a voracious reader, my secret weapon. He’s insightful about character and human relationships, doesn’t get caught up in questions of craft, and is one of the funniest people I know.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

My grandmother, who passed away a year and a half ago at the age of 101, was born in Russia before the Russian Revolution, and fled that country as a young girl in 1921, crossing into Poland illegally and waiting with her family for close to two years before they could come to America. I remember my grandmother talking about that stressful time, living in Lemburg, Poland, and how her parents would go every day to the offices of the HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was helping them with their visas and so much more. Last month, I went to a rally at the foot of Manhattan, in view of the Statue of Liberty, to protest Trump’s ban against immigrants and refugees. The rally was organized by HIAS, the same group that helped my grandmother’s family so long ago. I am both inspired and heartened by their work and appalled that we need them so badly today.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I devoured Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah a few years ago, and read her novel Half of a Yellow Sun this winter. I don’t know what took me so long to turn to it. It’s a tour de force, told from different points of views during the Biafran war of independence in 1960’s Nigeria, something I knew little about. But just as compelling, it’s a story rich in character that focuses on a pair of sisters, twins, what sets them apart and what brings them together.

Joanna Hershon’s A Dual Inheritance is also a favorite of mine. It opens at Harvard in the ’60’s when two men from vastly different backgrounds meet and become friends. But college is just the starting point for this sweeping, deeply emotional story that crosses decades and continents. It’s a such rich and compulsive read; I’m friends with Joanna Hershon and witnessed her writing the book and I still don’t quite understand how she did it.

FortunateOnes lc cover


Follow Ellen on Facebook and Twitter and EllenUmansky.com

The Fortunate Ones, Synopsis:

“One very special work of art–a Chaim Soutine painting–will connect the lives and fates of two different women, generations apart, in this enthralling and transporting debut novel that moves from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles.

It is 1939 in Vienna, and as the specter of war darkens Europe, Rose Zimmer’s parents are desperate. Unable to get out of Austria, they manage to secure passage for their young daughter on a kindertransport, and send her to live with strangers in England.

Six years later, the war finally over, a grief-stricken Rose attempts to build a life for herself. Alone in London, devastated, she cannot help but try to search out one piece of her childhood: the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished.

Many years later, the painting finds its way to America. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein has returned home for her father’s funeral. Newly single and unsure of her path, she also carries a burden of guilt that cannot be displaced. Years ago, as a teenager, Lizzie threw a party at her father’s house with unexpected but far-reaching consequences. The Soutine painting that she loved and had provided lasting comfort to her after her own mother had died was stolen, and has never been recovered.

This painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship, eventually revealing long-held secrets that hold painful truths. Spanning decades and unfolding in crystalline, atmospheric prose, The Fortunate Ones is a haunting story of longing, devastation, and forgiveness, and a deep examination of the bonds and desires that map our private histories.”

Writer’s Life: Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff Author Photo credit Mindy Schwartz Sorasky

Pam Jenoff is the author of ten novels, her latest — THE ORPHAN’S TALE — launched last month to much acclaim. I met Pam at the Jewish Book Conference in 2015, and she impressed me as warm, intelligent, funny, and humble. She is also a Penn Law grad and mother of young children. I’m pretty sure her motto (see below) has something to do with her prolific output. I’m pleased to introduce you to Pam Jenoff:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I’ve had occasion lately to think a lot about the inherent tension between being a writer and being a mom. As a mother, I want to always be present in the moment. But my writer side secretly wants to sneak off and be with my characters. Essentially it is about the precious commodity of time, and I think the answer is to be wholly present for whichever aspect of life I am spending time on at that moment.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I have written in mountaintop retreats and castles. I have also written in my doctor’s office and in my car, and can tell you whether the coffee shops within a five mile radius of my house open at 6:00 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, because I’m there with my nose pressed against the glass wanting to get inside and write. Usually my office is my favorite place because I just love to be in my daily routine, doing my thing. I also do very well writing in hotels on book tour. But you can’t be too fussy about it.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Every Damn Day. It’s all about moving the manuscript forward, even an inch at a time.

Who inspires you?

So many people! Great writers and great athletes. My kids. Right now, my mom, who has waged an epic health battle this year and is a total warrior for our family.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

My big three causes have always been hunger, homelessness and at-risk youth. Right now, I’m passionate about book fair scholarships – making sure that children who cannot afford a book at a school book fair are able to choose one, instead of watching others get a book while they do without. My kids go to a very diverse public school and I’m really focused on including students from low-income families in all aspects of school life.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I am reading constantly. There are so many good books coming out this year: thrillers from Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf, historical fiction from Janet Benton and Jillian Cantor, summer novels by Jamie Brenner and Jane Green, [read her Writer’s Life interview here – LND] just to name a few!

For book tour info, and to buy this book and her others, visit www.PamJenoff.com

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“A gripping story about the power of friendship to save and redeem even in the darkest of circumstances, The Orphan’s Tale sheds light on one of the most colorful and inspiring stories of heroism in Nazi Germany. This is a book not to be missed.”

 – Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife

Writer’s Life: Christina Baker Kline


There are people who, having reached a sweet spot of success, pull up the ladder behind them, cutting off those who wish to follow. Then there are people who arrive at that pinnacle and do everything they can to reach out and help pull up the next person. Author Christina Baker Kline, whose novel Orphan Train spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at No. 1, is decidedly the latter. My personal testimony: When I was seeking blurbs for my novel, I looked at my own bookshelf for possible kindred spirits whom I might ask (and it’s a big ask — “please read my whole book and publicly praise it?”). My eyes alighted on my copy of Orphan Train, and I took the chance of contacting Ms. Baker Kline. To my astonishment and delight, this busy author, mother, sister, daughter, wife had the kindness to reply that she would try to make time to read it. And then she blew my mind and DID! My gratitude is boundless.

Christina Baker Kline has given us a beautiful new novel, A PIECE OF THE WORLD, inspired by Christina Olson, the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s best-known painting. I am thrilled that she was willing to share her thoughts about writing and give us a glimpse into her personal writing world. Meet Christina:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

My mother and father were free-range parents before free-range parenting was a thing (so many years before it was a thing that it was actually another thing, hippie parenting). They were not worriers, to put it mildly. When I visited them for the first time with my own five-month-old son who’d never eaten solid food, I came downstairs one morning to find my father feeding him bacon and eggs. Though I panicked a little in that moment, mostly I took to heart their laissez-faire attitude, and I’m glad I did. My now almost-adult sons (21, 20 and 17) are pretty self-reliant and self-motivated.

My father was a historian and my mother a feminist activist and they both wrote books. They got on with their own work without apology. I think that’s the most important thing I learned from them: that it’s good for kids to have parents who are passionate about their work. The older they got, the more passionate they became about the things that truly interested them. I’ve found the same is true for me.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

When my kids were little I hired babysitters and went to coffee shops. I found the ambient noise helpful; it tamped down my inner critic. I still go to coffee shops sometimes, but I’ve learned over the years not to make strict rules for myself about where and when I write. I write in dentist offices, on subways, in libraries and lecture halls. When I’m immersed in a novel, I can write almost anywhere.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

James Carville’s legendary directive for the Clinton campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” My motto would be a variation on that: “It’s the writing, stupid.” Research and pre-writing and thinking about character are all important parts of the process, but eventually you have to grit your teeth, put pen to paper (literally, in my case; I write longhand), and WRITE. Another motto I love: “If you don’t put it in, you can’t take it out.” I used to attribute that to the writer Honor Moore, but I ran into her at a party and she told me she’d never said it. So I’ll claim it.

Who inspires you?

Fierce and gutsy females who’ve been in this business for a long time and still get up every day and write: women like Toni Morrison and Hilma Wolitzer and Alix Kates Shulman and Louise DeSalvo. I want to be like them when I grow up.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

When I wrote my novel Orphan Train I learned quite a bit about the foster care system in the U.S. Roots & Wings is a New Jersey nonprofit that provides young adults who age out of the foster care system with safe housing, educational support, counseling, and life skills. They are doing incredible work, and I’m proud to serve on their advisory board.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just read Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, and it blew me away. It’s wide-ranging, fierce, and deep. The language sings; the magical-realist railroad is a spectacular fiction.  I’m going to re-read it to try to understand how he pulled it off.

Christina Baker Kline is the author of the new novel A Piece of the World, about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written five other novels — Orphan Train, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines — and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Orphan Train (2013) spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at # 1, and was published in 40 countries. More than 100 communities and colleges have chosen it as a “One Book, One Read” selection. Her adaptation of this novel for young readers, Orphan Train Girl, will be published in May.




“A Piece of the World is a graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it.” —Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow

“The inscrutable figure in the foreground of Wyeth’s Christina’s World is our American Mona Lisa, and Christina Baker Kline has pulled back the veil to imagine her rich story. Tender, tragic, A Piece of the World is a fascinating exploration of the life lived inside that house at the top of the hill.” —Lily King, author of Euphoria

“With A Piece of the World, Baker Kline gives us a brilliantly imagined fictional memoir of the woman in the famed Wyeth painting, Christina’s World, so detailed, moving, and utterly transportive that I’ll never be able to look at the painting again without thinking of this book and the characters who populate its pages.” —Erik Larson, author of Dead Wake

Writer’s Life: Holly Brown

If you are among the people who this week may be craving a little extra reality-escape, I’m here to suggest: Read BOOKS! To that end, allow me to introduce you to family therapist and author Holly Brown, and her new psychological thriller, THIS IS NOT OVER.holly-brown-ap1


  1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

In high school, I wanted to be the next S.E. Hinton (no, I’m not dating myself at all here.) S.E. Hinton wrote “The Outsiders,” “That Was Then…This is Now,” and other fantastic books that were all the rage when I was a teenager. She was a teenager herself when she was published, which made her my idol. So when I was about fifteen, I finished writing my first novel. My family lived in Philadelphia, and there was one literary agent that we found in the Yellow Pages. My father drove me to the agent’s office so I could deliver my manuscript personally. Now, barring the fact that this is not at all how submitting to agents works and that I was summarily rejected and that I didn’t get published for many more years, what I love about the story is that my parents never doubted that talent and drive could make things happen. They never doubted that MY talent and drive could make things happen. So I carry that confidence and determination into my writing, and my life. And I want to bring it to my daughter’s life, too.

  1. Where do you write? What do you love about it?

This is the least sexy answer ever, but I love to write from my bed. It’s just so cozy. Sometimes I have the TV on, which is something you would never encourage your kids to do at a time of concentration, but it’s kind of like having a party going on nearby. For some reason, that works for me. And I think it’s important that every writer just finds a system that works for them and embraces it, fully.

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

Stay curious. It’s critical to me as a writer, and as a therapist, and as a human being. It’s dangerous to feel like you know everything. And it’s boring.

  1. Who inspires you?

Sue Johnson, who developed emotionally focused therapy. It’s informed by attachment theory, which says that the emotional bonds we have with our loved ones are vital, starting with our parents. But it doesn’t stop there, and even if you didn’t get what you needed as a child, you can still get it later in life; you just have to work a little harder. Sue Johnson helps couples learn to love well, to become emotionally secure and able to truly depend on one another, and her teachings have made me a much better therapist.

  1. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I feel passionately about an informed electorate, and about the necessity for independent investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is on the decline at a time when we need it most in order to keep elected officials and corporations accountable. ProPublica is an amazing non-profit dedicated to finding, researching, and telling stories that advance the public interest. They’re funded almost entirely through donations: https://www.propublica.org/ 

For more about Holly:

Website: HollyBrownBooks.com       Facebook: Facebook.com/HollyBrownAuthor

Blog: Bonding Time   Buy the Book: http://bit.ly/TINOHB



P.S. If you are lucky enough to be in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area on Tuesday, January 17, at 7pm, you can meet Holly for her launch party at Books Inc. Alameda (a hop, skip and jump from the Oakland Airport), one of my favorite bookstores.



Writer’s Life: Marin Thomas

Marin Thomas is the author of more than thirty western romances, and her first Women’s Fiction title — THE PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS (Berkeley/NAL) – was released March 1. Seeing as Marin played NCAA basketball for the University of Arizona Lady Wildcats, this season of college basketball Madness is the perfect time to talk about her new book, how she came to writing and who influenced her. Meet Marin:


What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as writer?

I’ve learned that forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give or receive. Not until I became a parent and found myself navigating the rough waters of raising teenagers did I experience a parenting epiphany. I realized that the mistakes my parents had made raising me had been committed with the best of intentions. Every parent strives to do the right thing, but often we’re winging it as we go. Acknowledging the mistakes I made with my children has enabled me to forgive my own parents and appreciate the difficulty of parenting on all levels.

Forgiveness is a common theme in many of my books because it paves the way to a richer, sweeter more meaningful life.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I write in the spare bedroom of our home. What I love most about my office is my desk. My husband purchased the Texas Ranger style monstrosity for me after I sold my first book to Harlequin in 2004. To date I’ve written over thirty books sitting at this desk.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Listen more, talk less.

Who inspires you?

My mother, who is now deceased, continues to inspire me each and every day. She was a bookaholic before the term became popular and she passed her love of reading on to me. She became my biggest cheerleader when I confided in her that I dreamed of becoming a published author…before self-publishing was even an option. Then she became my biggest fan when I finally sold. With each book I write, I give a quiet thanks to my mother for supporting my dream.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about supporting the University of Arizona Alumni Association and the Letter Winners program. I credit my college experience with changing my narrow view of the world and broadening my horizons. I grew up a middle-class girl in a small southern Wisconsin town with little diversity. My athletic scholarship exposed me to different races, religions, and philosophies. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t gone to college.

In 1982 I learned my first lesson in racism. While participating in a basketball tournament in rural Alabama our team was not allowed to eat in the main dining room of a restaurant because we had an African American coach and several African American players. Instead, we were escorted to a back room, where we ate in silence behind closed doors out of sight of the other diners.

I’d like to believe my experiences in college have made me a more sympathetic, caring human being. The small-town girl who graduated high school in Wisconsin is a far cry from the one who graduated college five years later and it has nothing to do with earning a degree.

What books do you recommend?

I’m a member of a wonderful group of women authors called The Tall Poppies. I’ve read several of their novels and would highly recommend any of them. You can find a list the authors and their books at www.tallpoppy.org


“There’s a big promise in this book: love, redemption, and a story so gripping I couldn’t put it down.” – #1 NY Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

Marin Thomas grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. She married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony at the historical Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. They currently live in Houston, where she spends her free time junk hunting and researching her next ghost tour.

Coming Tomorrow…the Writer’s Life Interviews.

Think of this post as the soft opening before the Grand Opening of a new series on this blog, Writer’s Life Interviews. Tomorrow, you’ll meet author Julia Claiborne Johnson, whose debut novel BE FRANK WITH ME is launching to excellent reviews. Julia is the perfect author to kick off this series, as her novel tells the story of a unique child, Frank; his overwhelmed, reclusive author mother; and the idealistic young assistant who enters the fray to help them both.

I’m so excited for this new series of Writer’s Life interviews. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that my children turned me into a writer; motherhood was my muse. So I love to hear how writers blend their personal and writing lives, to peer into their creative processes, and to get to know them outside of their books.

I’ll ask everyone these questions, and they can answer as many as they want:

1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?
2. Where do you write? What do you love about it?
3. If you had a motto, what would it be?
4. Who inspires you?
5. What charity or community service are you passionate about these days?
6. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I hope you’ll enjoy meeting new authors, or getting to know “old favorites” in a different way. For me, preparing the interviews have already paid unexpected dividends in the form of parenting wisdom and great book recommendations.

See you tomorrow with Julia Claiborne Johnson!

– Laura

P.S. What burning question do you have that you’d like me to pose?

Friday Reads with new friends

I would spend every day going to author panels if I could. I wouldn’t care if I were the author or the audience. Give me a room of 80 people who made special time in their day to talk about what they are reading, what they are writing, all gathered in honor of the written word. Except for snapping a few photos, cellphones were nowhere to be seen. I heard not a word about apps or chargers or data. Ah, sanctuary.

I joined Aline Ohanesian (Orhan’s Inheritance) and Gwendolyn Womack (The Memory Painter), two generous, funny, tenacious story-tellers. (You have to read them.) I still pinch myself, I told the audience, every time I come up to a podium and remember that I’m one of the authors.


The most delightful person I met today (and there were many) was someone who may be behind the podium in the next decade: 12-year-old Ally, granddaughter of the Friends of the Library President, who was very excited because “she had never met a writer in person.” Imagine my delight when she took the seat next to me, and I got to ask her all about her home on a small island off the coast in Washington State. I told her. “I can’t wait to read your story.”

Happy Friday, everyone. What are you reading?