It’s by far the most frequently-asked question a writer gets. Dr. Seuss famously told people, “I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Über Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock fixed. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.” 

So is it any wonder I went on a quest to Europe?

2015 SW in cassis

The Calanques near Cassis. Hike until you drop...or until inspiration strikes.

The Calanques near Cassis. Hike until you drop…or until inspiration strikes.

Once again, we relied on advice from locals. In Aix-en-Provence, we bought matching pinky rings (I know. I know!) and a cool necklace made with tagua nut beads. The jeweler urged us to go to Cassis. He was an incredibly sincere person and a fine artist, with his atelier right there in h is tiny shop. Since I’m a big believer in following one’s instincts–off we went.

There were some fine and inspiring surprises there. A torrential downpour, complete with lightning strikes and waves crashing against the phare.

An old-school hotel perfectly situated at the harbor, where you could stand at the balcony and watch the fishing fleet going out. A friendly shop keeper who offered us her parking space, because in the old town, parking is virtually impossible. And bouillabaisse, which is both art and religion here.

France’s newest national park–The Calanques (“creeks” but they’re not creeks; more like towering cliffs like the ones in South Africa or Sydney, Australia) is criss-crossed by hiking trails so long and twisty and tough that you just have to jump into the crystal blue water. And by the way, the water quality is officially rated, and the water here is rated “excellent.” Clean and clear.

And chilly. But whatever. And while there, I watched a very attractive older couple holding hands to wade into the water on one of the tiny, rockbound beaches.

“It’s cold,” the woman protested, sucking everything in.

“We’ve driven a thousand kilometers to get here,” said her husband. “We’ve got to do it.”

And a moment later, they were swimming and laughing like children instead of seventy-year-old pensioners.

And a moment after that. I had an idea.

See? Easy. You just have to travel to a remote part of the world you’ve never heard of, et voila! 

We went to Lourmarin and Cassis, both suggested by locals in Aix. This is when you open your mind and let the book start talking to you. It’s always a good idea to talk to locals. Fortunately, my very good French from way back is still pretty good French after a few verres de vin. Even if you don’t speak the language, there is always a way to talk. Just try not to be self-conscious about it.

We stayed at a mas (more on that later) near Laguiole, home of the world’s finest knives, and a nice lady at the farm told us to check out Belcastel. We spotted a sign pointing to it, drove the twisty road, et voila! Look where we ended up. You barely need an imagination to think of the stories breathing from the past here.

I love traveling with Jerry, even when he takes sneaky pictures of me. Enjoy this view of Belcastel, in the Aubrac region of France.

My adorable daughter suggested Aix as our home base. We found a splendid apartment in the old town and moved right in. So here’s Aix–a funky university town housed in an ancient and venerable city. Markets, music, food, energy…I had my hair done (lisse et raide) in a salon that called itself the “best fucking cut shop” (painted on the window, sorry) and bought a cool necklace made from a nut. Trust me, it’s cool. And I thought about my book. The characters from the past who are pointing the way for the characters in the now.

Here’s Aix at sunrise:

When you’re traveling, embrace your jet lag. When you wake up, grab your notebook and start writing.

If you’ve ever taken a trip on a train or ferryboat, you know what I mean. You’re forced off the grid, leaving you 2 choices: read or write. It’s singularly relaxing. This is known as reader (or writer) heaven. From Paris, we took the TGV (tres grande vitesse) train to Aix-en-Provence. 3 zippy hours in a comfy seat with France out the fenetre.

Paris gare de lyon

What did I write on the train?

Sometimes productivity is overrated.

Sometimes productivity is overrated.

And what did I read? An international bestseller called THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND… by Swedish author Katarina Bivald. It will be published in the US in January, and you’re going to love it.

I am on a working vacation. When you’re a writer, it’s not a contradiction in terms, because your job comes with you in your head wherever you go. So if you go someplace awesome, you’re still working. But trust me, it doesn’t suck.

First stop–Paris. I finished FAMILY TREE (coming in 2016) and started research on my next book. Here’s the Jardin de Luxembourg and it doesn’t look much like Paris but when I see beehives, I have to take a photo because, well, beehives.


I love discovering strange shops that sell things like mushroom hunting knives. Here’s one on Boul’ St. Germain called Le Prince Jardiniere:

paris - le prince jardiniere

My amazing husband Jerry takes the best people-watching shots. Check out this French kid taking a selfie in Place des Vosges, aka the prettiest square in Paris:

paris-place des voges

Wow, people. I’m thrilled–and also humbled–by your response to Starlight on Willow Lake. The most frequently-asked question about this book is “How did you come up with a character like Faith?” (She’s the protagonist.)

Pleased to meet you!

Pleased to meet you!

It’s a good time for me to answer this question, because I’m meeting with a bunch of writers at a Seattle7Writers event on Bainbridge Island. Here is how to make a fictional character seem very real to the reader. Get her talking. Make sure she’s talking in her own voice, not your voice. If you want to write a lot of different characters, you don’t want them all to sound like you.

The key for me is to have her speak in first person–on paper. I’m quirky, as you know, so I write this out in longhand as a free-flowing conversation with my newly-invented character. If you’re a writer, give it a try. If you’re a reader, move on! Go read something wonderful! Then come back and tell us about it!


My ordinary world looks like:
The first time the reader meets me, here’s what I’m doing:
My most relatable trait is:
The problem I’m facing right now is:
The thing in my head that’s holding me back is:
The thing in my world that holding me back is:
If I don’t figure out my problem, the consequences are:
Show the reader this image to suggest where the story is going:
My person history in three sentences:
At this moment, I look like:
In school, I was:
The people in my family origin are:
Here’s how I make a living:
Here’s the person I love most in the world:
My favorite thing is:
My least favorite thing is:
I’m aware that I have this personal problem or issue:
My friends and family would say I have this personal issue:
I would finally feel complete if:
The thing I need right now is:
My deepest desire is:
My biggest goal in life is:
I have an emotional wound that stems from:
My greatest regret is:
The way I defend myself is:
My weakness:
My strength:
The single characteristic that could destroy me is:
The single characteristic that could save me is:
What I want the reader to know about me right this moment is:
The one thing that is going to get me going on my journey is:
I’m reluctant to change my path because:
My biggest fear is:
I express that fear by:
If I don’t go on this journey, here’s what will happen:
If I do go on this journey, here’s what will happen:
The greatest danger to me right now is:
My mentor is:
I do have a code of ethics. Here is its, in one sentence:
Something that bothers my conscience is:
Here’s what it would be required to make me take a leap of faith:
My worst enemy is:
My greatest ally is:
In order to achieve my goal, I would be willing to sacrifice this:
The difficult choice he must make as my journey comes to an end is:
My emotional breakthrough would be:
I’ll know I’ve completed my journey and mastered my problem when I _______________________________________________________________________.

Happy Writing!

Four years ago, I emerged from a difficult time in my life. During that time, I discovered how toxic negativity can be to a person. It affects you in ways you don’t realize, until you step back and discover the constant bad energy is taking a toll on your health, your psyche, your emotions–and your work.

I made a clear decision to invite only positive elements into my life. I called this project “The Year of Yes.” I made a firm commitment to reply “yes” to everything–no matter what the question might be.

I found myself saying yes to matters large and small. Yes to helping my elderly parents move to my town so I could look after them. Yes to rescuing a chihuahua puppy so Barkis could have a companion–and lookalike, bringing the now-legendary Lenny into my life. Yes to a multi-book contract with my publisher, including related yesses to audio books, foreign publishers and even a movie production company. Yes yes yes, it was all YES.

You won’t be surprised to learn that embracing the positive can be life changing. It opens you up to feelings and experiences you never dared to imagine.

Although I was happily single and determined to stay that way, I had to follow my own rule, and so I said a very small, tentative “yes” to a casual date. This led to more and bigger yesses, including an impulsive trip to Hong Kong where Jerry was working, a stay at the incomparable Peninsula Hotel, complete with Rolls Royces, a private spa and pink champagne.

Today is the 4-year anniversary of one of my most lunatic “yes” moments. I decided to have the word YES tattooed on my ankle. Happily for me, Jerry went along with the plan, and we both went to Ricky Tattoo in Wanchai, a district of Hong Kong. In the company of sailors young enough to be our kids, we submitted to the needle and thus sealed our fate.

A few months later, I said the biggest YES of my life when I found a marriage proposal in a message in a bottle on a secluded beach in Australia.

Saying yes has worked out well for me. Wishing you your very own YES!



Oh PS, please say YES to Starlight on Willow Lake. It’s just been published and I can’t wait for you to read it!

Dear Friends,

It’s a bittersweet moment for me as I think back over the Lakeshore Chronicles series. When Summer At Willow Lake was published, the topic was a 50th wedding anniversary, based on the celebration my family had for my parents. In fact, I dedicated the novel to them.

Yesterday, I learned the book is on the New York Times Bestseller List once again. For that I have readers to thank.

The very next day, my author copies of Starlight on Willow Lake arrived at my doorstep.

I’m so excited for you to read this new novel. Like the first Lakeshore book, Starlight on Willow Lake (aka Lakeshore #11) is dedicated to my parents. By now, they’ve been married for 61 years.

​But it’s particularly poignant, because my sweet dad passed away this month. I’m still in a fog of missing him. He loved the Lakeshore books and was always my biggest cheerleader.

In honor of my dad, here is his favorite Old Fashioned recipe. Cheers, Dad!

Just a reminder that if you preorder Starlight on Willow Lake, you can receive some fun e-mails with exclusive content about this upcoming book. Plus, you’ll be automatically entered in the drawing for a collection of swanky things guaranteed to please any reader. So if you preordered the book, or plan to, take 30 seconds to fill out this form, and you’re in!

Thanks to all for sticking with the Lakeshore Chronicles through thick and thin.


Please join me on my social networking channels, and let’s talk books! You can check out my Pinterest board. You’re also welcome to join me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram, or read my blog below.

My memory is so bad that I’ve taken up the habit of pre-ordering books. For me, it’s the perfect way to remember to buy a book I’ve been dying to read.

My publisher is rewarding readers who pre-order Starlight on Willow Lake. You get exclusive extra content about and from the book, and you’re entered in a contest with lavish prizes. What’s better than that?

About that special content–I worked like a rented mule on it, so I hope you like it!

Anyway. If you preordered the book, or if you plan to, click this link to sign up for the special content and the contest. Thanks, all!


Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

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