“A dream garden is better than no garden at all. At least your mind is filled with flowers and color and beauty. And I think, without even being aware of it, we slowly move towards what we hold in our minds.” (Words from Millie to her daughter Vita in my novel And So We Dream)
If I had a garden, I’d take my breakfast there.
I’d find a hammock or a garden chair and enjoy the peaceful shade.
I’d invite a friend to join me for lunch among the blooms,
and I’d find a quiet spot in the fragrant afternoons.
In the garden’s comfort, I’d indulge in a book or two,
and include a pot of tea and a floral china cup.
And in the scented evenings, the garden all aglow,
I’d sleep among the flowers and dream the sweetest dreams.
Anne, Vita, Beth. They were hippie girls. Teenagers. Long flowing hair, embroidered peasant tops, long skirts, dangling earrings, bare feet. Pulled one way by the tradition of their small Mid-Western town, another by the promise of the wide world outside.
Twelve-year-old Joey Roland spends the summer with them while his parents “work things out.” He soon discovers that, like the home he left behind in Chicago, the small town of Greenberry is also filled with sadness – loss, betrayal, fears, and disappointment.
The difference is that the three sisters – especially the middle one who pursues the path of acting – teach him how to infuse ordinary life with magic, adventure, and joy.
The result is a summer of transformation, and, for Joey, new-found confidence in his dream path.
My new novel, And So We Dream, is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes (and will be available on Barnes & Noble and Google Play in a few days,) with a release date of March 1st.
In this coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, a lonely boy finds acceptance when he spends the summer in a loving family with three beautiful daughters.
Twelve-year-old Joey Roland is sent away to family friends while his parents try to work things out. He’s eager to leave sadness and secrets behind in Chicago and head downstate to the small town of Greenberry, where the Vitale family awaits him. He thinks of their town as boyland—a world of bike riding, fishing, and going barefoot. Though initially shy of the teenaged daughters—Anne, Vita, and Beth—they welcome him into their lives of adventure, beauty, and dreams.
Joey especially bonds with the middle sister, Vita, and her all-or-nothing pursuit of an acting career. Joey’s “there must be more” merges with Vita’s “I must make it happen” resulting in a magical summer where the town of Greenberry becomes the crucible for two desperate dreamers.
Though the story is not autobiographical (alas), many of the details are rooted in my life. The fictional small town of Greenberry is based on my hometown of Carlinville, in south-central Illinois, and I was one of three teenaged sisters during the 1970s (along with two younger brothers). At the encouragement–and example–of our mother, we approached life as a wonderful adventure, with each day to be savored, and dreams to be taken seriously and actively pursued.
As with all my books, AND SO WE DREAM is very much about stepping into a world of beauty, wonder, longing, and, ultimately, transformation.
Throughout the Christmastime series, the home arts enrichen the lives and homes of Lillian in Manhattan, her sister Annette on her orchard in upstate New York, and Kate and her daughters Ursula and Jessica on their farm in the Midwest.
Knitting, sewing, crocheting, and embroidering were activities for early winter evenings while they listened to the radio, or sat near a fireplace with a hot drink at hand.
The home arts were practical and serviceable, yet at the same time, they were creative endeavors that added beauty and charm —
whether quilts that were lovingly made from salvaged scraps of fabric,
cozy afghans that kept away the winter chill,
or crocheted-edged pillowcases and handmade sachets that made sleep sweeter.
The Christmas holidays were made more festive with red and green embroidery,
and decorations using oranges, pine, and cranberries added color and scent,
and were used to trim the Christmas tree.
The home arts added a sense of comfort and love throughout the year but were especially welcome at Christmastime.
My next book, And So We Dream, takes place in the summer of 1970 in a small Midwestern town, much like the one where I was born and raised — Carlinville, Illinois. So on a recent trip back there, I paid close attention to the sounds, scents, colors, and feel of summertime. The train whistle, the low hum of lawnmowers, the warbling of robins. The scents of freshly-cut grass, strawberries from the local orchard, and flowering bushes that perfume the humid air. The colors of summer — shades of green and blue.
My visit was in June, one of my favorite times of year back there. Everything is green and lush, and flowers grow in abundance — masses of wild honeysuckle, cornflowers alongside country roads, shady green meadows dotted with wildflowers.
Though it is now fifty years later from the action in the story, much of the town and countryside remain the same. Long stretches of country roads —
including a few parts of historical Old Route 66, just outside of town.
Tree-lined streets with beautiful old homes,
and small-town charm woven throughout.
Other places show the passage of time: the old wooden bridges that can still be found out in the country,
an abandoned farm house,
peaceful old cemeteries with tombstones leaning this way and that.
There’s a sense of sky and openness that impresses with its beauty and grandeur. The sky dominates the landscape with every-changing drama
and stunning sunsets that are commonplace.
In my new book, a young boy remembers how they found pictures in the clouds, and I found myself doing the same: A lotus cloud! The profile of a lady? a Roman emperor? a marble bust? it shifts before I can decide.
A low line of clouds and trees that seemed to march on together in the same formation.
Storm clouds and rain over a farm in the distance, an illuminated puff over the grain elevator.
Though I left the Midwest many years ago, those formative years in small-town Illinois form the core of who I am. I am grateful to have been raised in such a specific place, so quintessentially American — though I imagine everyone feels something similar.
Wherever we end up, our hometown forms a part of us that no other place can fill.
(And So We Dream will be available later this summer.)
Forget-me-nots are one of summer’s many beautiful flowers. They grow in clusters in varying shades of blue and are almost fairy-like in their daintiness. They are small and unassuming — yet packed with significance.
In my novel The Garden House, the flower, and more particularly, its name, takes on a special meaning. They are related to Miranda and her memories of when her children were young, and are significant to the secondary plot involving the mysterious William Priestly.
In preparation for the new tenant, Miranda plants flowers outside the garden house and then comes inside to clean it.
Tired, she sat down on the floor, resting her elbows on her knees. Then with a sigh of fatigue she stretched out, the hardwood floor feeling good against her back.
She let her eyes wander over some of the details of her beloved garden house – the Dutch blue of the dresser and window trim, the pillows and curtains she and Clara had made. They had spent so many hours over the years down here – painting, sewing, transforming the run-down garden house into a charming, livable cottage. Clara had loved the profusion of forget-me-nots that surrounded the garden house, and decided to christen the cottage the Forget-Me-Not House. It had seen many tea parties and birthday celebrations, and Clara’s favorite, the fairy parties.
Later, Miranda shows the garden house to William who decides that he will rent it for the summer.
It’s all very comfortable. It feels – ” he looked around for the words to describe it. “It feels like – a real home.”
Miranda laughed. “It is a real home – an extension of the house.” She gazed lovingly at the garden house, the window boxes and potted flowers. “A lot of happy memories here.”
William stepped off the porch and looked at the garden house from a few paces back, clearly admiring it. He noticed the small hand-painted sign nailed above the door, and read, “The Forget-Me-Not House.”
“My daughter named it that when she was little. But somehow we always refer to it as the Garden House.”
The following photographs are from my Pinterest boards. I started to collect images of the 1940s when I began writing the Christmastime series — stories that take place on the home front during World War II.
I wanted to get a sense of the times in order to better portray Lillian and her friend Izzy, and all the women in the series — women who live and work in New York City,
as well as those who run an orchard and live on a farm.
There are young mothers and career women, volunteers and performers, of all ages. And of course, there are a few images on the boards of men, to help portray the relationships in the books.
Some of the photographs on the Pinterest boards are of famous women,
others depict the not-so-average women of the day,
whose lives were turned upside down by the war. They rose to the challenge — going without, making do, and stepping into roles they never imagined for themselves.
These images helped me to tap into the spirit of the times and funnel some of the charm and energy into the characters of the Christmastime series.
The novel The Garden House is set in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the action occurring in Seattle. Other books in the fledgling series might be set on the Oregon coast, or perhaps the San Juan Islands, or even — if shop owner Paula gets her way — the flea markets of Paris.
I lived in Seattle for seven years and I visit my sister in Oregon once or twice a year. I’m always struck by the breathtaking beauty of the landscape.
One of the things I love most about the Pacific Northwest is that spring arrives so early in the year.
As I thrill at the inch-high green shoots of crocuses in my tiny garden patch, I imagine The Garden House’s main character, Miranda, already surrounded by spring’s beauty.
I see her out in her garden on a cool morning holding a steaming cup of tea, or on her hands and knees, turning the soil to plant a box of pansies or brushing aside a few dried leaves to uncover a cluster of grape hyacinths.
Or just sitting quietly on a garden bench, taking in the colors and scents of early spring.