A ghost story

Once upon a time, my parents bought a little house on the Cape. It was an investment; we had our family house already, but Dad figured he’d buy another, hold it for a few years, then sell it at a profit.

I loved the house. It was fully furnished, and I thought the layout was cooler than our other house. But it was strange, because there was still stuff in the closets—toys and clothes and all that. Dad told us that the family had to move suddenly.

UnknownThe first time I stayed at the house, it was winter, and bitter cold. I went to bed, and in the middle of the night, I woke up because I was freezing. My window was open, which was odd, because I didn’t remember opening it. I closed it and flipped the lock, figuring it had a funky spring.

In the morning, it was open again.

I guessed that I got hot and re-opened it. But I had no memory of doing that.

Fast forward to another visit when my friend and I were staying there together. There was a marble-topped bureau in my room, and in the morning, it was covered with pennies. “Why’d you leave all this change here?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” my friend said.

Okay. Well…she must have.

And then…then came the summer I was living up at the other house on the Cape. My parents asked me to clean the newer house between renters, and so I did, bringing my own laundry over, since my place didn’t have a washer or dryer. I finished cleaning, and because it was so hot, went down cellar to read as my laundry finished drying.

I sat in a folding chair and read.

And then…suddenly…I was freezing.

I could see my breath.

And I was terrified. The hair on my neck stood up, and dread washed over me in a sickening wave.

There was only one thought in my head, repeating over and over. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around.

But the stairs were behind me.

I also knew I couldn’t stay.

Before another second had passed, I bolted for the bulkhead stairs, threw open the doors and burst into the backyard and hot sunshine. I was almost surprised to be alone. The bulkhead doors yawned open and I rubbed my arms, still freezing cold.

After a few minutes, I settled down. But my laundry was still down there. All my clothes and towels for the week.

It took me half an hour to work up the courage to go back down…slowly, slowly.

It was no longer freezing cold…just cool and damp. Still, I grabbed my laundry and ran back up the stairs, locking the door behind me. I never did laundry there again.

A few years later, we sold the house. I was helping my dad pack up some stuff, and when we got in the U-Haul, I told him the story of that summer day.

“Well, yeah,” Dad said in his matter-of-fact way. “The house is haunted. That’s why your mother will never stay here.”

“What?” I screeched. “Why wasn’t I informed?”

“I thought you knew,” Dad said. “The wife…she killed herself.”

That explained a lot. Why there were still clothes in the closet. Dishes in the cupboards. Toys in the kids’ rooms.

“How?” I asked.

“Well,” Dad said more gently. “She hanged herself in the cellar.”

Over the next fourteen years, that house was sold again and again and again. Every time I went to the Cape, it seemed like there was a For Sale sign in the yard.

Finally, when I was checking the house out one day, a man came out and walked over to my car. “Can I help you?” he asked. I explained that my family had once owned this house. “How do you like it?” I asked.

“You mean, do we find any pennies?”

“Yes! Do you?” I asked.

“No, he said. “I guess that stopped with the last owners. Whatever was here seems gone now.”

May she rest in peace.

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Turn your head and cough

Nursing1I had a doctor’s appointment this week, which as you know is thrilling for me. I feel so special. I got weighed (no comment) and measured. Still five-foot-eight, no matter how much I want to be five-foot-nine. Blood pressure, one of my strengths, was nice and low. “I could be your poster child for blood pressure,” I offered. Heart rate was also slow and steady, because I was feeling chill.

And then came the fun. Dr. H., a smiling woman with lovely green eyes, and the actual exam. Since I am me, I had several diagnoses for her. “I think I need to be put into a medically-induced coma,” I said. “I’m a little tired.”

Unknown“Getting more sleep also works,” she said.

“Please?” I said. She held firm.

I was not deterred. “Also, I have a brain tumor. My left pupil sometimes dilates more than the right. It’s always after I struggle with my contacts.”

“It’s probably your contacts and not a brain tumor.”

“Can you check anyway?”

So she gamely did the eye-tracking test (aced it!) and checked my reflexes (I have them!). She once again patiently explained that I do not have Lou Gehrig’s disease. She asked after my broken ankle and laughed when I told her it passed the slutty shoe test.

“Do you want a flu shot?” she asked.

images“Yes!” I said, like she’d just offered me a jumbo-sized Snickers.

The nurse wanted to draw blood, but it was 10:30 a.m., and I’d guzzled some coffee and an English muffin. I’m not the “skip breakfast” type.

So guess what? I get to go back next week.


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On the road

photo[1]You might know that I was on book tour this week, out in the heartland. My publisher hired a car service to shuttle me to and from the airport, hotel and bookstores, and two of my drivers were aspiring novelists, so we had a great talk. One guy, named Loyal, had this gorgeous head of white hair and the nicest Missourian accent. Charles had a porkpie hat, and Glenn was waiting for his first grandchild to arrive.

Hotel_Arista_roomThere’s a surreal sense about this part of my career: being driven places, staying in lovely hotels. Most of my work days are spent in the company of my dog. McIrish and Dearest Son might pop in to say hi, but I’m alone all day. No makeup, slippers instead of heels. That’s the writing life. Book tour…that’s the author life. And it’s fun, I won’t lie! It’s like I’ve been let out of my halfway house or something. The bathroom at that first hotel was glorious. These are the important things when you travel, you know? Soft towels and good-smelling soap. I had a little balcony at the second hotel, but it was raining pretty hard, so I just opened the slider and let in the fresh, damp air.

One charming hotel concierge and I had a long conversation: I have a “Tell Me Everything” face, which is helpful if you’re a writer. He told me about his rather tough childhood, growing up poor, having the electricity turned off, having to eat at friends’ houses because his family didn’t have enough food. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “That all made me who I am today, and I’m a happy guy.” He sure seemed to be.

Unknown-1I loved the neighborhoods I got to see; lots of bungalows and pretty yards. Good for trick or treating. Charles, one of my drivers, told me the real estate prices; the Midwest is a lot more affordable than the East Coast. The leaves weren’t quite as brilliant as ours are at home, not yet, anyway. It rained inches in Kansas City, but it was gorgeous in Chicago.

Then, of course, are the readers who drive for hours in some cases, which is such an honor that I can’t really put it into words, how humbling and thrilling that is. One lady brought in her little doggy to meet me, and he was such a sweetheart. I also called her daughter, who’s in college up north, and chatted with her. People brought me presents from their towns, and my dear friend Kim brought me soft, silly socks and lots of chocolate. (I ate a candy SonaliKristanMeloniebar for breakfast Thursday morning, being the Nutrition Queen. Don’t tell Evil Boxing Trainer.) Sonali Dev, Melonie Johnson and Joyce Lamb, who are fellow writers and friends, came out to see me in Chicago. I received gifts for McIrish and Willow. When I had my usual wardrobe malfunction, one reader had a safety pin, so I didn’t end up flashing anyone (thanks, Jayshree!).

Best of all is getting to meet you, gang. Thank you for your warm welcome, your notes, your posts and tweets and gifts and hugs. I’m so lucky to have you!

And now, back to work, back to the doggy and the big goofy chair, back to my silly socks and shark slippers. Home, sweet home! Until I go to Easton, PA on Tuesday, and then Boonsborn, MD, on 11/1, and then, thrillingly, Europe. But for now, the laptop, the chair, and the Hershey Nuggets.

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DSCN6383It’s been all about family this week, gang. McIrish came back from a very emotional ceremony for fallen firefighters—he went to represent his platoon mate, Mike, who died a year ago. Firefighters call each other brothers (and sisters). “No problem, brother,” they say, or “See you around, brother.” While McIrish was out West, he had dinner with Robyn Carr and her family. I always wanted a big sis; I have one in Robyn.

DSCN6542Then we went to see Derek Jeter in his last game at Yankee Stadium. My nickname for many years has been Mrs. Jeter; it’s no secret I love the Captain. For thousands of games, I’ve watched him, the skinny kid who became the face of baseball, a guy who was never comfortable with praise and always had his dad at his games. I know how Derek walks, how he stands, how he adjusts his gloves at bat. When he won the game as only Derek Jeter could, I cheered with joy, then cried like a baby, because I’ll miss him something fierce. “They’re like family,” my mom often says of the Yankees, and this week, it felt so true.

photo 3Then my true family—Princess’s college doesn’t call it Parents Weekend. They call it Family Weekend, which is so nice. Not only have I missed my daughter these past six weeks; I’ve missed the four of us all together, or the two kids together, or the three of us when McIrish is at the firehouse, or just her and me, driving home from school or going to the library. It filled up my heart to see her again, to smooch her cheeks and hug her tight.

And finally, IN YOUR DREAMS comes out this week. It’s a book about family, too—finding your place, or redefining it; leaning on them when you need to; knowing that whatever else happens, they’ve got you…even if they drive you a little crazy.

Photo by Craig Orsini, used with permission

Photo by Craig Orsini, used with permission

It’s become my tradition to give a chunk of preordered and first week sales to Fisher House Foundation, which is also all about families. If you’re a service member or veteran who needs hospitalization—or if someone in your family does—your family can stay in a Fisher House, a gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility that feels like home. I can’t think of a better cause.

I hope you love IN YOUR DREAMS, gang. A lot of you have become like family to me, and your friendship and notes, your tweets and posts, mean the world to me.

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Everyday Heroes

Car_in_LakeIN YOUR DREAMS is about a reluctant hero…Jack Holland, Navy man, all-around great guy, who’s been on the lookout to be in the right place at the right time for most of his adult life, who finally gets his moment.

This, my friends, comes from personal experience.

I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me, but I yearn to be in some horribly dramatic situation and do everything exactly right (and not wet myself or hide, as might be the real-life situation).

imagesToday, for example, I was walking around the mall with my sainted mother (except in this case, I was the saint). I saw a hugely pregnant woman. Immediately, I pictured her clutching her stomach and collapsing, right there in front of those weirdly aggressive people who want to straighten your hair. “Don’t worry, I’m a romance author!” I would say, and voila, I’d deliver her baby, whom they would name Kristan. Romance Author Delivers Baby; Mother and Child and Author All Healthy, the headlines would read.

Jack’s experience isn’t exactly what he imagined. That too comes from real life; you see those slightly shocked people who say, “I just did what anyone would do,” and you want to hand them a crown and a thousand bucks and a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry’s. Because the truth is, we don’t know Unknownwhat we’d do. We hope we’d do the right thing, but we don’t really know. Remember that story in the news about the school receptionist who talked down a gunman? She was amazing. It’s not just firefighters and Navy SEALs who are heroes.

All I have to say is, if you’re planning on giving birth in a mall, I hope I’m shopping that day. I’ll have your back. Or your baby, as the case may be.

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Sisters & All Their Glory

Not my cousin

Not my cousin

Last weekend, my brother came down for a family dinner chez Mom. We were talking about the miraculous physics of childbirth…our cousin, a petite and slender thing, had given birth to a nine-pounder. Natural childbirth and everything! The discussion turned to my sister-in-law’s experience in childbirth, then Mom’s, then mine.

Okay, I’m lying. My brother wasn’t actually talking about this. Mom, my sis-in-law and I were talking about this; he was just in the room. When the discussion came to dilation, my dear brother said, “I think I’ll go see what the boys are doing,” and walked out.

“Get back here!” I said. “Don’t you want to hear about your sister’s cervix?” We females laughed merrily. My brother feigned deafness.

images-1One of my male friends has three sisters. When we were teenagers, the girls (and I) used to sit around the kitchen table, drilling him on different scenarios and how to respond. “What if she got her period and asked you to go out and buy tampons? Would you go? What if the store didn’t have her brand? Her cramps are so bad, she’s just thrown up in your car. What do you do?” The talk would spiral into ever more horrifying female situations as the sisters trained my friend to be the world’s most perfect boyfriend.

Such is the character of Jack Holland, the hero of IN YOUR DREAMS. Poor Jack is subjected to all kinds of girl talk—he’s blessed/cursed with three sisters. One is going through menopause. One is pregnant. The third is a newlywed. Jack knows a lot more about females than the average guy, whether he wants to or not. Small wonder he hangs out in the barn with his dad whenever possible, lost in the zen of winemaking.

IYDfc smallBut when it comes to being a perfect date—and recognizing a woman who’s heart has been broken—Jack knows what he’s doing. I’ve often thought that an escort service (not that kind) would be fantastic. Look at Emmaline, the heroine of the book. She just got invited to her ex-fiancé’s wedding, and she knows she has to go. And she is not going alone. Would you? What about that high school reunion you’ve got coming up? No date? No problem! Just call 1-800-RENT-JACK!

Seriously. Someone should look into this.


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The delights of Nordstrom’s

I recently spent some time in a section in Nordstrom’s that really, really fascinates me. It’s in the lingerie section. It’s a special rack of stuff that makes all sorts of miracle promises and boy, do I like miracle promises!

So natural and comfy-looking!

So natural and comfy-looking!

Granted, I’m no stranger to the regular stuff—control top panty hose, bras. A few years ago, I tried on Spanx and was sold. I don’t look slimmer, mind you, just neater—like a sausage. You break open the sausage casing and all the meat spills out. Spanx is like that with the human body.

But then there are those…other…things. Things I never knew existed. Things that promise to sculpt and lift and pad. Things called petals that are made from silicone. “When would you use these?” I asked the twenty-something salesperson.

“Maybe at your wedding?” she suggested.

“I’m already married. Twenty-two years!”

A dead-eyed stare was my answer.

Then I discovered something called Commando Low Beams. (?) Push-up bras that have no back? What the even…!?! I think the person who invented that deserves the Nobel Prize in Physics. If they work, that is. Which is dubious.

“What are these for?” I ask the clerk, holding up what look like raw pieces of chicken.

“Those aren’t for you,” she said, a mother chiding her toddler.

jennifer“Will these make my legs glow like Jennifer Anniston’s?” I asked, fondling some nylons called Pretty Polly Sun Oil Sheen.


I was getting the impression that a 40-something year old romance writer who was opening every package and exclaiming over the strangeness within was not their target demographic.

Read IN YOUR DREAMS when it comes out on September 30th. Think of me, dear readers. You’ll know which scene I’m talking about.

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mothraOnce upon a time when I was single and living alone, my mom asked me to drive up to her house. “There’s a huge moth flying around. Would you kill it for me?”

I said I would. I’m not afraid of insects, but when they’re inside, they’re fair game. The only thing I’m really afraid of is birds.

I went over. Sat in the family room with Mom and waited for the moth to come.

The moth came.

Except it was a bat.

batI’m also really afraid of bats. Especially when they’re inside. However, being a sane adult, I did exactly what you’d expect. I screamed, “It’s a bat, it’s a BAT!” and dove under the coffee table.

Mom, too, began screaming. “Kristan! Don’t leave me!” she begged as I power-crawled to the door.

“That is not a moth!”

“What if it has rabies?” Mom said. “Please! I’m a widow!” (Like I’d forgotten.)

homer2The bat flew out of the family room, right over our heads, making us scream like we were being hacked to death with axes. Mom now had a death grip on me, so even if I wanted to leave (and I so, so did, and had NO problem leaving Mother behind since she’d tricked me into coming over with the “moth” story), I couldn’t, because my little mom has the hands of a medieval butcher when it comes to strength.

We formulated a plan. We’d open all four doors to Mom’s house and then flush the bat toward the nearest exit.

Ominously, it was MIA at the moment.

“I’ll go in the dining room,” I told my mother, “and you go in the front hall, and it’ll either go out the front doors or the sliders in the living room. Okay?” Mind you, this excellent, common-sense plan was hard won, because I was still huddled on the floor.

batbaies“What if it flies in our hair and has babies?” Mom asked. (She was serious.)

“What are you talking about?”

“That’s what they do. They fly in your hair and lay their babies.”

At that moment, the bat flew back in and we screamed again, and covered our heads so no bat-babies would be born on us. “Open the door, open the door!” I barked, but it was too late; the bat had flown back into the other part of the house.

Mom grabbed two umbrellas to shield us from the bat and her spawn, and, still crawling, we went our separate ways.

When the bat flew past her, she’d scream.

When the bat flew past me, I’d also scream.

umbrella2The bat, whose sonar was probably really messed up from all our help-we’re-being-slaughtered-here high-pitched squeals, kept flying around and around and around. At one point, its hideous little leathery wing brushed my umbrella, at which point I shrieked so loudly I popped a blood vessel in my eye.

Then…horribly…the bat flew upstairs. To where the four bedrooms are.

“Okay, gotta go,” I said, so, so grateful I had my own apartment in another part of the state.

But then the hideous creature flew back down the stairs. Mom and I clutched each other, screaming, and the bat flew out into the night.

“Close the doors, close the doors!” I yelled, and we ran to the four corners of the house to batten down the hatches against the killer bat.

And then it was quiet. We were a little surprised no police were tearing up the driveway, no neighbors had rushed to our aid. That’s the downside of living in the boonies.

“Is that really true, that they’ll have their babies in your hair?” I asked Mom.

“I think so. Goodnight, honey!”

And so, immeasurably older, I went home, never to sleep again. : )


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Sunday drivers

McIrish and I honored the great American tradition of driving aimlessly around this lovely summer day. We headed out through Connecticut and drove along the Hudson River. Here are a few things we did and saw.

DSCN6277We thought about buying this little cottage, but then realized that since we pay taxes, we already own it. It’s one of the many Vanderbilt mansions, now a national monument. These make me a little itchy (the mansions, not the Vanderbilts…I would totally date Anderson Cooper, no matter that he’s gay and I’m married). But my people were much more likely to have cleaned this house than owned it, and these massive houses just have me calculating how much Clorox Cleanup I’d need to scour the entryway.

DSCN6276We gazed out at the mighty Hudson and thought deep and profound thoughts (like where we should have lunch). Saw some cute babies and toddlers, who were fascinated with my crutches. Stalked a Husky owners club, but they weren’t very friendly. This pained me. Husky owners should be incredibly friendly, as are their doggies.


DSCN6279Hence, filled up with culture, we went out to eat and settled on this amazing diner, not far from FDR’s residence. I bet FDR would love their onion rings. I definitely did. They had drinks on the menu like Brown Cow and egg cream. Harriet the Spy drank egg creams. I don’t actually like them, but I do like the idea, thanks to good old Harriet.

We then crossed the river and found a gorgeous little city that was so beautiful and yet so economically depressed that we talked and talked about what could be done to revitalize it and in about half an hour, had solved all the problems of this and other cities in similar situations. All we need are a few billionaires to get on board.

DSCN6287On the way home, we accidentally came across another national monument, which made McIrish very happy, since he has a little National Parks passbook in which he can get stamps. (He’s a dork, but he tolerates me quoting Star Trek a lot, so we get along just fine). This was the J. Alden Weir home. It was closed, but it was so beautiful, and we walked/hobbled around the grounds until my sad little broken bone couldn’t take it anymore.

And then, home sweet home! Hope you had a great Sunday, too!

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The Princess

FlannerybabyflanneryI have always viewed my daughter as a slightly magical creature.

She didn’t cry when she was born. When the doctor slid her onto my chest and I saw her face, she opened her enormous eyes and simply looked around. “I love you,” I said, and those were the first words she heard. And I made her a promise later that day as I stared at her perfect face—I will do my best for you every single day.

She was a beautiful baby—people often stopped me to remark upon her amazing eyes and lashes, her pink cheeks and ready smile. As she got older, her hair became silken ringlets. She said her first word at 8 months, and she spoke in full sentences by the time she was 18 months old. She could read when she was four.

with her best friend...they are still best friends!

with her best friend…they are still best friends!

But more than her intelligence and long eyelashes…well, indulge me here, because I know I’m her mother, but it seems that she has an intuition for kindness. Somehow, she knows just what to say to the lonely old person or the awkward child. When she was two, I’d take her to see my great-aunt in the nursing home, and she would stop to visit every single person on the hall. When the old folks would ask how she was, she’d answer, “Fine, thanks, how are you?” in this funny, emphatic way. She’d go into their rooms and find something fascinating there, and always give a hug when leaving.

When her brother was born, she was almost three. There was never any sibling rivalry. He was her baby, too, and she would read him Peter Pan and feed him bites of her yogurt and sit with her arm around him, watching Sesame Street. On her first day of kindergarten, she befriended a little boy with a severe speech impediment. “I can’t understand him, Mommy, but I love him,” she told me. That boy’s mother requested that my daughter be in the same class as her son for the next three years.


on Cape Cod

When my grandfather was widowed after 67 years of marriage, my daughter was one of the few who could make him laugh. “I’m here to polish your little bald head!” she’d announce, and proceed to do just that, giggling away until Poppy’s head was “nice and shiny.” She’d sleep over with me on Tuesday nights, and when he thanked her for the company, she’d say, “It’s so nice and cozy here.”


baldWhen she was sixteen, she made the decision to shave off her long, thick, shiny locks. Not just cut them off and donate them (she’d done that twice already), but cut them off, donate them and go the distance by shaving her head to the scalp. She raised thousands of dollars for a foundation that funds research for a cure for childhood cancers. She was the only girl in her entire high school with short hair, and her friends couldn’t believe that she really did it. Strangers would approach her and ask if she was a model; when she told them why her hair was this way, they’d often tear up and hand her some money for the cause.

A few years back

A few years back

She loves to read. She loves to cook. Her best friend is still her brother. She has spent this summer reading lots of books, playing the piano, visiting her friends, taking care of the horses and chickens down the street and babysitting the kids she calls the Tinies, because they were so young when she first met them. We’ve done her college shopping in bits and pieces. She’s ready.

On Thursday, McIrish, her brother and I will drive the Princess to her school, and thus will end the eighteen and a half happy, happy years of raising her, of her sleeping under my roof every night, of the four of us having dinner together each evening. I will miss her more than I can say, and yet I’m so happy for her, and so proud to have raised this magical child into a kind, intelligent, funny, responsible person. She hopes to become a neonatologist—fitting, since her brother was a preemie.

todayBut whatever she becomes, I know that I honored the promise I made to her the day she was born. She has made me a far better person than I was before motherhood—harder working, braver, more honest, kinder, and I thank her for that, and send her out into the world with such love that my heart nearly bursts with it.

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