Where I’m coming from

I was raised in the Swedenborgian community of Bryn Athyn in Pennsylvania. After college, some of which was spent at the University of Iowa Writing Workshop where I studied poetry, I moved to New York City and began a career in publishing and advertising. In the late 1980s, I founded an advertising agency that specialized in book publishing accounts and watched it grow over the next couple of decades. About the same time I started the agency, my husband and I began to spend weekends in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, eventually buying a small cottage there. Like so many weekenders, we found ourselves drawn more and more to the serenity and natural beauty of the area—the corn fields, dairy farms, and rolling hills. When I was able to sell the agency several years ago to devote myself to writing, we also decided to spend more time in this part of the world.

I’d long been struck by the differences between the small, close-knit rural communities in the Berkshires and the upscale urban weekenders who live there part-time. All of my novels for NAL — Local Knowledge, So Near, A Place for Us, and the forthcoming Bleeding Heart — are set in this area. They’re mostly about family life, the tensions and joys of living in a small town, and the longing for acceptance and a sense of community.

During the years I worked in advertising in New York City, I would try to fit in an hour or two of writing every morning in my cramped apartment. I used to dream of one day having my own writing studio. If Henry James thought “summer afternoon” were the two most beautiful words in the English language, I began to feel that “writing studio” took a close second. I imagined it in the woods somewhere with a fireplace or wood-burning stove — rustic and musty and so quiet you could hear the mice scrabbling around in the walls.

When I sold my advertising agency I was able to buy my dream — a place in the country which included a small farmhouse and an old horse stable which became my “writing studio.” It still has the old iron stall feeders and leather harnesses on the walls. It remains permeated by a wonderful smell of animal and old hay.

I wake up early and reread and rewrite on my laptop in the house, but in the afternoon I go out to the studio, bolt the door, and start the hard work of writing the next new word, sentence, paragraph, chapter. In the winter I have a fire going in the Jotul stove, in the summer I have all the windows open and can hear the seasonal brook and birdsong. In the summer I can watch our family of wild turkeys parading up and down in the old paddock. Other sightings: woodchuck, coyote, fox, and early last spring, when the trees were just greening out, a big black bear. It was a breathtaking moment when this wall of darkness lumbered right past me — so close that, if the window had been open, I could have reached out and run my hand through the bear’s ink-black fur.

In addition to writing, I work on behalf of various non-profits in New York City and the Berkshires. I am the past chairperson of The Academy of American Poets and currently serve on its executive committee. I serve on the board of the West Stockbridge Historical Society which is in the midst of a capital campaign to restore the community’s 1854 Town Hall.