Notes from a Book Tour: One Book at a Time


Over the years of my life I have traveled many a road. A lot of the miles were shared with my husband but on this most recent road trip I was traveling alone, pitching my latest novel, Under The Same Sun.

Timmonsville, SC

Driving through rural Timmonsville, SC though cotton fields

Driving alone can lead to soul-searching solitude that turns to reflection and wonder. Or as Wendall Berry once put it, “one’s inner voices become audible.”

There were a few days of doubt and uncertainty. Days when I asked myself, “What are you trying to accomplish out here?” On one such day I left a copy of my book at Politics and Prose, a neighborhood bookstore in Washington, DC. Two days later I heard from the manager who sent an email to tell me this:

“We are not going to be able to accept your book, Under the Same Sun, as it is published with CreateSpace, the Amazon publishing wing, and it is our store policy to not carry any of those titles.”

Book drop DC

A book drop at a Little Free Library in the Tenleytown neighborhood of DC. Hopefully Under The Same Sun gets more love here.

It shocked me that an Indie bookstore would diss an Indie author. But it didn’t surprise me. If you don’t know the right people, have the money and time to get an MFA and attend a distinguished writer’s workshop, or have the ways and means to work an unpaid internship for a popular magazine, your odds of getting traditionally published are 1-4%.

Keith from Politics and Prose ended his email with this: “Your copy will be available for pickup at the store, it will be held under your last name at the registers. We will hold for two weeks.”

I waited and then decided to write Keith back. I told him I was sorry he felt that way and that he hadn’t at least read the book and given it a chance. I told him I was on a book tour and now home in Vermont so I wouldn’t be able to pick up the book but I hoped he wouldn’t throw it in the trash. In my mind that would be like burning a book. Particularly a book where the author had plunged into a sensitive, pertinent, hot button American topic that needs to be discussed.

Gosh I hate pictures of myself but at least I tend toward optimism rather than pessimism in regards to self- doubt. The inner voice of doubt didn’t last for more than a few miles. It was drowned out by a louder voice that amplified the stories people shared with me, the hometowns I visited, and the terrible news I watched in other people’s kitchens and a few hotel rooms. So loud was the other voice, so ever present was the American landscape and its diverse people, I instead found myself reflecting and wondering about the heart and soul of a nation.

Walth Whitman Rest Stop, NJ

The Walt Whitman rest stop on the NJ Turnpike where a scene from Under the Same Sun takes place.

Here are just a few of the good people I met and sold my novel to, one book at a time. They appear in no chronological order.


At Joe Roots Grill a local couple was sitting a few seats away from me. I overheard them talking about traveling to places I had just been to. Charlotte, North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina. When meeting new people I can always find a door to walk through. It usually starts with something like, “I couldn’t help but hear you talking about Charleston.”

They invited me to move closer. His name was Tom and she was Gay. They are graphic artists and illustrators and their story is When Harry Met Sally. They grew up in towns not far from each other. He was from Fairview. She was from Erie. They met at the Pittsburgh College of Art. He would drive her home on holidays, they’d go their separate ways, and then drive back to school together when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer break were over. After graduation they once again went their separate ways. Years later they found each other back in Erie. She was a widow and he was divorced. They’ve now been married for ten years and also have a home in Jupiter, Florida.

I told them how Rich and I loved the public beaches in Jupiter and they were very interested in visiting the Wakadahatchie Bird Sanctuary in Delray, which they had never heard of before.  Tom told me a story of a man who once walked across a frozen Lake Erie to Canada. It took him 28 hours. He never slept, just kept walking.

Gay asked the bartender to change the channel from the Sports News to the Real News. He obliged. Our conversation changed to the current state of affairs, our fears of nuclear war, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and our strong dislike for our current President. We were all in agreement so we quickly moved on to how we enjoyed dining at the bar and meeting new people.

I shared stories from the road and I mentioned Under the Same Sun. They were very excited about the book so I gave them my calling card – a bookmark. They promised to buy the book and we exchanged phone numbers and made plans to meet up when Rich and I get down to Florida again.

Presque Isle Lake Erie

Presque Isle State Park, Lake Erie, PA

After they left I ordered a slice of lemon cake for dessert. The bar was quiet, most people were eating outside on the patio. The bartender made his way down to me. He had overheard my conversation with Tom and Gay and he wanted to talk. He told me he and his husband lived here in Erie. His mom had raised six kids by herself and now that they were all grown up she took a job as a traveling medical technician and moved around to various hospitals where she trained people in medical safety, things like best needle practices. She spends a year at a time in a different city and enjoys this opportunity to see America. She’s in Worcester, MA at the moment.

I asked him if he and his husband found it hard living here in Erie, a rural area of New York where many people voted for Trump . At first he said no but then he told me his in-laws and quite a few of his own relatives had voted for Trump.

“A lot of people are okay around here,” he told me. “I try to avoid politics most of the time.”

He’d like to move someday but his husband has a good job working at a nearby prison where he coordinates educational programs for the inmates.

He and his husband were planning a visit to New England for Christmas and looking for a place to stay. I told him about the inn Rich and I managed.

“It’s Connecticut’s most romantic B&B.”

He liked that and wrote down the info. I told him to drop my name when he got there. Maybe the new owners would give him a free room upgrade. He told me he loved reading on his Kindle and I gave him a bookmark.

“Is there a book, too? I want to buy one for my Mom. She loves to read, too.”

“Yes, there is a book.” I gave him another bookmark. We said good bye and he wished me safe travels.

“Be careful out there,” he said.

That was a recurring theme throughout my travels. There will be more of that to come.

Sunrise Isle of Palms

Sunrise on Isle of Palms, SC


When I lived in New Hampshire I belonged to a book club for fifteen years. Most of the members lived in West Newbury, just over the border in Massachusetts. It was started by my friend Midge and she invited my cousin and dearest friend Kathy to join too. We drove together to all the meetings and when Kathy passed away from breast cancer I would cry at the end of each meeting when I drove home alone.

Our book club weekend was based at Isle of Palms, South Carolina where we had rented an AirBnB on the ocean. We walked the beach, toured Charleston, cooked dinner, drank wine, and laughed and shared stories. Some of my old friends finished reading Under The Same Sun by the pool.

A day trip to the Magnolia Plantation had been planned. When we boarded the trolley to the slave quarters we were seated amongst a group of black women roughly the same age as our group. They were from Dallas, Texas and told us their book club was celebrating their 20th anniversary.

“We’re a book club and celebrating our 20th anniversary, too!” one of my friends said.

2 book clubs

A chance meeting of book clubs from West Newbury, MA and Dallas, TX at the Magnolia Plantation outside Charleston, SC

We all started talking at once. We’d read a lot of the same books over the years. We were so busy getting to know one another we didn’t notice the trolley hadn’t taken off for the slave quarters. A woman came up and clapped her hands, “I have an announcement to make,” she said.

Our tour guide had called in sick and the tour was canceled. They were either going to refund our money or see if they could come up with something else. They told us if we could wait a little longer they may be able to reschedule. Many people headed to the ticket booth to get a refund or sign up for a different tour to the gardens or the mansion. The two book clubs continued chatting and getting to know each other. We asked the trolley driver to take pictures and one of the women from Dallas taught us how to air drop a photo on an IPhone. Standing in a cluster waiting, we exclaimed with wonder when our phones simultaneously beeped with the arrival of the photos.

I introduced my book and apologized for taking this opportunity to shamelessly self-promote myself. The Dallas ladies were excited to hear about it and I passed out bookmarks. They promised to put Under The Same Sun on their reading list. I hope to hear from them soon.

We ended up taking a later tour that afternoon. The Dallas group was no longer with us. They must have signed on for a different time.

Slave Cabins Magnolia Plantation

Slave Quarters at Magnolia Plantation, SC. This is a duplex. Ten or more people were crammed into each unit.

Our replacement tour guide was the historian for the plantation. She sugar-coated nothing about this terrible, heartbreaking piece of American history. She told us about the horrific journey in ships from Africa to America, where human beings were stacked like books on a shelf and chained together for six to eight weeks. Forty percent of the people died before they ever arrived in America.

Standing in the tiny slave cabins many of us were overcome with sadness. We had just finished a tour of the mansion and it was incomprehensible to imagine how anyone could treat another human being like this.

I stood alone in one of the small, rough buildings that families once called home and tried to imagine ten or more people sleeping here. I thought about Charlottesville. I thought about Trayvon Martin. I thought about some people’s ire against Black Lives Matter and I wondered why our country still has to fight to make some people understand black lives do matter. I wondered what the women from Dallas thought when they took their tour. I wished we had been together so I could hug them.

Leaving the plantation

Touring the Slave Quarters at Magnolia Plantation

Black Lives Matter Providence, RI

Black Lives Matter Providence, RI

Before I left for this trip I did a few Hometown Book Pop-Ups in New England where I saw several lawn signs sending messages of tolerance and peace. I started an Instagram photo series of Messages from America. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any once I left Washington, DC and crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

All Are Welcome DC

A sign in the window at the Little Red Fox coffee shop in Washington, DC

Over a week later a bartender in Louisville, KY told me, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”

However, I did find this while walking around Charleston after my friends left to catch their flight.

Shiloh AME Church Charleston, SC

Shiloh AME Church Charleston, SC

***If you enjoy my blogs, I promise you’ll love Under The Same Sun. It’s available here: 

If you’ve read this far you know how hard it is selling books on your own. I need your help. I need your support. Together we can make the world a better place. Join me.



I’m always looking for a story. I never set out with pre-conceived notions regarding what the story will be. There are people I meet that spark my interest immediately. They share a story that resonates. A lightbulb goes off. The story falls in my lap.

Or it could be a place I find interesting because it tells a story of who we are. As Nobel laureate Albert Camus once said, “with clear-sighted earnestness it illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

Love Your Neighbor Ipswich MA

Ipswich, MA

When I am on the road I am living in the moment. Life’s distractions are sitting in the backseat. Depending on where I’m traveling and who I meet, I sometimes feel like an outsider. An exile in my own country. I try to report the good stories I find. Unfortunately, these days there is a growing amount of negativity and I can’t ignore it. It is part of the story we are currently living. To pretend it doesn’t exist is to turn a blind eye despite the fact I believe there are more kind and generous people than mean and angry people.

My first destination on what I have coined my Hometown Book Pop-Ups was the place where my writing began. Ipswich, Massachusetts. I had lunch with a former co-worker, one of the few people I worked with who was still there. We met at a brewery and caught up on kids, work, travels, and life. Then I had a little time to kill so I walked around the town where I spent four years in a cubicle. A flood of memories returned.

EBSCO Ipswich, MA

A scene from The Reverse Commute Ipswich, MA

Carrie, the friend I was meeting after lunch, has lived in Ipswich all her life. I met her long before I worked in the cubicle. She was dating my brother-in-law and was a lifesaver the day I came home from the hospital with my youngest daughter who had an infected blocked tear duct and was on stomachache inducing antibiotics. Carrie occupied my two and a half year old while I rocked and rocked my newborn.

Carrie is fighting the battle of her life right now. Diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma she had her arm and part of her shoulder amputated. It has been two years of grueling procedures, operations, and treatment. She has shared it all on her Facebook page and shown us all how to be brave and honest, and also fragile and human.

And still, she offered to host a Hometown Book Pop-Up. We met at the Kosciuszko Club. Words with lots of vowels always trip me up. Words like pernicious, auspicious, obnoxious. So like the locals I call this place the K Club. Carrie invited some friends. We chatted about books, shared drinks, and had a good time. Carrie’s mom is the bartender here and also an old friend of mine. There was some discussion about something Trump had recently done that two of the women liked. I avoided politics. I wasn’t here to argue.


A motto to live by

Carrie’s doctors have told her she is now on palliative care and she should live life three months at a time. So she cashed in her pension and her 401K and went out and bought a pontoon boat with a Bimini cover. Ipswich is like many small towns, insular and full of gossip. A place where people have a lot of opinions and share them with their lifelong neighbors. Some people are judging her for this decision to buy a boat. The only comment I can offer is “People”. It’s a shoulder shrug sort of opinion, as in I really don’t know what to say.

After the Hometown Book Pop-Up Carrie and I and one of her friends from the Trump conversation went to a pizza place. Carrie was wearing a sleeveless summer top. We somehow started talking about health insurance, bills, and the rising cost of rents in the area. The friend pays a thousand dollars a month for her apartment and only earns $1200 a month.

“How do you pay your other bills?” I asked.

“I economize. I make do.”

I couldn’t help asking,  “How? You need food. You have a car. You need gas and there are always repairs. New snow tires. Oil changes. What do you do for health insurance? Does your rent include heat, electricity, WIFI?”

No, it did not include utilities. But she said she wasn’t a taker like other people. She was managing on her own, like we all should. Carrie later told me she inherited some money. I never did quite figure out her politics. It didn’t really matter. She was a very nice, friendly woman and her hair raising stories of illegal Mexicans in Tucson, Arizona sounded like something out of Breaking Bad. I didn’t know what to believe but we had a nice night.


Meanwhile, a little boy in the booth behind me was standing on his seat and staring at our table. Carrie was talking about the people who were judging her for buying the boat. She used the word ‘shit’. Then, speaking softly, she said in a slight whisper, “That little boy won’t stop staring at me.”

The little boy’s mother spoke loudly. “It’s because you used a bad word that he doesn’t know. We don’t use words like that.”

Carrie apologized and they left a few minutes later.

“Sometimes I can’t help but hate people,” Carrie said.

I had a million questions.

“If he doesn’t know the word shit how did he know it was a bad word?” “Was he staring at Carrie because he is an innocent child and had never seen a woman with one arm?” “Was it the mother’s own discomfit with Carrie’s appearance and her inability to explain the situation to her son that set off her anger?”

We all agreed this woman missed a teaching moment and instead lashed out with anger instead of empathy.


“Don’t worry about it,” I told Carrie. “It says more about her, than you.”

A single woman sitting in a booth across from us spoke up.

“You’re exactly right,” she said. “I watched that whole exchange. The woman and her husband or boyfriend or whoever he was never stopped playing with their phones. The kid was bored and fascinated with you. He’s just a kid.”

We invited her over to our booth and started a lively conversation. She is also a writer and took one of my promotional bookmarks. Her son came out of the kitchen and gave her his paycheck. She does his banking because he’s busy with school and work.

“He’s a good kid,” she said. “A hard worker, too.”


The use of this expression can mean many things. There are all sorts of people. Every one of us agreed there is a lot of anger in the world right now. Some people think they can say whatever they want. They are used to hiding behind email and Facebook/Twitter comments. But now anger is creeping into our daily dialogue. Our President leads the way. This weekend he called football players sons of bitches for exercising their 1st amendment rights.

From Ipswich I drove to Exeter, New Hampshire. My former Reverse Commute. I was staying with my good friend Liz who helped me put together a Hometown Book Pop-Up in my old hometown. When I texted her on Saturday she told me to call after two in the afternoon. From noon until two she was driving the tractor that was pulling the Democrats’ float in the Brentwood Home Days parade.

Exeter River

Exeter River – Exeter, NH

Liz ran for local office, and lost to a Republican. She volunteers for numerous charitable organizations. She is tireless, fearless, and dedicated.


She now belongs to the Woke Book Club. It was started by a New Hampshire woman who had never been politically active before the 2016 election. Liz invited me to come along and she’d introduce me to the group. It ended up being a Pop-In on my end. They asked me to join their discussion of Dark Money by Jane Mayer. It is about the Koch Brothers and other billionaires and the rise of the radical right.

For almost two hours, we had an earnest intelligent conversation. Some of the readers didn’t quite finish the book, it was too frightening and upsetting. Everyone took turns speaking; the moderator let us sometimes ramble. It was an amazing afternoon and good to see concerned Americans engaged in trying to affect change during troubled times. I even sold several books after the meeting and can’t wait to get some feedback from this intelligent, friendly, caring group of men and women.


John Rice's Farm Srand

My friend’s farm stand in Stratham, NH

We also stopped by to visit an old neighbor of mine. When we sold our house and moved to Florida he was planning on getting off the grid and becoming more self-sufficient. I would say he is well on his way. His front yard is now an apple orchard. He also grows and sells vegetables, garlic, honey, and maple syrup from his sugar shack. Chickens roamed the yard. He heats with wood and uses candles for lighting at night. He gave us some delicious apples, giant juicy tomatoes, and garlic to take home. We also sampled candied pears he was drying in a toaster like thing in the garage.


MLK lawn sign Stratham NH

Another former neighbor’s lawn sign Stratham, NH

I spent the weekend at Liz’s lake house in the Belgrade Lakes region of Maine where we met up with our husbands who went fishing on Saturday. Liz and I drove to Augusta to look for a protest. We were angry and exhausted by the continuing onslaught of Republican attempts at repealing healthcare. We wanted to find Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine. All we found was a small, quiet American city on a muggy Saturday afternoon.

Big Hearts Open Minds Mount Vernon ME

Mount Vernon, Maine

Liz told me about a mural that was removed from the State House and relocated to the Maine State Museum. It was lovely and I was troubled by the fact Republican Governor Paul LePage did this. All I can say regarding this is: History Matters.

HOMETOWN BOOK POP-UPS: AUGUSTA, ME The Maine Workers' Mural that was removed from the state capital because a Republican governor thought it represented socialist/communist ideas. The 1st panel represents Child Labor when children as young as 8 years old worked in factories as recently as 100 years ago. The 2nd mural represents Women Textile Workers holding white handkerchiefs as a symbol of the impure air conditions created from lint. Other panels depict the enactment of The Secret Ballot to protect workers from intimidation from employers and the 1937 Shoe Strike when workers walked out of shoe mills seeking fair wages and shorter hours. Despite federal laws legalizing the right to organize workers were beaten and jailed for marching and speaking up. Don't think this can't happen again. #payattention #resist #workersrights #speakup #historymatters #murals #publicart #visitamuseum

A post shared by Sheila Blanchette (@sheilablanchett) on


As I travel to different parts of the country on my Hometown Book Tour I will be sharing a series of photos – signs I find on front lawns throughout America. I’m calling this series Messages From America and I’m sharing them on Instagram. I considered whether or not I should share all of the messages I find along my route and decided it is a positive message I want to send. If I find some negativity, which I’m sure I will because I saw those Confederate flags and other messages when I traveled South last spring, I’ll mention them but I don’t think I’ll photograph them. There are plenty of good people in all parts of America, even ones with differing opinions. Those are the stories I’m sharing.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” ~ Mother Theresa.

After all, how many train wrecks do we need to see?

*** If you’ve been enjoying the stories I’ve shared here during the past five years, please buy the book. It’s available here:

Secret Handshake: Scenes From Under The Same Sun

Red Barn-Norfolk

In Under the Same Sun, the town is also a character in the novel. Lives become entwined in various places throughout Unity. An Italian restaurant, waiting in line at the CVS pharmacy, a high school parking lot after a lacrosse banquet, teenagers sharing a joint on a porch roof, and always Dunkin’ Donuts, the hub of this small town. Unity is not one specific town, it is rural America New England style. Old mills, boarded up buildings, loss of job opportunities, along with entrepreneurs opening breweries and farm to table restaurants, beautiful countryside, breathtaking hiking trails. Hard times and hope.
A widowed Dad raises his twin daughters with the help of his mother-in-law. An edgy, mysterious English teacher who grew up in Unity returns to help her dying father and stays, taking a job at the regional high school. Teenagers dream of escape. Parents wonder how they’ll cover college tuition. And life goes on. People grow old. Neighbors help neighbors. People fall in love.


He whispers, “Why are you so far away?”
“Hmmm,” she moans, rolling closer to burrow against him, her body warm.
“Was I making a lot of noise last night?”
“I didn’t hear a peep” she whispers.
Leo walks his fingertips up her arm, her skin as soft as her well-washed, fine cotton pillowcases. He traces the tattoo above her left breast, a small bluebird. She reaches for his hand but brushes his elbow instead. They criss-cross arms, twisting together like a pretzel. Eyes closed, she gropes again for his hand and misses.
“Stay still. What are you doing?” she asks.
In a sleepy voice he replies, “Secret handshake.”



Where do I begin with this subject? It is so fraught with anxiety. Authors are told they need to develop a thick skin but so many of us are sensitive souls. Take John Steinbeck for instance: “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.”

I learned to write in public. I was working at a mundane job in a cubicle and struggling to keep my sanity. Writing literally saved my life but I had no idea what I was getting into.

The book I wrote, The Reverse Commute, was a roman à clef. Sophie was a strung out, fictional version of myself. She lived in my old house in New Hampshire, her husband painted houses, and she too had squirrels in her bathroom.

One night Sophie is home alone drinking wine and watching Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. She has an epiphany. “This is my life.” The night I was home alone drinking wine and watching Blue Valentine an entire novel popped into my head. From that moment on I couldn’t stop writing.

The novel alternates chapters between Sophie’s story and the story of a young girl also working in a cubicle in the editorial department at the same company where Sophie works in the accounting department.

Several Amazon reviewers didn’t like the fact the chapters alternated between the two women. Many didn’t like the fact the young girl didn’t have a name and that her story led up to the ending while Sophie’s story began after the surprising ending and it is only in the final chapters that the reader is brought back to the fateful day that unites the two women’s stories.

Some readers couldn’t figure things out because the ending didn’t reveal itself until the ending. A few readers even said there was no ending.

Honestly I don’t know what to say to that. Many readers liked the ending. But clearly I had bitten off more than I could chew as a first time writer without the help of a big time New York Publishing editor to straighten it all out and clean it up.

I did promotions on various websites that advertise free Kindle books. I gave away 28,000 copies. Yes, that’s right. 28,000!!! Most of my bad reviews came from readers who wrote things like, “I’m glad I got it for free.”

Let’s just say I’ll never do that again.

Many of these reviewers didn’t like Sophie. They called her a bitch. Ouch! That’s me you’re talking about dear reader. One commented that the writer didn’t know the difference between it’s and its.

I first saw this review when Rich and I were driving across the lonely landscape of eastern Wyoming to deliver our youngest daughter to her summer job at Yellowstone National Park. I had the book with me and started compulsively scouring its pages to find my errors. I found one it’s that should have been its.

“Fucking bitch,” I muttered.

“Hey, give it up,” Rich said. “We’re getting close to the Tetons. Forget those jerks.”

I ignored him and kept searching the book for typos. “You’re missing some fantastic scenery,” Rich kept telling me. But I was obsessed. I couldn’t find a wrong their or there which someone else accused me of. I did find the heal that should have been heel. I started to get paranoid, imagining this one “Heel” had activated a movement and now others were joining in. They were all complaining about IT.

IT felt like a cabal of haters who didn’t like Sophie because of her random liberal comments and her dissatisfaction with being trapped in a cubicle “sitting for health insurance”. One reviewer said, “All the characters seemed to want to move to France. Go ahead then, go there.” One of them even said, “I really didn’t like her and her friends and their wine emergencies.” Hey, those are my good friends you’re talking about. I emailed my friends and apologized for implicating them in this disaster. Channeling Steinbeck, they told me to “forget about those bastards.”

There was also this sort of comment about Sophie: “Usually by the time you’re middle aged you’ve worked through your choices in life. In my opinion, you don’t have daydreams.”

It hurts my fingertips just typing that, but I guess we all have opinions, humble or otherwise. Imagine no longer daydreaming because you believe you’re too old! I understand someone may have a different political perspective but giving up on dreaming because you’re in your fifties? Sorry, that is really depressing and says a lot more about the reviewer than the writer.

But then things turned around and I got a review titled: “The Book With the Amazing Highs and Lows in Reviews”. The reviewer wrote this: “When I read the reviews I picked this up with a huge dose of curiosity – I thought maybe it was one of those books with a load of good reviews that actually sucked – or maybe it was one of those gems that a whole lot of folks just did not get. Some books are like cilantro – you either love it or hate it. For me – I LOVED the book. I do not think this is a spoiler alert – but I am in my 50s and maybe that had something to do with why I loved it so much. There was a perspective I could grab on to with both hands. But I think the same could be said for a person between 25 and 35 – because the story has a strong story line from that perspective as well….Don’t over think the reviews – just relax – read – and enjoy the ride! I fully enjoyed the writing style – and although I did get a bit confused about the parallel story lines at times I REALLY liked it! This is NOT a formulaic romance novel – it is a unique story line with huge doses of life as it really is.”

I never did like cilantro but I’ve grown to love it.

Somehow, in the midst of my deepest despair, while sitting in an Adirondack chair gazing out at the Snake River and talking to a man from New Zealand who was driving a motorcycle through the American West, the idea for my second novel, Take Me Home, took hold. And despite Rich’s concerns that I was missing the passing scenery I took some notes on a man I met in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. He was an interesting guy who worked in a gas station/fireworks shop and had tattooed fingers that read “Next Time”. Both of these guys ended up in Take Me Home, a fun little story about finding love late in life. Not anything I set out to write when I first started this adventure, but it kept me going as it was true, I hadn’t worked out my life choices. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days in a cubicle. I do have an unrealistic belief that dreams do not end until you’re six feet under.

What I originally set out to write was my frustration with the times I lived in. I have always tried to write by the words of the amazing Oliver Sacks.

“The most we can do is to write —intelligently, creatively, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” 

Stuck in my cubicle, I saw so many problems. Loss of worker representation when unions were busted. Stagnant wages. Pay increases frozen while executive salaries grew ever more extravagant and the corporation you worked for bought out other companies and expected their employees to “absorb” the additional work load because there was no room in the budget for new hires. And of course, there was always the never-ending struggle to obtain affordable health insurance. College tuition expenses were upon us when I wrote the The Reverse Commute. My oldest was a senior in high school and I was faced with the question, “How the hell do we pay for this?”

I look back at that first novel written in 2012 and see the makings of the 2016 election. It was all right there. Some want to blame it all on racism. Yes, there is a lot of that but I still believe the election could have gone a different way if more politicians were familiar with Sophie’s day to day struggles.

I carried on and kept writing. I got better at it. I attended a writers’ conference in Southampton, NY, took a class with Robert Emmett Ginna, and had the opportunity to meet the esteemed James Salter. In my solitary dorm room I tore apart my third novel Life Is All This. I gained the confidence to get back to writing the stories I felt I needed to share.

An Amazon reviewer compared Life Is All This to the work of Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Someone else compared me to Alice McDermott. All despite the fact Sam Ryder, my main character, was not afraid to voice his political opinions.

Believe me, the fact Sam is an opinionated male and Sophie was an opinionated woman has not escaped me. I will admit when I decided I was going to write the third novel from a male perspective I felt liberated. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Richard Ford once said: “Giving a book a bad review is like driving along the road and seeing a hitchhiker and deciding that instead of not picking him up, you’ll run over him. Sorry, I can’t pick you up, but I will kill you.”

He also said this: “I try to find ways to insulate myself from the feelings of bad reviews. The feelings of bad reviews are not so much that somebody doesn’t like your book but that it keeps other people from reading your book. I hate that.”

And this is where you come in my friends. I need your reviews. Reviews not only help people make book buying decisions. There are book promotion websites that advertise new books. Places like Book Bub which a fellow author called a game changer. But you need a certain number of good reviews to get on there. They don’t tell you how many, they won’t admit this is a criteria, but everyone knows it is.

I am bracing myself for the bad reviews. I now know even Pulitzer Prize winning authors get bad reviews and are hurt by them.

When Richard Ford was asked why reviews matter he said this: “They create the all-important buzz. It becomes one of the little strings that are plucked in the hum of what’s going on about a book.”

This is how you can help me. If you like the book please help me create that all-important buzz. WRITE A REVIEW.

Authors are encouraged not to answer their bad reviews. Richard Ford didn’t listen to that advice. He once received a bad review in the New York Times from another famous author, Alice Hoffman. He took one of her books out into his backyard and shot a hole in it. Then he mailed it to her.

I was tempted to fight back, but each time I tried to do it Amazon or Goodreads had a little pop-up reminding me that they strongly advise against it.

Before I started writing this blog I went back and looked at the bad reviews for The Reverse Commute. Not a really good thing to do when you’re experiencing the anxiety of having just released a new novel.

This one from LeftBrainedFemale jumped out at me:
Interesting that while the main character works in Massachusetts, she lives over the state line in “live free or die” New Hampshire where they have no state tax. Unfortunately, the author’s disdain for those of us who truly love our freedom was quite off-putting. I can’t wrap my mind around women with grown children and families still whining about their life choices. It’s one thing to recognize poor choices and work to correct them; quite another to be stuck in the mindset of a moon-eyed star-struck teenager.

It wasn’t the familiar moon-eyed star-struck teenager dagger that got me. Like I said, that says a lot more about LeftBrained than me. It was the Live free or die, false tax scenario she was spewing.

Five years after I published The Reverse Commute, the very common day-to-day struggles of Sophie’s life began to see the light of day. Finally, the media and the politicians discovered the problems of rural America and the struggling middle class. And it was the fake news aspect of the review that now bugged me.

I didn’t pull out a shotgun – I don’t own any guns. I just hit the little X at the top of the box that popped up warning me to not respond to negative reviews then started writing.

Dear LeftBrainedFemale, In these days of misinformation and fake news I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the fact that although Sophie lived in New Hampshire where there is no state income tax and worked in Massachusetts, she would nonetheless have to pay Massachusetts state income tax. Her real estate taxes in NH would be higher than MA because they pay for the schools her kids attended, while her MA withholding tax would help pay for the schools her children didn’t attend. I know this because I made this very same Reverse Commute when it was the only job I could find after 14 months of unemployment after a layoff during the Recession, along with the expense of making Cobra health insurance payments of $1200/month. We all do what we have to do to take care of our families. It’s really important to stay informed, now more than ever.
By the way, I did escape my cubicle after I published this book & my husband and I managed a B&B in CT, so sometimes the mindset of a moon-eyed star-struck teenager isn’t all that crazy. Thanks for giving the book a chance. ~ Sheila

I haven’t heard back from her yet.


***My advice on writing a review: Don’t overthink it. Write what you liked about the book. One or two lines is fine. You’re not writing a novel. But if you have a lot of good things to say, by all means Go For It! Remember, you don’t have to write like a writer. Write like a reader.*** 

And a great big Thank You to everyone for your support over the years.

Addendum: I did catch a typo above. Advice should have been advise. I corrected it. Shit happens. We make mistakes. No one’s perfect.

Under The Same Sun is available here:

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

On Sale Now: Under The Same Sun

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

“What happens in Unity, Connecticut could happen anywhere in America.

Under the Same Sun begins at a kitchen table on a school day morning in Unity. The novel paints a picture of a struggling rural town during the year leading up to the 2016 presidential election. A portrait of people familiar to all of us, it tells the story of their desires, disappointments, divisions and, ultimately, the beauty and the frustrations of day-to-day life in America’s forgotten places.

Leo Heaton is a widowed father who lives with his twin daughters, Emily and Amanda, and his mother-in-law Dori O’Neil. Their lives are interwoven with the townspeople, including an edgy, mysterious high school teacher who is a role model for the Heaton twins. Helen Tremblay has also attracted the attention of their father and they become involved in a secret romance.

The cast of characters includes teenage friends, a wealthy prep school boyfriend, an interracial family who own a a maple syrup farm, and a Mohegan Indian who hosts parties in his man cave and shares his native wisdom. The citizens of Unity cross paths in chapters set in the simplest of places: the local Dunkin’ Donuts, high school parking lots, auto repair shops and lumberyards, and hiking trails in the Berkshire woods.

When an avoidable tragedy occurs the small town of Unity becomes Every Town America. A place where nothing newsworthy happens and people feel relatively safe.”

Labor Day Weekend: Stories From Higley Hill

On Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Rich and I went on a ramble through rural New England. Our destination was the Nike outlet store in Lee, Massachusetts to buy sneakers with our family discount. Our oldest daughter works at one of the Nike stores in Colorado.

The journey could have started on Route 91 South but we like to take the roads less traveled and we needed to pick up a headlight at a junk yard in Greenfield so we headed south on Colrain Road out of Wilmington, Vermont.

Jacksonville, VT tattered flag

Tattered Flag, Jacksonsonville, VT

In Jacksonville we passed a house with a pretty garden and noticed our friend, whose name is also Richard, out on the front lawn. Vermont Rich is a stonemason and was there to help a widow who needed some repairs done on her chimney. He often helps her and doesn’t charge for his time. It was her husband who taught him the craft of stonemasonry.

Serpentine stonewall

A serpentine stone wall in Norfolk, CT

Labor Day weekend is the holiday that celebrates the American worker,  but here was our friend repairing loose bricks and sweeping the chimney.


In late August 2011, almost six years ago to the day, Hurricane Irene barreled into Vermont as a tropical cyclone. Downtown Wilmington’s Main Street turned into a raging river. The only other recorded hurricane in Vermont’s history was back in 1938. It has no name, back then they didn’t give hurricanes names.

Many people lost their homes and businesses. Many historic covered bridges were destroyed. Due to extensive road damage, dozens of rural towns became isolated. We were still living in New Hampshire at the time but our friend was everywhere with his backhoe and his chainsaw and his talent for many helpful survival skills. Six years later three prominent buildings in downtown Wilmington are still empty. One of them recently got an artistic facelift with the artwork of Chinon Maria, a local girl who is now a street artist in New York City.

Chinon Maria

Artwork by Chinon Maria ~  Wilmington, VT

A lot of Texans are spending their Labor Day weekend recovering from the mess Hurricane Harvey left in its wake. Helping your neighbors isn’t just the Texas way.  It’s not just the Vermont way. It’s the American way. The United States of America.


There’s a stonemason in my new novel, Under The Same Sun:

“Leo Heaton is a regular guy, a builder of stone walls. A man who pays his bills on time, enjoys a beer or two after work, and always uses his blinker. He’s lived in this small corner of New England all his life and believes in the American Dream along with the ideals of freedom and justice for all, despite the fact ideals don’t always ring true. His twin daughters are his pride and joy, although this morning they are not assisting him in his pursuit of happiness.”


The junkyard in Greenland was only open 10 to 12 on Saturdays. We got there at 11:30 but the place was locked up.

Junkyard Greenfield, MA

Greenfield Auto Salvage ~ Salvage the Best, Recycle the Rest

My stories come from the places I’ve traveled, the jobs I’ve worked, and the people I’ve met. Woody Guthrie once said, “You can’t write a good song about a whorehouse unless you’ve been in one.”

You also can’t write about a junkyard unless you’re familiar with one. I am. I was the bookkeeper at an Epping, NH auto salvage business for ten years. They were just one of many clients I had when I ran my own bookkeeping business. There was also an art gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. I’m familiar with it all, the high and the low ends of the American economy. At the gallery I worked at a desk surrounded by expensive artwork, including a few Salvador Dali’s and beautiful pottery made by Brother Thomas.

At the junkyard I sat at a desk in a large garage filled with old car parts, tires, and an auto mechanic’s tools of the trade. It smelled of oil, grease, dust, and wet junkyard dogs of which there were a half dozen or so on any given day. After a Christmas fire burned down the building and a good part of the junkyard, I worked in an old trailer salvaged from the wreckage. I had to rummage through smoked out paperwork and records, rusty paperclips and soot, to recreate the bookkeeping records and find the insurance policies.

Both of these settings, the art gallery and the junkyard, ended up in Life Is All This. 

The Epping junkyard owner was Hungarian. His hands and arms were covered with rough red patches and he always had a wad of cash in his pocket. On Fridays he’d peel off a couple of hundreds to pay me. Real life experiences often get mixed up and manipulated into fiction.

From Under the Same Sun:

Leo owes Carl money for a used transmission he found for the girls’ car. Dealing in used auto parts is only one of the skills on Carl’s long, checkered resume. He left his job at the casino a couple of months ago.

“The commute and the hours were killing me,” he said.

Years ago he owned a seafood shack down near the shore, close to the Rhode Island border, until he got into a twin lobster pricing war with the diner across the street.

“The guy kept lowering his price. When he got to $3.99 for twin lobsters and threw in a free bowl of clam chowder I was sunk. He was a lobsterman and I was buying my lobsters from him! No way could I compete with that situation.”

In addition to the used auto parts, Carl grows and sells Christmas trees, plows driveways in the winter, grows marijuana in his basement, and breeds boxers.

“How much do I owe you?” Leo asks.

“Five hundred for the transmission and thirty for the tree minus the beers you bought me last week.”

Leo hands Carl a wad of cash – a couple of hundreds, two fifties, and a lot of ATM twenties. Carl fans it then shoves it in his pocket.

“Aren’t you going to count it?”

“I worked the blackjack tables for years. I know it’s all there.”

Every line in the above excerpt is fiction but it has a connection to real life. Maybe some day I’ll share all the stories that led to that exchange.


 We had slept late on the Saturday morning of the three day holiday weekend. Rich had been working hard all week; climbing ladders to paint a house with high cathedral ceilings.

Rich and his work

Rich showcasing his work ~ Wilmington, VT

The owner of the junkyard probably gave up on us and decided to get a jump on his Labor Day festivities. So we continued on and took Route 5 South past Deerfield Academy, a prestigious private prep school where the well-to-do send their children to be socially polished and primed to enter an Ivy League college.

American flags on telephone poles snapped with the breeze. Trump signs tacked to a barn greeted us in the asparagus farmland of Hadley, MA as we rolled on through to Northampton where gay pride flags fly and Black Lives Matter.

Telephone Pole flags-Leeds MA

Leeds, MA

In Florence we stopped for a grinder – Italian for me, roast beef for Rich.

Miss Florence Diner Florence, MA

Florence, MA


Sunday we laid low. It rained all day and we had a fire burning in the wood stove. We reminisced about twenty years of Labor Day parties on Cape Cod’s national seashore and watched rock ‘n roll documentaries.  I was multi-tasking, reading New York Times  articles and other writings about work in America.  After all, it was Labor Day so the media was on topic. But brace yourself, one of the upcoming debates during the budget talks will be taxing our 401K savings upfront – when we have the contribution withheld from our paychecks. We won’t be hearing a lot about that from the media after the holiday is a sweet end-of-summer memory. So pay attention. If taxes are taken out at the time of the contribution instead of when we retire, that means that over the years we earn less money on our savings. Don’t let the bastards fool you.


We cooked a lot over the weekend. We made homemade pizza, grilled scallops, stuffies, and ahi tuna, had lots of fresh local veggies, drank bloody Marys, cold beers, and crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

I told my husband about a young boy I saw in the Nike store. The place was packed. Shoeboxes lined the floor and sat on half the seats people need to try on shoes. The employees were everywhere, straightening things out, smiling and helpful. I thought of our daughter working lots of hours on this very American holiday weekend.

The young boy was arguing with his mother. “Go ahead. Buy it,” he said, his lip curling into a surly sneer. “But I’m not ever going to fucking wear them. They’re fucking ugly.” I listened to them argue back and forth while I tried to find a pair of sneakers I liked. Then I waited for a seat. Two Indian women where standing next to me. One sat down to try on the same style sneaker I had chosen. She moved some boxes to the floor and in her lilting accent said, “Here. Please. Sit down.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“But of course.”

Meanwhile, the young boy kept swearing at his mother. The shoes were not the ones he saw in a magazine. They probably hadn’t made their way to the outlet stores yet.  His mother looked like she could burst into tears at any moment. Her hands were filled with shopping bags from The Gap, Sun Pac, American Eagle, and other outlet stores, most likely filled with back to school clothes that were busting her monthly budget.

The Indian woman shook her head and looked down, embarrassed by a stranger’s behavior.


Oliver Sacks once said, “The most we can do is to write —intelligently, creatively, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” 

Ever since I wrote my first novel and started blogging, that’s all I’ve ever tried to achieve.


We finished the weekend stacking firewood and listening to Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler writes lyrics like few other musicians. His songs tell heartfelt, real life stories. I once heard him in an interview share the story of all the jobs he worked at before he began to earn his living as a musician. He said was glad he had done all those things.

“It gives you sympathy for other people’s lives,” is how he summed it up.

Yes. But of course.