"It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it."

--Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Dear readers,

As author portraits go, this has to be one of the most famous: Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë, painted by their brother, Branwell (who included himself in the group, then — for whatever reason — painted himself out).

I bought this poster at the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, England, in 1996. For many years, it was in my classroom, where it was a great teaching aid when I taught Jane Eyre. When I had to move classrooms, I shifted the poster to my desk in the English department office (see above), where the siblings gazed down on me as I answered email, graded papers, and planned lessons.

But in early June, I took them down. I rolled them up, put them in the car, and took them to my house. Now they’re in my home office, where — I think it’s fair to stay — they will stay.
You see, I’ve made a big life change. After teaching high school English for 26 years, I’m not teaching this year.

This was not an easy decision to make. I’ll miss the students, my fabulous colleagues, the rhythms of the school year. But following months of discernment, it felt not only like the right decision to make, but the right time to make it. I’m excited to have more energy to focus on writing, to see what it can be and where it can go when I’m not trying to shoehorn it in between grading and staff meetings.

So, for the first time since — well, since I started kindergarten — I’m not bound by an academic schedule. Early August feels very, very different this year. I do miss the energy of starting the new school year, but I’m excited to see what happens when my creative side has more time and space to run free. I’m excited to have quiet mornings in my little office here, writing new stories and getting to know new characters in the silent company of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte.

I like to think that — sober expressions to the contrary — they’re excited for me, too.

Happy August!


P.S. In 2018, on our visit to London, I got to see the original of this portrait. It was a highlight of the trip for this Brontë fangirl.

The story behind the story, Part Three

Last month, we took a look at the interior of the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, which inspired the setting for The Seeing Garden. Let's continue the tour!

Here’s the impressive dining room. (Oakview’s dining room is much lighter, but I do like the wood paneling here.)

Filoli also has the Bourn family silver on display. It's pretty eye-opening. Can we give a moment's respect to the butlers of days gone by? They clearly had a formidable knowledge of cutlery, whereas I am just a heathen who wouldn’t know a pickle knife if it got into bed with me.
This leads us naturally to the kitchen, which at Filoli is two adjoining rooms, plus a baking room. And really, it’s a lovely space. Look at those big windows! I might actually enjoy cooking if I could do it in a place like that.
There's a billiards room, which has quite surprisingly beautiful wallpaper.

But my favorite room in all of Filoli is the ballroom. It’s pretty special, and none of my photos — taken over various visits — quite capture the impact.
The gorgeous murals were painted by Ernest Peixotto. The Bourns gave their daughter, Maud, an Irish estate called Muckross House for a wedding gift (must be nice, right?). When Mr. Bourn’s ill health kept him from going back for visits, they decided to have Peixotto paint scenes from Muckross into the ballroom, so he could still enjoy the landscape he loved.

In The Seeing Garden, Catherine and Martin get to know each other in the ballroom as he paints her portrait. She sits by the window, of course, not by the fireplace as requested (take that, William!).

Finally, here's the staircase. It's built for a grand entrance, isn't it?
The second floor of Filoli is closed to visitors, though many years ago they used to open it occasionally for members. It was a thrill to go up there and see the bedrooms (which aren’t furnished, as the ground floor rooms are, but still gave me something to work with in the early days of designing Oakview).

Stay tuned for the final installment next month, when we'll go back out into the gardens!

Podcast Interview

The New Books in Historical Fiction podcast is one of my go-to podcasts, because it always gives me new titles for my TBR list. It was great fun to be interviewed by Carolyn about The Seeing Garden! You can listen to the podcast here.

Novel #2 ... coming August 2024!

Just last week, I sent my publisher the manuscript for my next novel! The publication date is August 13 of next year. I’m really excited about this book, which takes place in 1938 and moves from Hollywood to the Napa Valley.

The title is about 95 % certain, but I don't want to announce it until it's absolutely definite. Sorry to be coy! I'll share more in future newsletters.


Have you seen the Barbie movie? I found it hilarious, thought-provoking, and deeply moving (was definitely not expecting that last one). It also brought back a rush of childhood memories.

Growing up, my sister and I had lots of Barbies and only one Ken. He had exactly two outfits: green swim trunks (he was Malibu Ken) and a truly hideous black-and-yellow ruffled tuxedo (it was the early eighties). If we really wanted to, we could squeeze him into the blue jeans my grandmother had made for our Barbies, but we didn’t very often, because Ken rarely had any role in our play. It was all about the Barbies and their children (our Strawberry Shortcake dolls.) We took over the living room and built Barbie communities and we had an absolute blast … and I had to laugh at how completely the movie captured the peripheral role of Ken in the whole thing.

My enjoyment of the movie was enhanced by the History Chicks podcast on Ruth Handler, the Barbie creator. I listened to it before watching the movie, which meant I knew instantly who the Rhea Perlman character was. Check it out if you want to know more about the fascinating woman behind the doll.

Oh, and I don’t have my Barbies anymore — I have no idea what happened to them — but three years ago my sister found my Strawberry Shortcake dolls in her garage and returned them to me. It was a blast of pure childlike happiness to see them again. And their hair still smells like fruit: a testament to the power of those 80s chemicals, apparently.


The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

--Neil Gaiman
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