January 11th, 2020

“Genius is 1 Percent Inspiration and 99 Percent Perspiration.”
– Thomas Edison

Good morning from Newport Rhode Island, where I am finishing up my week-long residency at the Newport MFA Program. I have spent the week among Newport’s Gilded Age mansions. Here is Ochre Court, where we meet every day for readings and craft talks:

It has been an exciting week of writing workshops, craft talks, and readings from poets, fiction writers and essayists. The faculty at Newport’s MFA program are a distinguished bunch, and I’ve learned a lot from them this week. I’ve been inspired by the level of dedication and mastery of my fellow faculty members, how hard they have worked to create a life that revolves around art, and how generous they are with their time and wisdom.

Here I am with Allen Kurzweil and Mary-Kim Arnold:

Here is writer Bernadette Murphy reading in the Ballroom at Ochre Court:

My students have been amazing too! I’m continually amazed by their talent. Tonight, there is a student reading in which we will get to hear their work. Here I am with my fabulous workshop students:

Being part of this program has been an incredible experience for me personally. For many years, I didn’t teach at all, and I found that the isolation of writing alone was beginning to wear me down. I didn’t want to teach full time, as I was sure that it would hinder my writing practice. Then, Ann Hood invited me to join the new low-residency program she was creating at Salve Regina. The Newport MFA is a perfect balance: I meet with students in Newport in January and June, and then work with them from a distance for the rest of the year.

If you live in the mid-state New York area, I am giving a writing workshop in Newburgh, New York beginning next Sunday, January 26 from 4 o’clock to 6 o’clock and continuing for six Sundays. The workshop is about finding a way to tell your personal story, so if you have a story to tell and are in the area, please write to me at [email protected] for more information.

My first project of 2020 wasn’t writing, however, but a new sweater! I don’t knit much, but I was given some beautiful yarn from the Loopy Mango for Christmas, and I made this cropped sweater:

It is the softest, most luxurious thing I own. I found, as I made it, that constructing a sweater with stitches is a lot like constructing a novel: One gets obsessed with the texture and construction and the artistry of the thing and can get carried away. Once I started knitting, I couldn’t stop until I’d finished.

In other news, I have had some early reviews come in for my forthcoming novel The Ancestor! A few months before publication, ‘trade’ reviews go out to libraries and booksellers and magazines. The big reviewers are Kirkus, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. I had great reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. Kirkus called The Ancestor a “Gothic Extravaganza,” which made me quite happy. And Library Journal wrote that “the story will sweep readers up in awe and wonder…”

There is also an incredible bookstore in Houston Texas called Murder by the Book. A very cool bookseller there picked my book this week and posted about it:

As you know, the book isn’t out yet, but all of this “pre-publicity” attention is so important. Every word of mouth recommendation, every pre-order, and every good Goodreads review marks the difference between a book succeeding or failing. If you would like to preorder The Ancestor, you might want to do it from Oblong Books, where they will be mailing out SIGNED FIRST EDITIONS! You can order now and get the book in your mailbox on publication day! 

Thank you for sharing my week with me! May you find inspiration in your life and work.

Until next week,


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