Category Archives: Novel

Novel 4!

Desert Divide is live and out in the world! What a great week it has been. The book was published Monday. Since, I’ve confirmed one book signing in August, have several others in a pending-phase, and have a new paid writing opportunity coming my way.

It’s been a great week in my writing world!

I’m currently reading Atomic Habits for a book club in my other professional life; the author makes a point about how if you stick with something and make tiny, tiny, steps forward consistently, eventually you’ll see success and be called an “overnight success.” I laugh because my writing career began 15 years ago and no step has been easy. But I’ve learned so much since the first book in 2011, and I feel grateful to be here today.

Thank you for your continued support! I will have copies in the Maricopa County library system next week, too. And if you are in a book club and in need of a great new read that comes with a speaker, please reach out.


Desert Divide

I’ve recently finished writing and editing my fourth novel, DESERT DIVIDE. It will be published in early 2022.

Fourth novel. I remember when I was standing at the bottom of the publishing mountain lugging along my first novel 11 years ago, not sure how to take the first step. And here we are, 500,000 published words later. It feels surreal, exciting, and terrifying.

The synopsis:

From the author of the acclaimed novel COUNTING COUP comes DESERT DIVIDE, a gripping, ripped-from-the-headlines story of family, revenge, and justice spanning the ranches of southern Arizona to the dinner tables of Mexico City’s elite.

It’s 2016. Sarah McDaniels receives a call in the night that her mother has died unexpectedly. Returning to the family’s ranch in the high desert of southeastern Arizona, Sarah finds her childhood home and her father’s health in tatters.

More than a decade ago, Sarah left to chase a dream in New York City. Now, faced with burying her mother and trying to arrange care for her father, Sarah takes a walk across the family’s land to clear her head. When she stumbles over something on the desert floor, the last thing she expects to find is the body of a young woman her own age.

Who was this woman? Why was she on their family’s ranch? Who killed her?

DESERT DIVIDE is a true-to-life story of secrets, sacrifice, and redemption as one woman tries to face down her demons while saving what’s left of her family.

More information to come. Thank you for your continued support!


Counting Coup — Book Launch

At 11:30 am, Saturday, March 17th at Dobson Ranch Library in Mesa, “Counting Coup” will be out in the world.

Basket Baby signing

Dobson Ranch Library is my childhood library. I spent most of my elementary school summers on the bean bags, collecting stickers from the summer reading program. I remember finding an entire shelf of Sue Grafton’s mysteries, and meticulously reading them in alphabetic order. There was the arduous conversation I had with a saintly librarian about “War and Peace,” after I’d hauled it home on my Huffy only to find out it was way, way too complicated. Why hadn’t she warned me. (She had.) And what did it all mean anyway? (She tried her best to explain.)

And it was the place where I spent hours on the floor in the children’s section on my belly, resting on my elbows, trying to learn sign language out of a book full of diagrams. (That didn’t go so well either.) It was also the place where I felt my curiosities celebrated and encouraged at every turn.


“Counting Coup” is my third book.

Happily consumed with her academic career, Professor Avery Wainwright never planned on becoming sole guardian of her octogenarian Aunt Birdie. Forced to move Birdie—and her failing memory—into her tiny apartment, Avery’s precariously balanced life loses its footing.

Unearthed in the chaos is a stack of sixty-year-old letters. Written in 1951, the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system, in the high desert town of Winslow, Arizona. The letters are addressed to Birdie, who was teaching at the Phoenix Indian School. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one has ever spoken of.

Torn between caring for the old woman who cannot remember, and her very different memories of a grandmother no longer alive to explain, Avery searches for answers. But the scandal and loss she finds, the revelations about abuses, atrocities, and cover-ups at the Indian schools, threaten far more than she’s bargained for.

I’ll have books available for sale, a reading, and will talk shop about writing and publishing.

I hope to see you there!


Talking Myself Through This

There is a part to writing novels that never gets easier: the critique. On Sunday, I sat with a group of trusted friends and listened to their thoughts on the first draft of my latest novel, “Counting Coup.” For nearly two hours, they discussed the characters and plot, the things they liked, and a bunch of stuff they didn’t.

And then I received first draft edits from my publishing editor and he had a different list of all that he liked and didn’t.

This is where my brain is still very much stuck in 3rd grade. The internal conversation goes a bit like this:

37-year-old me: Of course they gave you feedback. YOU ASKED FOR FEEDBACK. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?

9-year-old me: They don’t love me. No one loves me. I hate everything.

I know. I’m ridiculous.

It is at this junction that I stopped, for more than a year, with “Basket Baby.” I put the edits on a shelf for a year before I could summon the courage to sit down and admit the story needed work.

CC does need work. They saw what I couldn’t. They also told me all of this as kindly as they could. They voluntarily spent hours upon hours reading my work and providing thoughtful advice. And my gut response was, “NOPE.”

The ego is a funny, evil thing. It let’s us hide our own imperfections, calling them quirks. It strokes our need for importance, and massages our ugliest characteristics. And when it is wounded, it cries like a 9-year-old girl.

For the next few months, I’ll be working through these changes. I know the bones to this story are there, and that they are great. I want to get it right.



Publishing Notes: Hiring an Agent

Basket Baby signing

When I signed my first publishing contract with Asymmetrical last year, I was overjoyed that it included not only the contract for “Basket Baby,” but for first rights to my next three books, too. I had a unicorn in sight: a small press interested in a multi-book contract. It was time to write.

“Counting Coup” came together within a year, including considerable research and interviewing of individuals who attended Indian schools. The story, in parts, has been workshopped in a writing group, and heavily edited by my writing partner — Bert. It is still in the beta phase, with several copies out for final comments. I hope these will be minor and grammatical, not thematic. The pace of writing this story, by comparison to the first two, felt nothing short of magical. I was in the writing zone, and knowing I had a publisher to hand it off too made it that much more fun.

The next step in this career is to hire a literary agent. As a former member of the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop, I have a handful of friends who are serious authors. We work on our love for telling stories when our day jobs allow. Add family obligations to this schedule, and the time for the business of selling books quickly falls away. Those with agents fare better. Their stories have marketing dollars behind them.

When writing query letters, you have to be your best cheerleader, which is uncomfortable. Like dating or interviewing, you want to provide just enough information to bring interest, but not too much. With my shoulders back, I am trying to sell myself to agents in New York and Los Angeles with a sincerity about my love of public health and writing.

Asymmetrical is in part run by “The Minimalists,” who you may know from their recent Netflix special, or their popular books and blog. It has been neat to be associated with Josh and Ryan in this small way. Sadly, the press will be closing later this year. The future of my next three books, including “Counting Coup,” is now uncertain.

As my old marathon coach and dear friend JT would say, “Time to put your head down.” In other words, don’t give up. Look at your feet, think of how far you’ve already come, and keep pushing.

Thanks for your continued support and reviews! Please pass your copy off to someone to read. Every reader helps spread the story.




February 2016

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about inspiration like she is your best friend, always hanging around somewhere nearby, but also willing to hit the road for greener pastures if you aren’t respectful. I’m wrapping up the final “final” edits on Basket Baby, and contemplating what story I want to tell next. The idea for Basket Baby landed in my lap when visiting Bolivia and hearing about women who abandon their babies at the doorsteps of wealthy homes, hoping the families inside will take the child in permanently.

I spent a year or more considering the different motivations for a woman willing to leave her child in such a setting, and another five years researching, writing and editing this story. I’m proud of it, and I’m ready for it to take wings and fly far, far away from my laptop. (My writing group, editing partner, friends and family are on the same page, so to speak. Everyone is ready to see Basket Baby on a bookstore shelves and outside of their email in boxes with subject lines like, “Please? Just one more read through — I promise!”

This writing game is a balance of vulnerabilities and brazen courage. You have to be able to create a life and spin truth from daydreams, and yet… be tender enough to ask others afterward if your creation rings true. And then tough enough to discern when the edits are helpful, and when they are spiteful.

In the last month, the next novel idea has shown up on my doorstep. She flew in, landing on my shoulder, when I was peeling wallpaper from the kids’ bathroom walls. Piece by tedious piece, I steamed and scraped and was surprised to discover writing on the walls beneath the paper’s old, saffron colored glue. There were contractor scribbles here and there — some in pen, other in fading, barely legible pencil. What secrets could be hidden in a house, papered over for the next generation to uncover? This curiosity, and a recent tour of the Phoenix Indian School has me dreaming of a big, redemptive tale to shine light on a darkness in Arizona’s history: the roundups of American Indian children on tribal lands, starting in the 1890s, for a “civilized education” in government boarding schools.

Schools where children were taught in English, converted to Christianity, sexually abused with such a pervasiveness — you’d be sick, and not permitted to return home to their families during the summer break. Many children in this era left their homes at age 5 and were sent back to their reservations at at 18, unable to communicate with their families. But hey, at least they were civilized.

Welcome, dear Inspiration. God bless you for showing up, being patient, and hanging around. I may need you to stroke my hair from time to time, whispering reassurances.Let’s cast away these shadows together, shall we?

(And not to be greedy, but can this story please take less than six years to create?)



Word Count Wednesday

$1.50 transformed


31,100 — an increase of only 1,000 words this week. This is not a huge improvement. However:

  1. I’m done editing for perspective. I’ve got 16 solid chapters told from 3 points of view.
  2. I’m revamping the story arc. Things I thought should happen 3 years ago when I drafted this are no longer as relevant. There is some time being spent on research, and some on simple dreaming. “What should she do?” “Where should he go?” This is the most fun part of writing a novel — the magic.
  3. I’ve got 165 pages. That’s not too shabby.
  4. I’m using new tools that are fun. For anyone interested in writing a novel, a few things I’d recommend
  • 30/30 timer. This came as a suggestion from my friend Susan, also a novelist. This iphone app will let you set certain time goals. It is free. (Also, a kitchen timer works.) Let’s cut to the chase: writing a novel is 90% about keeping your butt in the chair and 10% about inspiration. My goal is 60 minutes of writing (no editing, Internet, etc) first thing in the morning with a pot of French press. It is when my mind is most creative and at its sharpest.
  • Scrivener. The best way to organize a novel I’ve found. I love this program.
  • Mariner’s Persona. I haven’t yet purchased this, but my super smart friend Kevin recommends it. Something to consider.

There is something other-worldly about finding your writing groove. When you’re in the zone, hours fly by and you don’t need timers or encouragement or expensive apps. And then you get a little too confident, tell yourself you should take a day/week/month away to “brainstorm,” and when your lazy ego finds her way back, it takes forever to return to the rhythm.

I’m getting closer.

Back to it,


Word Count Wednesday

Dream Mexico Journal

23,200 words completed on novel 2 in the current draft, with about 10,000 more to be edited and added. Internets, hold my feet to the fire. I need to be adding 10-15,000 words a week to meet my April deadline for Novel 2.

The story is there, it’s just… My focus has been on other things. Christmas, traveling, Twitter. Pick your distraction and I will make it my new favorite way to pass time. Further motivation, I read about authors who publish a book each year and I wonder what I’m doing cruising TMZ.

Time to cut out the chatter and get my butt in gear.




On Writing: Persistence

What's at the end of your rainbow?

I have had several inquiries from friends and family in the last month.

“So, is this next book ever going to be done?”

Yes, but not quickly. Or easily. Novel #2 was 60% completed when I realized the perspective was wonky. This is one of several growth points taken from “Under the Same Moon.”  I am rewriting, chapter by chapter.

You know — when you practice, you get better. Novel #2 will be stronger than novel #1 — but this requires buckets of humbling work. I’m taking classes, reading books and editing. (Nothing is so painful as cutting away pages you think are clever, but recognize as unnecessary.)

One of the classes I’m taking includes reading short stories of well-known authors. This week we read Amy Bloom’s, “A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.”

She writes, “Sophisticated readers understand that writers work out their anger, their conflicts, their endless grief and rolling list of loss, through their stories. That however mean-spirited or diabolical, it’s only a story. That the darkness in the soul is shaped into type and lies there, brooding and inert, black on the page, and active, dangerous, only in the reader’s mind. Actually harmless. I am not harmless.”

I started writing Novel #2 in 2008 when I was newly running a non-profit for the first time and dating difficult man. Several of the themes from the story come from that period of my life — which was severely lacking in grace. The last four years have provided space from that painful time; I have to dig deep to get to the emotions that were once written across my face. This is fantastic for today’s happiness, my current relationship, etc. — and difficult for writing. You’ve got to relive the anger, conflict and grief that inspired the story. Similarly, the disappointments of working in Mozambique inspired novel #1.

I’d guess most writers use their art as therapy; God knows many of the writers in my varied writing groups are rehashing previous life experiences under the guise of fiction.

To be clear: that is not what I’m doing with Novel #2. But, life is the best source of material. Any author who tells you otherwise is a liar. Real life folks inspire characters. Horrible news clips give creative plot points. Trying emotional times provide the necessary drama to get a story moving.

What's at the end of your rainbow?

One quote in particular rang true at the end of the piece:

“I have made the best and happiest ending that I can in this world, made it out of the flax and netting and leftover trim of someone else’s life, I know, but made it to keep the innocent safe and the guilty punished, and I have made it as the world should be and not as I have found it.”

That’s the joy of writing — making the world as it should be, not as I found it.

The goal is to have Novel #2 ready for final edits by December 31st. To make that happen, I’ve got quite a bit of re-writing to do. Thank you for all of your kind words and encouragement.

That pot of gold? The very best novel I could have written. Not grimacing when someone says they purchased my book. A series of signings where I hand a copy of this story to those same friends and family knowing this time they won’t be returned with editing remarks.

Back to work,