Dear Readers,

It seems astonishing to me that five months have passed since I last posted here. Where has the time gone? The only theory I can come up with that makes any sense at all is that I was abducted by aliens, taken on a brief tour of the universe, and plunked back down in front of my computer none the wiser.

No kidding, I know we all complain about the accelerated pace of our lives, but this isn't funny anymore. Everyone I know is in a panic over the imminence of the holidays. (But then, don't we panic every year?) I suppose the late Thanksgiving was to blame, and the summer that lingered right into November here in New England--but still. Cards aren't sent! Shopping's not done! Cookies aren't baked! Tell me I'm not alone in my hysteria!

(Martha Stewart, if you're surfing this web page, e-mail me. I need some tips, and fast.)

CAT TALK (dog lovers can skip the next several paragraphs and go directly to "Book Talk" below): the news on the feline front is that despite the addition of Tiki to the household roster, I missed my old cat Rama dreadfully. Tiki was all grown up when we adopted her and is--how can I put this?--a tad too affectionate. She loves to curl up on our laps. She loves to be petted. She comes when she's called. She'd rather have love than food. She gives cats a bad name!

I wanted a cat who was fearless, arrogant, independent and a sloppy eater. In short, I wanted a male. So in August my husband located a breeder who had Korat kittens available and (I'm not making this up) we drove half way down the east coast of the United States to get a kitten who we were certain would look and act like our old cat.

Silly us. "Tommy" (short for Tham Boon, a Thai name meaning "toasted almonds"--okay, that part I'm making up) is feisty, but hardly fearless. Not exactly humble, but a far cry from arrogant. And even more cuddly than female Tiki. But! He IS a sloppy eater. (Hey, one out of four's not bad. )

We've bonded to both cats, not because they remind us of our dear old Rama, but because they are absolutely adorable in and of themselves. And we've learned a lesson in life: accept God's creatures on their own terms, and you'll be richly rewarded.

BOOK TALK: although I said I'd found a location for the next book, I ended up putting my notes and photos into a file for sometime in the future. It was simply too huge a project to be dealt with now. I've always wanted to write a big, fat, historical saga again. Maybe this will be that book. Someday.

But for now, I'm writing what I love best: the story of a family in a small New England town whose apparently happy lives are turned upside-down by someone determined to get to the bottom of an unsolved crime. No title yet. If anyone has any brilliant ideas, just e-mail 'em to me. I'm awful at titles.

My editor, on the other hand, is pretty good at them. She's the one who came up with the title A CHARMED PLACE (May, 1998, ISBN 0312-96597-4). The cover is wonderful, by the same artist who did Nora Robert's "Sanctuary" and LaVyrle Spencer's "That Camden Summer." Look for a winding lane ending at a gray- shingled cottage by the sea, and a white picket fence overflowing with roses in the foreground. On the back you'll find the lighthouse that's as much a part of the story as the characters themselves.

The people who've read the manuscript of A CHARMED PLACE seem to agree: it's the book that everyone's been waiting for from me. Will you all feel the same? I guess I'll find out in May. (Am I nervous? Does McDonald's have arches?)

Anyway, the beachfront cottage in A CHARMED PLACE is all shuttered up for the winter. Our thoughts at the moment are of Christmas puddings and crackling fires and I, for one, am relishing them.

I want to wish each and every one of you a wonderful and joyous (and not too harried) holiday season. If things get a little too crazy, sit down, have a cup of tea, pet the cat, play with the baby, call your mom, watch an old movie with your husband. The rest of it isn't as critical as you think. The season is about love and remembrance and, above all else, the joy that comes with peace.

I wish you lots of both.


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