Cover Art

I don’t usually like to write posts that have no purpose other than to promote things I’m doing, even though I suppose that’s kind of the point of having an author website. Keeping that in mind, I’m very excited to share the cover of my second novel, The River Is Everywhere, which will be published in March by Vine Leaves Press.

A friend and fellow author told me that the cover was “me” when she saw it, which made me laugh because it’s kind of dark and moody, and a little mysterious. I’m definitely prone to the first two, and maybe the third, but I don’t think I’m the best judge of that.

Anyway, I think the cover is perfect. The folks at Vine Leaves did a great job taking the ideas I sent them and creating something that really conveys the mood of the book, and, I guess, me.

I’ll post updates about The River Is Everywhere as I get them. Thanks again to everyone who follows this blog, and to all the people who have helped the book along its journey to becoming a real, tangible thing.

ENP

The Sound of Silence

I don’t like loud or repetitive noises. In fact, a lot of sounds bother me, regardless of their volume. I especially dislike electronic devices, household appliances, and toys that beep, buzz, or talk unnecessarily. I have disabled the sound-making capability of just about everything in my house that I can. I mute videos on social media. I’m one of the few people I know who can sit in the car for hours without the radio on without even noticing that it’s been turned off.

When my daughter was a toddler, I took the batteries out of her talking Cookie Monster toy and told her it was broken. I still feel kind of badly about it, but I was a stay-at-home mom who was often alone twelve or more hours a day while my husband was at work. It was either a quiet Cookie or a nervous breakdown.

I even removed the whistle from our tea kettle, which drives my husband crazy. “How am I supposed to know when it’s boiling?” he asked. “When a lot of steam comes out of the spout,” I said. “You just have to watch it.”

I’ve always been this way. A couple of years back, I learned that there’s a name for my supersenstivity to sounds, an issue I also have with bright lights (I’ll save this for another post): sensory processing sensitivity or SPS.

Sensory processing sensitivity is an inherited trait, just like being tall or having blonde hair. People who have SPS are born with hypersensitive nervous systems. SPS is one of the traits common among highly sensitive people, of which I am one.

One of the most problematic issues my SPS causes is an aversion to the sound of my own voice. I don’t usually notice it if I’m having a conversation with someone because most of the time I’m concentrating on what the other person is saying. But I have a real problem with things like public speaking and reading aloud.

When I was in school, the issue was most noticeable in my foreign language classes. I always did well on written exams and homework, but could hardly ever bring myself to say anything out loud. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to effectively learn to speak French even though I’d really like to.

My second novel, The River Is Everywhere, will be published this March. Among the things I need to do to market the book is plan author readings at bookstores and libraries, events that will require me to both engage in public speaking and read aloud. Although I know how important these types of events are, I’m dreading having to do them.

I’ve asked other authors I know for advice regarding this, and most of them have told me the best thing I can do is practice reading aloud from the book, and keep in mind that anyone who comes to a reading is there because they want to hear what I have to say. This makes a lot of sense, but I know it won’t be easy. Still, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Until then, I’m going to enjoy living and working in my quiet house.

ENP

Traveling Along the River

On August 4, I lost my friend Mario to cancer. He was the third friend of mine to die of the disease this year. His death wasn’t unexpected. He was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer in July 2021, and the last time I saw him, this past April at another friend’s funeral, I barely recognized him. Still, Mario was one of those larger-than-life people you can’t imagine not being in the world.

Without meaning to, Mario became the center of attention in any room he walked into. He was intelligent, talented, had dozens of friends, and a heart big enough to make Santa Claus jealous. I met Mario more than 30 years ago, when I was 18, when we were both freshman in college—kids. We didn’t see each other all the time, but it’s still hard for me to imagine my life as an adult without him in it.

I was in the middle of working on developmental edits for my second novel, The River Is Everywhere, when Mario died. (The book will be released in March 2023 by Vine Leaves Press.) Before sitting down to work on it near the end of July, it had been more than a year since I’d looked at the manuscript. The book’s main character, Ernest, is a 16-year-old high school student who loses his best friend in an accident. He spends much of the story trying to make sense of his friend’s death.

I wrote the book years ago, before any of my friends had cancer, before I could have imagined any of them ever meeting such terrible fates. And yet, when I was re-reading the manuscript, I found myself drawn into Ernest’s world: Here was someone who was dealing with the some of same feelings that I was. The fact that I had made Ernest and his story up didn’t seem to matter at all.

As hard as it was at times to motivate myself to get my butt in the chair, working on the book helped me begin to heal from the loss of my friends in ways I hadn’t expected. At its heart, the novel is a coming-of-age tale and adventure story. When I wrote it, helping readers deal with loss and grief wasn’t one of my intentions.

I suppose that’s one of the things that makes art so important: Often, it’s much more powerful and meaningful than it appears on the surface.

This experience has made me hope that someday The River Is Everywhere might help someone else in the same way it’s helped me.

ENP

Hotter than Georgia Asphalt

Released in August 1990, Wild at Heart, directed by David Lynch, is the only film I’ve paid to watch twice. I went to the theater to see it the week it came out, the summer after my freshman year of college, with my then boyfriend. I was so amazed by it that I went back and watched it again the next day by myself. Since then, the film has remained among my top 10 favorites. I’ve watched it dozens of times on DVD.

Based on a novel by the same name by American writer Barry Gifford, Wild at Heart won the Palm d’Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, the event’s most coveted and prestigious prize. It features an all-star cast including Laura Dern, Nicolas Cage, Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, Crispin Glover, Isabella Rossellini, and Willem Dafoe.

Part coming-of-age story, part road movie, part crime drama, and part morality tale, Wild at Heart glamorizes and celebrates the underbelly of the American South in fluorescent fashion. It rivals a Bosch painting in its surreal and often grotesque depictions of everyday life, especially when it comes to the meaner things.

The film is chock full of hot, gratuitous sex and features several violent, blood-soaked scenes, some of which are steeped in a sort of grim humor. It’s populated by the larger-than-life oddball characters Lynch is known for: A Voodoo priestess who wears a leg brace and walks with a cane; scores of little people; pyromaniacs; a prostitute harboring an impressive hoard of assault weapons; grossly obese porn stars; and a mysterious organized crime boss named Mr. Reindeer who never seems to get off the toilet.

Dafoe plays Bobby Peru, an unhinged ex-Marine and Vietnam vet who is far and away one of the most disturbing characters ever captured on film. And although he’s only in one scene, Glover’s character, Dale, a mentally challenged young man who believes he’s being controlled by aliens, provides one of the movie’s more memorable highlights.

The story begins in Cape Fear, North Carolina, when one of its lead characters, Sailor Ripley, played by Cage, kills a hit man hired by his girlfriend’s mother, Marietta (played by Ladd), in self-defense. After being incarcerated for nearly two years, Sailor is picked up at the prison gate by girlfriend, Lula, played by Dern. Within 24 hours, the pair embarks on a cross-country joy ride headed for “sunny California” in an effort to escape Marietta’s meddling.

At first, it seems that Sailor and Lula will make it as they joyfully race along deserted highways and sunbaked backroads, making a steamy pitstop in bawdy New Orleans. But as they travel through Texas, things take a turn for the worse. They begin to run low on cash, come across a grisly car wreck, and eventually get stuck in down-and-out Big Tuna, where Sailor gets tangled up in a botched bank heist. The spirits of Elvis and The Wizard of Oz loom over all of it like omnipresent but indifferent gods. Occasionally, one of them rears its head unexpectedly, such as in one implausible but fantastic scene where Sailor sings Love Me to Lula on the dance floor of a crowded rock club.

After not having seen Wild at Heart for more than 10 years, I recently re-watched it. More than 30 years after the first time I’d seen it, I wondered whether the elements of the film that had appealed to me as a 19-year-old would still hold true.

I’m happy to say that the film is every bit as wild and bizarre as I remembered it.

Check it out if you have access to Vudu or Apple TV.

ENP

Black Tower

Old friends and old wine are best. —German Proverb

I’ve been fortunate to have many good friends throughout my life. Memories of wild parties, road trips, quiet conversations, long hikes in the woods, and afternoon barbecues that lasted into the night help me cope when life gets difficult. Friends have steadied the ladders I’ve had to climb in order to grow and evolve as a person. They’ve made me laugh when I thought nothing in the world was funny, and have sometimes been the mirror I needed in order to see my true self.

Most of the time, I don’t think about the innumerable ways my life is interconnected with the lives of my friends. Like most people who have careers and families, much of my time is spent trying to keep up with my work schedule and make sure the bills get paid. All too often, there’s little time left in the day for my husband or myself, never mind anyone else.

An old friend of mine died recently. Annette’s death was sudden and unexpected, an immeasurable loss that no one who knew her was prepared to face. She was one of the most giving, selfless people I’ve had the pleasure to know, who never failed to offer words of encouragement to anyone who needed them. She was never afraid to stand up for herself or give someone an honest opinion, even if she knew they wouldn’t like it.

Mainstream media outlets have published several articles recently offering tips, and even step-by-step instructions, on how to make friends. People hire friendship coaches to help them figure out how to start conversations at social gatherings. If you type “making friends” into the search bar on YouTube you get several hundred results.

You can also download free friend-making apps to your phone. Applications like Bumble, Friended, and Wink help users meet likeminded people, and guide them through potentially awkward social situations.

Maybe the reason all this is necessary has something to do with COVID-19. Or perhaps it’s because most people younger than 40 grew up interacting with other human beings online rather than in person. It could also be due to the fact that contemporary American culture values individualism so strongly, effectively causing many of us to compartmentalize our lives whether we mean to or not.

Annette and I met at a party when we were in our mid-twenties. She had recently started dating a college friend of my soon-to-be-husband’s and mine. On a warm spring afternoon a few weeks later, we invited them to our apartment.

Annette and I dragged a pair of plastic lounge chairs onto the lawn of our building. We polished off an economy-size bottle of Black Tower riesling, got terrible sunburns, dished up dirt, and laughed all afternoon. It’s a day that stands out in my memory as one of the best. Even though it was decades ago, it seems like it could have been yesterday.

Our children grew up together. I never thought twice about digging through the drawers in Annette’s kitchen to look for a spatula or a Ziplock bag. Although we saw each other less often as we got older and busier, our families always got together around the holidays. One Christmas several years ago, Annette gave me an ornament made from a Black Tower wine label. It still makes me smile every year when I hang it on our tree.

In the days that followed Annette’s passing, I texted or called several of our mutual friends, many of them people I hadn’t seen or talked to in years. Although the reason I got in touch was to let them know what had happened, over the course of our conversations we updated one another about our lives, made lunch plans, and swapped photographs of our kids, pets, and vegetable gardens.

My husband and I stayed up half the night thumbing through old photo albums, looking for pictures to post on Annette’s memorial website. Looking at photographs of our younger selves, together with our friends, made me realize that a hole had opened up in our lives, one that used to be full the hugs, laughter, and steadfast support of people we loved. Over time, we’d become so wrapped up in our everyday existence that we had let that well run dry.

The first tip given by an article on WikiHow titled Easy Ways to Make Friends is, “Make yourself available. If you want to make friends, you first need to put yourself out there.”

Annette’s memorial service was on a Saturday. In order to attend, my husband and I had to cancel a weekend trip we’d planned to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It was disappointing, and heartbreakingly sad. But as soon as we entered the funeral home, our old friends greeted us with open arms.

In May 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech in New York City in support of the Red Cross. It was less than a year after the U.S. had entered World War I and at the onset of the Spanish flu pandemic. In it he said, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

True friendship has the power to heal. Whether we make friends at parties, on Facebook, or with the help of an app, more than a hundred years later Wilson’s words hold true, perhaps now more than ever.

ENP

Curveballs

Like most responsible adults, my husband and work all week, pay our bills on time, and strive to take good take care of our family, pets, car, and house. Although we’re often busy, we’re lucky to have a good life (knock on wood). I’m grateful for everything we have and for all the things we’ve accomplished.

I’m not the type of person who usually complains, but the past couple of months have felt like one long workweek. It’s been nearly impossible for us to get a break from our responsibilities, even on weekends.

Dating back to the middle of February, every time my husband and I made plans to do something we wanted to do, something else would come up, giving us no choice but to cancel and deal with whatever issue had reared its head.

It started with our bathroom renovation. Our contractors wanted to work on weekends in order to get the job done faster. This isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t something we’d anticipated. In order to be home we had to cancel hiking trips we had planned two weeks in a row.

Soon after that, our adult daughter, who is in her early 20s, came home one afternoon and announced that she’d just bought a condo. We were very happy for her, and proud that she’d done it all on her own. Instead of cross country skiing, we spent the following weekend helping her pack up her belongings. The weekend after that, we had planned to snowshoe in the White Mountains. We traded our snowshoes for a rented van and helped her move everything into to her new place.

The weekend after our daughter moved, we had to do our taxes. Because I’m a self-employed writer, this is always an arduous, stressful chore, even with the help of expensive software. Happily, we discovered that we were getting a refund.

We booked a weekend getaway for early April to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

A few days before our trip, a close friend of ours died unexpectedly. Her funeral was planned for the following Saturday. I called the hotel where we had made reservations and asked if we could move our stay up a week. The person I spoke to said we could, but the nightly rate would be more than triple the amount we had originally booked due to it being school vacation week. I cancelled the reservation.

With the exception of 2020, we’ve hosted Easter dinner at our house every year for nearly two decades. We spent the Friday and Saturday before Easter shopping, cleaning the house, planting flowers, coloring eggs, cooking, and driving around to various stores looking for sidewalk chalk to entertain our boredom-prone younger guests.

The day after Easter, I cleaned the house again in between replying to work emails and running errands I didn’t get to on the weekend.

Beginning this Thursday, we have a reservation at a condominium in the Berkshires for four nights. We plan to hike Mount Greylock and the Ice Glen. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner, and cook brunch one day after sleeping in. We might wander around Stockbridge, or visit one of the area’s great museums. And if someone calls, I won’t be answering my phone.

ENP

Moving Mountains


Women who are strong and brave enough to challenge convention have always fascinated me. Whatever their motivation in refusing to adhere to the status quo, women like Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Julia Child and Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, an African American physician who was among the scientists to pioneer chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer, all helped change the world and the way the world views women.

In honor of March being Women’s History Month and because I love hiking and mountains I wanted to write a post about one of my favorite female pioneers, Miriam O’Brien Underhill.

A New England native, Miriam was born in Lisbon, New Hampshire, in July 1898 and grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. At a time when few women attended college, she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1920. She completed graduate work in physics at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in 1925. After leaving Johns Hopkins, Miriam began a career in medical research at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.

As impressive as this is, it’s not what Miriam is known for. Although she died in 1976, Miriam O’Brien Underhill is still considered by many to be one of the most gifted mountaineers of all time.

Most of Miriam’s early climbs were in the Alps, where she was among the first group of people to climb several challenging peaks beginning in 1926. These include the 11,184-foot Aiguille de Roc in Chamonix, France, and the triple-peaked Torre Grande in the Italian Dolomites, where the route she climbed is named Via Miriam in her honor. She is perhaps best known, though, for being the first woman to climb mountains “manless.”

After several years of climbing with male friends and guides, Miriam decided that in order to truly develop her skills as a climber and leader she would have to undertake some difficult ascents without any men present. She did this beginning in 1929, when she traversed the double peaks of the Aiguille du Grepon in Chamonix with French climber and friend Alice Damesme. Miriam’s other female-only climbs would include the Monch and Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps in 1931, and the 14,692 ft. Matterhorn in the Swiss and Italian Alps in 1932.

In 1933, Miriam married fellow mountaineer and Harvard University professor Robert L.M. Underhill, who became her climbing partner for the rest of her life. They raised two sons, Robert and Brian, born in 1936 and 1939, and made several more first ascents, this time of mountains in the American West, including peaks in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range and Montana’s Mission, Beartooth and Swan ranges. Most of these climbs were made without the aid of cut trails, maps, or guides, as there were none.

In addition to climbing, Miriam was also a prolific writer and talented photographer, contributing several articles to National Geographic magazine and serving as editor of Appalachia, the journal of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), for six years. Her autobiography, Give Me the Hills, was published in London in 1956 by Methuen & Co. Publishing, and was released in the U.S. by The Chatham Press in 1971.

A scientist by training, Miriam never lost her curiosity. During her climbs, she discovered numerous new species of alpine wildflowers. Several of her photographs illustrate the AMC Field Guide to Mountain Flowers of New England, published by the AMC in 1964.

When Robert Underhill retired, he and Miriam moved to Randolph, New Hampshire, where they were among the first people to climb all of the White Mountains’ 4,000-footers (46 of them were known at the time). They helped establish the AMC’s Four Thousand Footer Club after reading a 1931 Appalachia article by Dartmouth College librarian Nathaniel Goodrich, who described a similar practice by European climbers in the Alps.

When Robert was in his early 70s and Miriam in her early 60s, they became the first people to climb all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers during the winter, an undertaking that Miriam felt was more “sporting” than climbing them in the summertime due to freezing temperatures and deep snow.

During the late 1950s, when they were making their winter climbs, few roads in the White Mountains were plowed, adding many additional miles to their hikes and often requiring the couple to camp overnight. The Underhills completed the winter 4,000-footers on Mount Jefferson on Dec. 31, 1960. The temperature was minus 18 F and the wind speed was 72 mph.

The next time you’re out on the trail, raise your water bottle in a toast to Miriam.

ENP

Note: A version of this essay appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine.

Just Do It

I’ve always been a procrastinator when it comes to getting certain things done. Without going into my bad habit of putting off writing assignments (this could be a post in itself), a lot of the things I tend to push off until “later” are things I actually want done, and that I know will improve my quality of life once they are completed.

Take our upstairs bathroom, for example. It desperately needed an overhaul when we moved into our house a little more than nine years ago. The bathtub didn’t drain they way it was supposed to, resulting in our having to shower in ankle-deep water. The heater didn’t work, and the toilet was so old that we had to teach guests a “technique” for flushing it. At some point in the 1990s, the previous homeowner had installed a cheap vanity with a plastic sink that over time had become horribly stained and was impossible to clean. The porcelain finish had mostly worn off of the cast iron bathtub, which made it look dirty all the time too.

But la pièce de résistance was that fact that the mixing valve that controlled the water temperature in the shower was slowly dying. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we got hot water. Occasionally, it was kind of warm. But more often that not, the water would turn ice cold after a few minutes and stay that way.

Incredibly enough, I put up with this for more than nine years. We had the money to hire someone to renovate the bathroom, but it took me until last month to actually do it.

All week, I’ve been sitting in my office listening to contractors banging and sawing, which has motivated me to think about why I put things off.

I’ve always had issues with change. I like the things in my life to be consistent. (Besides my husband, I’m the only person I know who insists on using the same pen until it runs out of ink.) It seems irrational, but the very thought of not having a usable bathroom for a few weeks and dealing with the mess, noise, and strangers traipsing in and out of the house gave me so much anxiety that taking cold showers felt like a better alternative.

Now that the work is actually being done, I’ve been trying to focus on how great it will be to have a shiny new bathroom with working fixtures and functional plumbing, but it’s still hard. I’ve been on edge since they removed the first ugly beige tile.

Believe it or not, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would have been better if I’d taken care of the bathroom a lot sooner. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, the painful part would be over, not to mention that it would have saved all of us a lot of aggravation.

With that in mind, I’ve resolved to take care of a whole list of other things that need to be done as soon as I can. Our house needs to be painted. Our passports expire next month, the cats need their vaccinations, and there are still boxes of God-knows-what sitting in our basement that I’ve been meaning to go through since we moved in.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the satisfying feeling I’ll have when I’ve gotten these things done will motivate me to stop putting things off in the future, but I think that might be a long shot. In any case, wish me luck.

ENP

Every Idle Hour

My mother took every opportunity she could to complain about winter. She hated the cold, snow, and the short days we experience here in New England so much that her negativity spilled over into autumn. She could never understand why anyone would get excited about the foliage changing from green to red or would look forward to a crackling fire on a fall evening when these things meant ice and darkness were lurking around the corner.

I’ve always liked winter, though. During the rest of the year, I often long for the stillness the season brings. I love staring out the picture window in our living room when it snows, watching the swirling white flakes pile up and form drifts in the wind.

I never learned how to ski and I’m a subpar ice skater, but my husband and I hike frequently in the wintertime. The first time I remember experiencing complete silence was a few years ago, on a trail coming off of Hedgehog Mountain in New Hampshire. We paused to look at some animal tracks and when the crunching of our snowshoes stopped, we heard nothing but the sound of our own breathing: no cars, no airplanes, no people, no wind. It was one of the best moments of my life.

Nothing makes me feel more alive than the cold air on my face while I’m walking among the bare bones of the trees. I love cuddling up to my husband between our fluffy flannel sheets, cozy and warm as the temperature drops below zero outside. Rarely do I feel more privileged than when I’m the first being to make tracks across a snow-covered landscape. I like wearing sweaters and knit hats and wool long underwear. Few things are more spectacular than the pink-and-orange glow of a winter sunset.

Winter allows me the space and time to think, work, rest, and recharge. As the snow falls, I’m working to finish two book manuscripts that have been sitting on my hard drive since before the COVID-19 pandemic started, when concentrating on anything became nearly impossible.

If you’re anything like my mother, don’t let the cold get you down. If you let it, this enchanted season can warm your heart and bones.

ENP

NOTE: If you were a fan of my Living Madly column in Merrimack Valley Magazine, which ceased publication as of December 2021, you’ll be happy to know that I’ll still be writing the column. Beginning on January 20, 2022, Living Madly will be published the third Thursday of each month on RichardHowe.com.

Let There Be Light

By the time December rolls around in New England, where I live, the days are just a scant nine hours long. Although I’ve lived here my entire life, the prolonged hours of darkness are always hard to get used to. Dawn doesn’t break until 7 a.m. The shadow of the yew tree outside my office window starts growing long around 3:15, with the sun setting completely by 4.

I often have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. And even though we live in an era when we can shine light anywhere we want at any time, the shortened days make it difficult for me to get work done. I’ve barely digested my lunch by the time dusk begins to fall but the gathering darkness always makes me lose my motivation.

This time of year, I sometimes think about another December day, many years ago when I was 17. I was driving down a residential street in the Boston suburb where I grew up. It was late afternoon. The sun had begun to set, and the holiday lights strewn around people’s shrubs and trees were flickering to life.

At that moment, for the first time in my life, I understood why the lights were there. They had nothing to do with Christmas or Hanukah or any other early winter holiday, not really. People spent hours stringing colored lights around their homes and yards, willingly jacking up their electric bills, to ward off the darkness.

Our ongoing quest to illuminate December’s long nights is ancient and universal. More than anything else, we are creatures of the light.

People around the world have celebrated the returning of the sun on the winter solstice for millennia. Stone circles in Ireland, Wales, Britain, and Scotland are aligned to capture the first of the sun’s rays on the northern hemisphere’s shortest day.

On the solstice, the ancient Romans celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture, with the feast of Saturnalia, a term that even today remains synonymous with debauched partying.

These days, our winter solstice celebrations live on in often unexpected ways. On December 13, people in northern Europe celebrate Saint Lucia Day. Marking the beginning of the Christmas season, processions of young women wear wreaths of candles on their heads, lighting the way through winter’s darkness.

The Dongzhi Festival, celebrated on the winter solstice in China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, marks the return of proper balance to the world along with the sun’s yang energy.

I’m also anticipating the return of the light. Luckily, I’ll only have to wait a few more weeks. In the meantime, I’ll end my workdays early and enjoy my family by the glow of our Christmas tree and the electric candles brightening the windows in our old house.

Happy solstice and blessed holidays.

ENP