For a long time--after I'd broken out into bestsellerdom-- when I was doing press interviews and the reporter would invariably ask the question, "What's your favorite book out of all you've ever written," I would reply with my usual line about loving them all, or not being able to pick a favorite, or that it was whatever I was writing at the time.
Lies, lies, lies...all told because I felt the need to toe the publicity line. But one day, I gave myself permission to start telling the truth, and I've been telling it ever since.
Yes, I love all my books, but I do have a favorite.
IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS is my all-time favorite of all the books I've ever published, and--drumroll, please--it's just made its digital debut today! If you've never read it, you can order a copy in e-book or print format here.
So why, you ask, is this my favorite book?
Okay, here's the story. It's kind of a long one. But it has a really, REALLY happy ending. I promise. Read this blog entry and comment below; one of the commenters will be randomly selected to receive an autographed copy.
I've told you many times that my mom, Francella Corsi, was my biggest fan, the wind beneath my wings, the person who told a little girl who wanted to become a writer that anything was possible.
I lost her to breast cancer in May of 2005, just after her 63rd birthday and Mother’s Day.
I was devastated.Throughout my career, I had managed to get past whatever was thrown at me. Nothing was impossible.
Finish writing a book two days after giving birth to my first child? No problem.
Finish writing the upbeat chick lit novel and thriller—both due to two different publishers--within a few months of my mom’s passing? That suddenly seemed impossible. In the wake of my loss, I was unable to focus. Instead of working, I ran away from home.
Well, not really.
I took my husband and my sons with me, and escaped. We traveled a solid two months that summer, meandering from place to place as I struggled to get over my loss so that I could get back to work. Even Disney World—the happiest place on earth—couldn’t make it entirely better, but it helped.
Back at home, I struggled again to finish the chick lit novel. I managed to do it, but then, instead of turning my attention to my other deadline, I felt compelled to write a proposal that I knew would be a difficult sell.
It was a whimsical Christmas time travel love story with a couple of twists and a sprinkling of seasonal magic. The heroine, Clara, lives in present-day Manhattan, where she’s an actress filming a movie based on a real life story of a small town (longtime readers will recognize my fictional Glenhaven Park, NY) that sacrificed a large group of young soldiers who lost their lives together on D-Day. The movie is meant to be Clara’s breakthrough role as the love interest of Jed Landry, one of the doomed World War II heroes. As the story opens, Clara has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, but her prognosis is positive…thanks to the miracles of modern medicine.
Then, during location filming, she finds herself transported back to Glenhaven Park in early December, 1941, where chemotherapy is nonexistent--and Jed Landry is still very much alive. For now, anyway. Clara alone knows that Pearl Harbor is about to be attacked and that Jed won’t survive the looming war. She also knows that if she stays in 1941, she won’t survive her own illness. But she and Jed are falling in love…how can she leave him behind?
Cool premise, right? I thought so. My agent did, too—but assured me that it would be a difficult or perhaps impossible sell. Why?
Because Clara had breast cancer. The conventional view in the publishing industry is that breast cancer is too depressing—who wants to read about that?
I assured my agent that the book wasn’t depressing, it was uplifting. Clara’s character was inspired by my mom’s stalwart hope in the face of adversity. My agent was dubious—and surprised by my attitude.
She knew me well enough to realize that I am too commercial and too busy a writer to waste my time on something that isn’t a sure thing. I was supposed to be writing a thriller that was already overdue, and I had never blown a deadline in my career.
What the heck was I doing?
I wondered the same thing myself.
But I listened to my instincts. IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS was a book that I just had to write—even if only for me. I didn’t realize it then, but writing isn’t just my passion or my job. It’s also my way of working through the emotions that come with life’s tribulations.
I sent the proposal—the first three chapters and an outline--to my agent just before Christmas. She wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. Nothing had changed in the past couple of months; no one was lining up to buy books about heroines who had breast cancer.
Not only that, but she reminded me that business was all but completed for the month—the year, really. Most publishing houses close down the week between Christmas and New Year’s; no editor would consider it until January.
“I know,” I said, “but submit it anyway.”
Really, I was physically and emotionally spent. I had been possessed by that story I felt compelled to tell, and now that I had purged myself of it, I just wanted it off my plate.
After the New Year, I told myself, I would get back down to business and write what I was supposed to be writing.
The next day, I flew with my husband and sons up to my hometown to stay with my dad, Reg, and, along with my siblings and their families, face our first Christmas without my mom.
It had always been a storybook holiday in our house, a Queen Anne Victorian that was thoroughly decorated with my mom’s impeccable style—twinkling white lights indoor and out, boxwood garlands, splashes of red ribbon, and a tree full of ornaments we’d collected for four decades.
My parents shopped tirelessly for the perfect gifts and my mom wrapped them all exquisitely and heaped them under the tree. There was an incessant holiday soundtrack playing in the background, courtesy of my parents’ massive collection of Christmas albums and CDs: Doris Day, Elvis, Perry Como, the Vienna Boys' Choir...
Friends and family were welcome to stop by at all hours of the day and night, and they did. My mom was always ready to entertain, pulling out of old-fashioned Christmas cookies to serve with hot chocolate or coffee laced with Bailey’s and a dollop of real whipped cream. She and my father even had their own signature holiday cocktail modeled after the famous Tom and Jerry they loved to order at Schwabl’s in Buffalo. The ladled their version into glass cups from the cut glass punch bowl and called it the “Reg and Franny.”
When I look back at the Christmases before that dreaded year, 2005, it all seems too good to be true, glittering in fairy dust—but it was true. Maybe the fairy dust was the good old-fashioned western New York snow that fell gently or whirled madly, inevitably coating December in sugary white. But that house at Christmas was the happiest place on earth, a dazzling Christmas Past right out of Charles Dickens, and at the heart of it all, my parents were the holly jolly Fezziwigs. That’s what we all called them when the season rolled around and they wholeheartedly threw themselves into merrymaking.
When we got to town in the middle of a bleak afternoon, my dad was at work. I was touched to see that he had, with my brother’s help, put up the white twinkle lights and the tree and some of the decorations. But there were no homemade cookies, and Mom’s joyful spirit that always embodied the holidays was gone. Never again would there be a perfect gift chosen just for me out of maternal love.
But I was raised by a woman who believed in the impossible, and she taught me to believe in it, too. She raised me to believe that Christmas is a season of miracles.
Minutes after I arrived, my cell phone rang.
It was my agent. “Are you sitting down?”
“One of the editors I sent your proposal to actually already read it this morning. She loved it, and she tracked down her boss, who already left for the holidays, so that she could make you an offer.”
“They want the book?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yes, on one condition, and I’m not sure it’s possible—they want you to write the whole thing by the end of January so that they can publish it next December.”
Was it impossible to write an entire book—a time travel that demanded extensive research into another era--in four weeks?
What do you think?
IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS was released the following Christmas to a barrage of terrific reviews and even some movie interest from Hollywood that continues to this day. It did so well that the editor asked me to write a sequel, THE BEST GIFT, a few years later.
And so that first Christmas without my mom—the one I thought would be the first without a gift from her—actually turned out to be the one when I received my last, and most meaningful, gift from her. When I look back at how that book, IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS, came to be written, I know that it was my a heaven-sent gift from my mom.
That's my story. Comment below before midnight tonight and tomorrow, someone who comments will be chosen at random to win an autographed print copy of IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS. Or you can order a copy or download it here right now for your e-reader for only $2.99, along with THE BEST GIFT.