Lisa Unger's Blog

May 4, 2016

I am a long-time fan of New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.  Not just because she’s a superstar writer, but also because she’s a truly lovely and generous person.  She took time out of her crazy busy schedule to spend a week as my pen pal!  What started off as a simple Q&A turned into a really deep conversation about process, psychology, research and the supernatural. Enjoy!

When authors get together there’s no telling what they’ll wind up discussing.  When it’s acclaimed and bestselling thriller writers like Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger, you better believe they’re going dark and deep.  From nightmares that turn into novels, to how thriller writers are often metabolizing the things that frighten them on the page, from research war stories, to the conflict between science and the supernatural, this conversation took some wild, twisty roads – just like their novels.

Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger

Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger at the 2014 Key West Literary Seminar

Lisa Unger:  A couple of years ago, when I was writing FRAGILE, I ran into a character I wasn’t expecting, psychic Eloise Montgomery.  I was excited about her.  I thought: Oh! A psychic! Even if she’s a fraud, that’s still interesting.  My characters have minds of their own, so I was disappointed when she only had a small part to play in that book. But but she stayed with me.  She’s had a couple of books since then, three short stories, and in my upcoming INK AND BONE we meet her granddaughter Finley, who has powers of her own.  Eloise’s story has told itself in a way that I wouldn’t have expected, and it has led me down some roads I didn’t imagine I’d go as a writer.  Which is, of course, the joy and the magic of writing. So I was struck while reading PLAYING WITH FIRE that you, too, had walked into some of the same territory.  Was it a character, or a story, or curiosity about something else that led you there?

Tess Gerritsen:  It was a nightmare!  I was in Venice for my birthday, and after a night drinking a bit too much wine, I had a freaky dream.  I dreamt I was playing my violin. A baby was sitting nearby, and as I played a dark and disturbing melody, the baby’s eyes suddenly glowed red and she turned into a monster.  I woke up wondering what it meant — and knowing there was a story here.  Something about the power of music to haunt and to transform people.  That day I wandered around Venice and ended up in the old Jewish quarter.  There I saw memorial plaques dedicated to the Venice Jews who were deported to death camps during WWII.  That’s when both parts of the novel came to me — a story about a 1930s Jewish composer whose haunting melody will nearly destroy the life of a woman violinist 70 years later.  I’m already a violinist (strictly amateur) with a lifelong love of music, and that knowledge helped inform the musical aspects of the story.

I find that the interests and passions we’ve developed during our lives can both inform and inspire our novel writing.  Was there anything from your own life that worked its way into INK AND BONE?  Some part of yourself that slipped into the character or plot?

Lisa Unger:  I love that, that an intersection of your dream life and your waking one led you to write PLAYING WITH FIRE. It’s so true to the way the process works for me, this blend of waking, dreaming, and imagining.  The musical elements of your story are so rich and alive that I thought you must be a musician, or someone with a deep knowledge of music.  Which is where, I suppose knowledge and passion move in.

There’s some blend of all of that, as well, in INK AND BONE.  I have a fascination with the the idea of psychic phenomena in the Jungian sense, that it might be considered a natural extension of normal human ability.  In my other life in publishing, I had a chance to work with psychic John Edwards.  And I was struck both by his abilities and how normal he was, how he could just be your cousin from Long Island.  In a weird way, though this was many years ago, he was the inspiration for Eloise Montgomery.  The fictional town in which INK AND BONE is set, The Hollows, first showed up in FRAGILE, which was very loosely based on a real event from my past.  Though I didn’t see it at the time, The Hollows shares certain similarities with the place where I grew up.  So, in a lot of ways I suppose I’m dreaming on the page, the real and the imagined get twisted into fiction.

History plays a big role in INK AND BONE, the history of The Hollows and the way the energy of dark deeds has pooled up there.  For me, dark, unresolved histories always bring to mind ghosts and the haunting of the present by the past.  So it’s true with PLAYING WITH FIRE.  Obviously, your medical training has informed many of your fantastic novels, but did that doctor’s mind resist the idea of ghosts and haunting, or inform it any way?

Tess Gerritsen:  I’m afraid my science training prevents me from straying too far into the paranormal.  I always (boringly enough!) want a logical explanation for everything.  In that regard, my character Dr. Maura Isles is very much like me; we both want science to give us all the answers, and we’re bothered when it can’t. Ironically, I love reading paranormal fiction, and wish I could write it, but it’s like I have a form of writer’s block about it.  Just when I’m on the verge of crossing over into a paranormal tale, that nagging scientist in my head yanks me back.

That’s why I’m so impressed by writers who can pull it off, and so convincingly.  Your stories manage to merge the real and the spooky so perfectly, that I sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of a feverish dream when I’m reading them.  I remember racing through CRAZY LOVE YOU and my sense of reality kept shifting in different directions.  It’s as if you opened a psychic curtain and let us peek through into a universe that’s invisible to most of us.

I’m intrigued by the fact your character in INK AND BONE was inspired by your work with psychic John Edwards.  I love hearing about the research that writers must do to make their stories convincing.  In fact, research is the part I enjoy most about writing, because I can delve into new worlds.  As a writer I’ve attended autopsies, watched the CT scan of a mummy, and scouted Boston for the best places to dump a body.  I’m sure you have some interesting tales to tell as well.  What lengths have you gone to to get the details right?

Lisa Unger:  Wait! Don’t give too much away!  I’m deeply engrossed in PLAYING WITH FIRE.  Of course, I had an inkling that your scientist’s mind would resist the supernatural.  But I do sense more than a passing curiosity, Dr. Gerritsen!  Science and the supernatural are not necessarily at odds.  There is so much we don’t know about the universe and the human mind; there are more questions than answers.  I suppose I believe anything is possible, which might be why I’m willing to go into the unexplained with my characters.

I’m always amazed, in all of your books from HARVEST to GRAVITY, to the Rizzoli and Isles series at the depth of your knowledge about so many things.  Most writers are explorers. I like to think of myself as a spelunker, shimming into the dark spaces between things I don’t understand to try find answers.  So, yes, research (and life) are an important part of the process.

I’ve taken a concealed weapons course (and absolutely hated the feeling of firing a gun).  I’ve interviewed a woman who claimed to be a ghost hunter.  One of my closest friends is a retired Federal Agent who, if he doesn’t know the answers to my million questions, can always find someone who does.   I lived with a New York City police officer for eight years – okay, so that was a relationship, and a pretty bad one at that.   So lots of research there in all areas, but in the end I just wound up with a good knowledge of police work and fantastic recipe for roast pork — which I guess is something.  I’ve been lava tubing in Iceland (not sure where that’s going to turn up, but I’m guessing it will).  I spent five weeks in Prague while writing DIE FOR YOU.  Recently, I’ve become obsessed with birds.  I’m an information junkie.  I’m constantly reading non-fiction in all areas with a special focus on psychology, addiction, trauma, biology and the brain.  For me, more than the nuts and bolts of procedure, it’s human nature and the mind, and where those things intersect with nurture and spirituality, that fascinate me.  Much of INK AND BONE is laced through with those themes.

Are there themes that you find come up again and again in your novels?  Have you ever been surprised by a recurring question or idea that surfaces without your realizing it?

Tess Gerritsen:  I love your research tales!  I too hated firing a gun.  I was painfully aware that if I was the slightest bit careless and didn’t stay in control of where it was pointed, someone could die.  I also learned how difficult it is to be accurate with a handgun.  I certainly understand how cops can fire a dozen rounds — and still miss their target.

When I’m writing, I’m thinking primarily about characters and plot, and it’s only in retrospect that I understand what the theme might be.  You asked whether I’ve been surprised by recurring questions that seem to surface in my books, and the answer is: yes, absolutely.  Thriller writer David Morrell once told me that novelists often address their own childhood traumas in their books.  For instance, a writer who never felt his father loved him may write book after book about heroes trying to please authority figures.  When Morrell told me that, a light bulb went on in my head, because I realized it was true for me as well.  When I was a child, I adored a family friend named Uncle Mike, who served very much as a father figure for me.  He was a gentle soul who counseled me about school, life, and love.  Then when I turned eighteen, Uncle Mike was arrested for murdering his sister-in-law.  I was stunned because I never saw that violent side of him, and it led me to question whether anyone is who they seem to be.  That’s the theme I return to again and again — which smiling face hides the monster?  In a way, it’s a universal theme for crime writers, the evil that lurks in the hearts of seemingly ordinary human beings.

Now I’ve reached a point in my career (I’m much older than you!) where I yearn to branch out and try new things in my stories.  I feel the pressure of time, and wonder how many years do I have left to write stories that really matter to me.  Playing With Fire was a departure for me because it isn’t a crime novel, but a book about music, history, and the Holocaust.  For my readers, it was certainly unexpected, but for me as a writer, it was immensely satisfying to write.  I would also love to write more screenplays (we’re in production now with my indie horror film “Island Zero”) as well as try my hand at young adult novels.  Most writers have a secret “book of their heart” they’d like to write.  Do you ever plan to divert from crime novels?  Are there any projects that no one’s expecting from you, but that you’re itching to write?

Lisa Unger:   I felt exactly the same way holding a gun.  I was awed by the experience, the terrible responsibility, the potential to do the ultimate harm.  I was aware already from my years dating a cop what a huge role adrenaline plays in decision making when there’s a gun in your hand, how lucky you are to be anywhere near accurate even with training. Still, experiencing it first hand was eye-opening, even in a controlled environment with no potential threat or danger.  I was also saddened by the thought that here in my hand was something created for the sole purpose of killing another living being.  It was a deeply affecting experience for me.

Very early in my career, I heard David Morrell speak and his wise words struck a chord with me, too.  When I was fifteen, a girl I knew was abducted and murdered.  We lived in a small, supposedly safe town, the kind of place you move to give your kids a happy, suburban upbringing.  And then, on a day like any other day, a girl walking home from school fell victim to a monster.  I never saw the world the same way again.  The theme of the lost girl runs through almost all of my novels in one way or another, never with my intending it and always obvious to me only after the book is done.  I think most of us are metabolizing fear on the page, and looking to put order to the chaos we perceive in the world.  Maybe that’s why people read crime fiction, as well — because there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end where some kind of justice is served. Not always so in the real world.

I’m writing pretty close to the bone.  I follow the voices in my head, and so far they’ve all been pretty dark and twisted, wrestling with questions of identity, struggling with everything from addiction to body dysmorphic disorder to hauntings.  I have a voracious curiosity about people and all the different things that make us who we are.  If someone else turns up with something different to explore, I’ll certainly honor that.  For me that’s the joy of writing, following character voice wherever it takes me.

Wow! I’m excited about your indie horror film ISLAND ZERO.  What a great title! I’m scared already.  Can you tell us a little bit about it?  And I think next up for you is a new Rizzoli and Isles entitled STRANGE GIRL.  Any tidbits you would like to share?

Tess Gerritsen:  I grew up loving horror films, especially those old classics like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Them,” and I’ve long thought it would be fun to make just such a film.  My son Josh is already a filmmaker (documentaries) and we decided to do one together.  I wrote the screenplay, about a group of hardy fishermen on a Maine island who suddenly find themselves cut off from the world when the ferry stops coming.  The phones are dead and every boat they send to the mainland fails to return.  Then dead bodies start turning up along the shoreline, and they realize they are “ground zero” for something terrible that’s about to happen to mankind.  The project is in the capable hands of Josh and his producer, and we’ve got cast and crew from NYC, Boston, and L.A. now at work here in Maine.  It’s a SAG production, so the actors are truly impressive.  Despite the vagaries of Maine weather, they’re now four days into the shooting schedule, and it all looks fantastic.  (And rather, um, gory, thanks to the magic of our special effects guy.)

At the same time, I’m at work on my 12th Rizzoli & Isles novel, STRANGE GIRL.  I can’t share tidbits yet because the story keeps changing on me and I never know how it’s going to morph.  That’s the trouble with writing by the seat of my pants — I never know where the ride will take me.

Your books are really dark and twisted, yet you’re a perfectly lovely woman — and a mom.  How do you answer the question that I’m sure you’ve been asked: what’s WRONG with you, that you write such frightening fiction?  Isn’t your husband afraid to come home to you at night?  Do your books reflect some pathology in your personality?  (Yeah, I get asked the same questions.)

Lisa Unger:  There might be something essentially wrong with me! I’m not sure.  All I know is that I’ve always had this twisted imagination, and have always been fascinated by the dark side.  You know when you go to those horror movies that you love so much, and on the screen there’s a girl creeping down the stairs into the basement (from which some eerie noise is emanating) and everyone’s yelling: Don’t go down there! Get out of the house!  I’m the girl going down the stairs, just because I want to – no, NEED to – know what’s there.  And I don’t remember a time before I was a writer, so I guess these two essential elements of my nature have dovetailed to make me a writer of psychological suspense.

Motherhood has only made my imagination darker.  Back to what we discussed earlier, maybe those of us with those kinds of thoughts seek to metabolize them on the page.  Looking at INK AND BONE (I agree that you never really understand your book until it’s done) I can see how it addresses some of my most personal, deepest fears – about motherhood, protecting your child and teaching her how to protect herself, trusting yourself and your path, and how sometimes you have to walk the darkest roads to get to the light.

Tess Gerritsen is the acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author of PLAYING WITH FIRE and the upcoming STRANGE GIRL featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles (characters that inspired the TNT television series “Rizzoli and Isles.“)  Lisa Unger is the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels of psychological suspense, including her upcoming release INK AND BONE (June 7, 2016).  Both authors have dark thoughts and very nice husbands who are never afraid to come home to them at night.

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Published on May 04, 2016 08:47 • 57 views

April 29, 2016

One of my all-time favorite indie booksellers, Murder By the Book in Houston, Texas, was hit by the recent flooding. To help support this amazing store, I purchased a $100 gift certificate to give away to one of my lucky reader pals! To enter the drawing for your free $100 gift card, simply sign up for my mailing list below. Thanks for helping me support an important bookseller and good luck!


Random drawing on April 30.

Indie Bookseller Murder By The Book

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Published on April 29, 2016 06:42 • 33 views

April 12, 2016

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Beautiful Lies!

To celebrate, I’m giving away 10 copies (1 in every 50 people wins!)



When Beautiful Lies was first released in April 2006, Random House put together a “behind the scenes” tour of Ridley’s New York City, narrated by yours truly.  Check out The Walking Tour.


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Published on April 12, 2016 11:43 • 76 views

March 15, 2016

What an absolutely amazing time at the 2016 Tucson Festival of Books! It was so great to see everyone, and meet some new author pals and readers. Lots of smart, fun and engaging conversations. Here are just a few pictures from the weekend with R.L. Stine, J.A. Jance, Lisa Lutz, T. Jefferson Parker, Thomas Perry, Chris Pavone, Joseph Finder, Jonathan Maberry, Chuck Wendig, William Kent Krueger, Christine Carbo and Carol Goodman.

Lisa Lutz, Joseph Finder, Chris Pavone & Lisa Unger

Lisa Lutz, Joseph Finder, Chris Pavone & Lisa Unger


J.A. Jance & Lisa Unger

J.A. Jance & Lisa Unger


Lisa Unger Signing at Clues Unlimited

Lisa Unger Signing at Clues Unlimited


R.L. Stine & Lisa Unger

R.L. Stine & Lisa Unger


Chuck Wending, Jonathan Maberry & Lisa Unger

Chuck Wending, Jonathan Maberry & Lisa Unger


T. Jefferson Parker & Lisa Unger

T. Jefferson Parker & Lisa Unger


William Kent Krueger, Thomas Perry & Lisa Unger

William Kent Krueger, Thomas Perry & Lisa Unger


Carol Goodman, Christine Carbo & Lisa Unger

Carol Goodman, Christine Carbo & Lisa Unger



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Published on March 15, 2016 07:48 • 55 views

January 20, 2016

Wow! I’m still seeing stars this morning after attending Bookends: An Evening with Two Literary Giants featuring Stephen King and John Grisham. Held at the State College of Florida and benefitting Manatee Library Foundation, this fundraiser commanded over $200,000 last night.


I was privileged to meet both authors at the VIP reception held before the event, and aside from being mega-talented superstars, they were both as sweet and lovely as two people could be. Stephen King is one of my earliest and most powerful influences as a writer and one of my first loves as a reader, so meeting him was really a dream come true. (He gave me a hug!!) And it was an equal delight to meet John Grisham, arguably one of the greatest thriller writers — well, ever. He was as kind and charming as you imagine him to be.

On stage they engaged in a smart and funny conversation about their careers, lives, their wives, and how publishing has changed over the years — with a little bit of politics thrown in. It really could not have been more enjoyable. The life of the writer can be a solitary one, with lots of highs and lows. So, it’s always an inspiration to listen to iconic talents talk about the hills and valleys of their own careers. Colette Bancroft gives a wonderful recap in the Tampa Bay Times today. Read the article.

It was a stellar evening, meeting these luminary gentlemen and participating in an event that benefits libraries and literacy programs, something that is so important to our communities.

And, of course, because I can never forget my wonderful readers, I have a Signed First Edition of John Grisham’s ROGUE LAWYER to giveaway!  Sign up for the list and be entered to win!


Rogue Lawyer

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Published on January 20, 2016 06:48 • 69 views

January 6, 2016

Women of Mystery

Lisa Unger, Lisa Gardner & Alafair Burke


women of mystery

Thursday February 11th, 2016

6:30 PM

Carlouel Yacht Club

Clearwater Beach, Florida

Sign up for the mailing list and be entered to win two tickets to this member only event featuring New York Times bestselling authors Lisa Unger, Lisa Gardner and Alafair Burke.  You will be Lisa Unger’s personal guests for the evening, and will also receive a signed copy of the latest release from each author.  Good luck!!


*Winners will be drawn at random on Thursday, Feb. 4th and notified via email.  If you are already on the mailing list, you can still use the form above to enter.

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Published on January 06, 2016 08:21 • 38 views

December 26, 2015

My sixteen year love affair with the Florida Keys (and my husband) in the January 2016 issue of TRAVEL+LEISURE magazine!  Pick up a copy in stores today, or READ IT ONLINE.

Lisa Unger's 2016 Travel and Leisure Article - In the Key of Life


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Published on December 26, 2015 11:18 • 35 views

December 17, 2015

At this time last year, Pocket Books began releasing a series of short stories that I wrote featuring one of my favorite characters, psychic Eloise Montgomery. But they’re not really three separate stories. Together they comprise a single story told in three parts, spanning thirty years in Eloise’s extraordinary life. In January, they’ll be re-released together in a novella called THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS. If you haven’t had a chance to read these stories, January would be the perfect time because the stories flow into the upcoming INK AND BONE (June, 2016). As ever, all my stories and novels stand alone. But if you want the richest reading experience, start with the novella and then buckle up for INK AND BONE, featuring Eloise’s granddaughter twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery. I’m really excited about it! Hope you are, too.

This is the intro I wrote for THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS:

When I first started writing about The Hollows, I didn’t think very much of it. It was the fictional setting for my 2010 novel, FRAGILE, nestled someplace “up North.” It was near New York City geographically, but far from it in every other way. I envisioned it as a smallish town, the kind of place where “everyone knows everyone” – or thinks they do. It was a semi-rural, semi-suburban dot on the map with a long history, similar in some ways to the town in New Jersey where I grew up. But it wasn’t that place. Not at all.

During the writing of FRAGILE, The Hollows started to assert itself. It wasn’t content to be just a backdrop. Originally, I thought that the kind of story I was telling, one about small town people with big secrets, could have been told anywhere. But much in the same way characters reveal themselves little by little as a story progresses, so it was with The Hollows. It had a personality, an agenda. It didn’t like secrets; it seemed to encourage paths to cross. And it was home to a psychic named Eloise Montgomery. It wasn’t the backdrop to a story, after all; The Hollows was a character.

Sometimes I meet a character as I’m writing and he or she stays with me long after I finish a manuscript. I find myself thinking about that person even after the story has ended, entertaining a parade of questions and wonderings. I want to know more about her journey – what happens next? Or what happened before to make him so … strange, stubborn, twisted? So it was with The Hollows. Even after it was time for me to leave, I found I couldn’t go.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the strange little upstate New York burg, about Eloise Montgomery, and about Jones Cooper, the cop turned PI who reluctantly becomes Eloise’s sometimes partner. So I kept writing about them, next in DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND. Then in IN THE BLOOD and CRAZY LOVE YOU. Though it’s not a series, exactly, those books are chain-linked by place and by people.

When I had a chance to explore Eloise in a series of short stories, I jumped at it. What evolved were three parts of what I now see as a novella, all collected here in this edition for the first time. The first, The Whispers, starts before the story of FRAGILE begins. The second, The Burning Girl, comes right before CRAZY LOVE YOU. And the last, The Three Sisters, introduces Eloise’s granddaughter Finley Montgomery, who has her own book, INK AND BONE, soon to be published. I’m not sure why the story of The Hollows revealed itself to me this way – through novels and short stories, each separate and yet still somehow woven around each other. But who am I to argue? I’m just the writer.

I recently spoke to a book group who had read CRAZY LOVE YOU together. During this conversation, The Hollows came up as it often does in book discussions, and a longtime reader said:

“To me, The Hollows is a symbol of the Universe.  My question is, does The Hollows act more upon the characters or do the characters more influence The Hollows?

This question touches on not only the question of what is The Hollows but also, in some sense, how I see life. The Hollows has an endless number of shades and layers, and it shows various parts of itself to everyone. It’s something unique for everyone who visits. And each novel that takes place there is its own special universe. The Hollows, like life, is someplace different for Jones Cooper than it is for Eloise Montgomery than it is for Ian Paine in CRAZY LOVE YOU.

All these characters see what they want to see in the place, and they all take away a distinctive experience. Jones, who is a very practical, feet-on-the-ground type of guy, views The Hollows as he would view any other place. It’s the town where he grew up, where he has always been known as first the local sports star and heartthrob, then later as the town cop. Even when The Hollows conspires audaciously to reveal his secrets, he never sees it as anything else but the town where he has lived all his life and will most likely not leave.

Someone like Ian Paine — troubled, addicted, sensitive — is having another experience yet again. Not as grounded as Jones, and yet not as in touch as Eloise, his relationship with The Hollows is a struggle. He fights to get away. And The Hollows fights back.

On the other hand, Eloise sees — and hears — a totally other layer, something beyond the buildings and trees. The Hollows talks to her. She hears voices that she thinks of as The Whispers, a chorus of all the secrets, pains, joys, hopes and sorrows of the people connected to The Hollows. She, too, has her place there, and will likely not leave. But, unlike Jones and Ian, she doesn’t imagine she has a choice in the matter.

So it’s Eloise then who is the most canny tour guide to The Hollows. She listens; she doesn’t judge. She doesn’t fight. She has learned the hardest lesson of life: that we do what we can with our various abilities and, when we’ve exhausted our resources, we seek to let go. So it makes sense that she is the one to shine the way through this novella.

Like life, The Hollows is exactly what you expect it to be, exactly what you put into it — and yet there are many elements that are totally out of your control. So that’s the long answer to my reader’s question. The short answer is: Both. The people who dwell in The Hollows act upon it, as much as it impacts them, each in their own special way.

The parts of this novella were originally published as three separate e-original short stories. But they really belong together like this, a kind of triptych spanning thirty years in the life of Eloise Montgomery and her extraordinary journey. As you follow Eloise through the winding passages of this story and into the one that follows them, INK AND BONE (Coming June, 2016), I hope you’ll enjoy your journey, too. Welcome to The Hollows.

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Published on December 17, 2015 07:29 • 65 views

November 25, 2015

During the Great American Teach-In last week, I arrived a little early and caught the presentation before mine. A rabbi, the mother of one of the other students in the class, gave a presentation on mindfulness. Every kid (and adult) held a raisin in his or her palm while the rabbi asked the room to consider the journey of this one piece of fruit – from seed, to plant, to harvest, to production. She asked us to consider how many people were involved, how much energy was used, how far that raisin had to travel, who designed the box it was in, who stacked it on the shelves. And then finally, she asked us to hold the raisin in our mouths for a while – to really feel its ridges and valleys and taste its sugary flavor before swallowing. It was the best raisin I’d ever tasted. It made me think about how raisins are eaten in bunches, tossed in the mouth, rarely really noticed.

The rabbi’s lesson was about mindful eating, but obviously she was talking about something much larger. In the rush and crush of the day to day, how many of us are really paying attention to the moments of our lives, savoring, enjoying, and giving thanks? With world events so devastatingly violent, true peace and love among people apparently elusive, how many of us take the time to observe what’s right in the world, how much good people do?

I worry. I’m prone to that, deep thinking about what’s dark and wrong, what nightmarish scenarios might unfold – from what happens as violence escalates on our planet and world climates change, to whatever drama is unfolding in my daughter’s world, in my extended family. I am a perfectionist; I try to fix and control things that are not fixable or in my control, leaving me feeling anxious and lost. And then I remember to breathe, and to ‘get micro’ as we say in our family. Meaning, I remember to focus on the raisin in my palm.

Thanksgiving is a good time to focus on our raisins. There are obstacles to that – worry about the future, anger about the past, busy-addicted rushing around. We don’t have TIME to focus on the small things. Until we realize that only those small things matter. When I think about the terrorist attacks, not just in Paris, but around the world, and all the people who left for concerts and sporting events, evenings out with friends and families, school events, or weddings and never got to come home, I am ashamed for not showing more gratitude, more often, in my life. Each of those people – the mother of small children, the college student, the architect – would surely love to be able to fold laundry, or read one more story, or cook for a family, to study, to put pen to paper. We can honor people who have lost their lives by being more mindful in and more grateful for ours.

I am grateful for so many things this week:

Today is my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Sixteen years ago, I met my husband Jeffrey at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. It truly was love at first sight, a whirlwind long distance romance, and a fairytale wedding a year to the day that we met. A marriage is a journey. And any real traveler will tell you that there are highs and lows, good days and bad ones. The journey is a mosaic, a beautiful whole made up of parts, some glittering, some dull, some broken, some golden. Ours has been characterized by a deep abiding friendship, a ferocious desire to explore the world, joyful parenthood, striving together towards goals, as well as sinking our toes into the sand and loving our life. Our love — which was crazy and wild and change-the-world passionate – has only deepened. My husband is my boyfriend and my playmate, the person I turn to first when I am happy or sad, excited or angry. He knows everything about me – good and bad. And I know everything about him. (There is no bad. He’s a purely good spirit.) We have walked together hand in hand, or carried each other, or prodded and pulled, or sprinted on this journey. And I can’t imagine having traveled it with anyone else. Night and day, he is the one. I am grateful beyond measure for our wonderful marriage, our partnership.

This week is also my mother’s 75th birthday. That my parents are healthy, able and present in our lives is a gift. My mother, former librarian, an avid reader and lover of story, was the earliest and most important influence in my life as a writer. The things she taught me turned out to be most of what I needed to know. 1) Be yourself. 2) Don’t let anybody push you around. 3) You can’t do more than your best. 4) They put erasers on pencils because everyone makes mistakes. 5) Make sure you lock the door and keep that hair out of your eyes. 6) Never order the tuna fish. Okay, there was a lot. Really I could keep writing. I am grateful for my mom who has always been there for me, who is generous, loving, and supportive in so many ways. And who still has tons of advice to give. Like: 7) Why aren’t you wearing anything on your feet? 8) Don’t talk on the phone during a lightning storm. I love you, Mom. Happy Birthday!

There’s more, too much more to list here – that my creative, funny, brilliant daughter makes paper dolls with my face on mermaid bodies, that my labradoodle howls at sirens, that when I open the door to my office I hear palm fronds whispering and halyards clanging in the wind, that while I was writing the other day a ladybug traveled across my screen. For the million little things, the glittery pieces in the mosaic of my life, I am grateful.

There’s a cacophony of negativity around us – unhealthy messages in the media, every day more bad news at home and around the world, an ever growing list of must-dos, and must-buys, and get this, be this, or else. Inside our heads, too, sometimes there is a litany of criticisms and complaints, worries and fears, that we have for ourselves and others. I find that sometimes it is possible to quiet that, to breathe, and consider the journey of my life, to be grateful. So may your Thanksgiving be filled with family, friends, or something meaningful to you. May there be much laughter, love, and good times. And most of all, I hope you look at the raisins in your palm, give thanks, and really taste every single one.

unger family

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Published on November 25, 2015 07:51 • 46 views

November 24, 2015

Wow, this is exciting! IN THE BLOOD won the 2015 Silver Falchion Award for BEST NOVEL: Crime Thriller. I’m so grateful and would like to thank “Killer Nashville” for this honor. Congrats, as well, to fellow nominees and my writer pals who won in other categories, including Hank Phillippi Ryan, Catriona McPherson, John Sandford and other esteemed writers.

IN THE BLOOD wins the Silver Falchion Award (2015)

IN THE BLOOD wins the Silver Falchion Award (2015)

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Published on November 24, 2015 10:38 • 59 views