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It is the month of reddening leaves, valleys full of midst and frosty mornings. Autumn ties with spring as my favorite time of year. I hope you are enjoying apple cider, chili dinners and cozy nights as much as I am. This month's newsletter features a Q&A interview with debut author Hilary Hauck, and thoughts on writing from mystery author Gabriel Valjan, a fellow Level Best author whose novels have been nominated for Agatha and Anthony awards. You will also find book recommendations from readers and updates on my own writing journey.

Congratulations to Kathleen Lahue, winner of the September drawing!

Kathleen won a copy of The Lucky One ,  a thriller by Lori Rader-Day.

Meet Hilary Hauck

Hilary Hauck is the debut author of From Ashes the Song, to be released later this year by Sunbury Press. She is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in the Ekphrastic Review, Balloons Lit. Journal, the Telepoem Booth, and anthologies in the Mindful Writers Retreat Series. As a young adult, she moved from her native U.K. to Italy, where she learned the language, how to cook food she can no longer eat, and won an Italian karate championship. She moved to the U.S. after meeting her husband and was inspired by local pride in a heritage rooted in coal’s heyday, which became the setting for the book she’d always intended to write. Learn more and subscribe to her quest to discover #storyeverywhere at

About the book

After losing his grandfather and the family vineyard in Italy, 1911, and with his gift for music hanging by a thread, Pietro looks for a new start in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. When Assunta’s beautiful voice and gentle heart stir a new song, it is a glimpse at hope. But then grief strikes in Assunta’s life and Pietro is to blame. Inspired by true events, From Ashes the Song is a story of unconventional love, hope, and the extraordinary gifts brought to America by ordinary people in the great wave of immigration.

A Conversation with Hilary

Q: What was your journey to publication like?

Hilary: Long and twisty! I think that’s quite standard for authors. If I had to identify the reason why, it’s because there’s so much to learn about writing, storytelling, and the business side of things. Then, once you think you’ve learned something, a whole new scenario presents itself. I truly would not be where I am today without the strong, supportive, and knowledgeable writing community of Pennwriters.

Q: What or who was the inspiration for From Ashes the Song?

Hilary: From Ashes the Song was inspired by the real lives of three Italians who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 1900s—Pietro, Assunta, and Nandy. Assunta’s daughter, the late Irene Smylnycky, generously shared their stories with me, and gave me her blessing to fictionalize their lives to make a more compelling novel.

It was the perfect story for me to write at that time. When I moved to Pennsylvania in 2002, one of the things that fascinated me the most was the pride people still have in their coal-mining and ethnic heritage. And though I grew up in the UK, I’d lived in Italy for over a decade before moving to the US, so I could draw on my own experiences of settling into a new culture.

Q: Who is your favorite character in the book?

Hilary: Pietro, Assunta, and Nandy all hold a truly special place in my heart, choosing one would be like picking a favorite child, so I’m going to cheat and pick a favorite minor character, Mrs. Conati. In real life, she was of great support to Assunta. She reminds me of my British ex-pat friends in Italy. All far from home, we became a pseudo family, sharing special occasions and being each other’s support system. Mrs. Conati embodies this spirit beautifully, even though she had every reason not to.

Q: Music plays a big role in your novel. Are you a musician or a music lover?

Hilary: Alas, I never learned to play a musical instrument, and while I did once win third place in a singing contest, the fact that it was billed as ‘The Worst Singer’ contest should give you a clear idea of my vocal abilities. I love listening to music, but obviously that’s scant preparation to write about the life of a gifted musician and composer.

I researched by reading and asking a musician friend a thousand questions, but Pietro ultimately saved me. He was a man of fascinating contrasts, growing up in a humble family who worked the earth, later he was a coal miner. Yet his grandfather, Nonno, taught him to write music and play the clarinet so beautifully, the whole room would stop and listen.

So instead of experiencing music as a formally trained musician might, Pietro interacts with the world around him through sound. For example, he writes his first composition in Italy by capturing the sounds of the grape harvest—women plucking grapes nimbly from stems and raining them into the stomping vat, his niece being lifted into the vat, her tiny feet popping the fruit. Later he suffers from the muffled and distorted sounds of the mine.

Q: How do you feel about launching your debut novel during a pandemic?

Hilary: I think we’ll all have stories to tell about this period. I’ll be grateful if, one day, my stories revolve around the launch of From Ashes the Song, and not about the health of my loved ones.

It wasn’t the happiest of days when I realized the inciting incident for the story was a deadly disease, albeit one that impacted grapevines, not people. Caused by a tiny insect called grape phylloxera, it swept across Europe with devasting results. Only a handful of vineyards in the whole of Europe survived, the rest to this day are European cultivars grafted onto American rootstock.

All of my expectations of the launch had to shift. Our initial publication schedule got wiped off the calendar. That enormous release party I’d dreamed about was never going to happen. And there could be no in-person talks about the coal mining days or Italo-American heritage.

But, call me an eternal optimist, I had more time to work on my next book, and to think outside the box to engage with readers in ways I might not have found without the pandemic. And when we come out on the other side of this, those in-person events will still be able to happen.

Q: What are you working on now?

Hilary: In the past few weeks I’ve submitted two short stories that will be published in anthologies in January and March, 2021, so that’s exciting. I’m also in the revision stage of a novel about a British woman who goes looking for her missing fiancé in Italy in 1964. There she connects with two other woman who’ve also lost a man they love. Called The Things We’ll Never Have, it’s all about the truths people tell themselves.

On writing and reading ...

Each month, I ask an author for thoughts about writing, reading or the writing life. This month's featured author is Gabriel Valjan, author of Dirty Old Town, the first of five books in the Shane Cleary mystery series from Level Best Books along with the Roma Series and the Company Files from Winter Goose Publishing. Gabriel's novels have been nominated for an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award. He has also been been listed for the Fish Prize three times, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and has received an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid. Gabriel offers this wonderful advice:

" 'There’s an imposter among us.' 

It’s no lie: holding your latest book never gets old. Your first book, or even your first published short story is a monumental accomplishment. You have been vetted. Somewhere someone recognized your talent and committed to bring you, in all your mastery of language, plot and pacing, before the reader’s eyes. You’ve endured editing, reading comments in the margin, revisions, and final pages. You’ve approved the artwork and you hope, fingers and toes crossed, that there are no gremlins on page one. You’ve even made it to the last sentence of a Kirkus Review without calling for blood, theirs or your own.

And then it creeps in; the shadow follows you. You fear being found out. The familiar voice of the disappointed teacher, the impossible boss, or whatever haunts you; it comes to visit you like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, except they’re more like someone or something from a Stephen King novel. You’re a fraud, and it’s only a matter of time.

Chill, step back and ease up. You’re creative. Even if your first draft is a fragrant meadow muffin, you have done something that 95% of people say they can do, that what they will set out to write will be the award-winning event of the year, of the century…but somehow never find the time to do. Yes, most people talk the talk but don’t sit in the chair to write the novel, the short story, or the screenplay.

Aside from the sheer patience and determination to flail the keyboard like a Muppet, you should take one thing into consideration that few people do. Barring learning an Asian or Slavic language, you already know the hardest language in the world. The English language you know, that you’ve had embedded inside your brain since you were a toddler, is a difficult language to learn and master. There is no logic to English pronunciation and spelling. Coordination of verb tenses in English are difficult for the non-native speaker. Hello, simple past tense over the past perfect. Goodbye subjunctive. The third-person impersonal pronoun, one, has turned to dust. Think about it. You know a lot. Accept it.

You are a master card dealer without knowing it. The basic English sentence has three slots: Subject, Verb, and Object. SVO, baby, and yet you can add in a complement, modifiers, throw in an IO, indirect object, and invert and pervert the order and pattern of sentences for effect. Embrace it.

Imposter? I think not. Now, back to writing, you."

Happenings on the Foster homestead

Say "Hello" to Lola May. She came to us two weeks ago through Teacher's Pet Rescue in Coudersport, Pennsylvania.  Lola is just over a year old.

What's up with my books?

Have you ever awakened in your dreams to a house full of people only to realize you are still in your PJs with unbrushed teeth and super serious bedhead? If you haven't, I am glad for you because, in this dream, I am forced into a hostess role without even the chance to pee. It is not fun.

I am publicly exposed at my worst.

As editing begins this month on A Dead Man's Eyes, the first book in my Lisa Jamison mystery/suspense series, I am excited. Good edits will only make my book a better experience for readers. I look forward to the improvements, which will bring me one step closer to publication day. But, as the editing period nears, that dream, an old one for me, has slipped back into my early morning playlist.

I don't need an expert to interpret my dream. I am nervous. I am worried about exposing my words to the world only to realize that I failed to groom them, that they are without nuance, without the minty breath of a fresh voice. I fear that I will open the door to readers and reviewers before they are ready. I am guessing other authors have had different versions of this same dream, especially during the editing process of their debut novels.

I trust the editors at Level Best Books. I know they won't let people into our house before my book is groomed and ready, but my nerves are not easily steadied by such assurances. That's okay though. I would rather be nervous than overconfident. A good dose of nerves will only make me a better writer. For that reason, I hope I never lose these pre-release jitters.  I wouldn't mind losing the dream though, or at least treating myself to a dreamy shower, a tube of Colgate and a pee break before my guests arrive.

What's up at home?

A few months after Clover died last fall, our twins began begging for another dog, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Clover, a Border Collie in a Beagle body, was small, but she dominated over her much-larger younger brother Marco. Marco had been in kennels for at least a year before we adopted him about six years ago. He is submissive by nature, but after Clover's death, his personality broke through. He became a nurturer, always trotting into bedrooms to wake kids up or see them to sleep. He is beloved by the mail carrier, the UPS driver, the Fed Ex driver. He has learned new tricks, flipping his food bowl when he is hungry and his water bowl when he is thirsty. He has become buddies with the once-feral cat.

I am more in love than ever with this new side of Marco and I worried that he would revert to his old, shy ways if we adopted another dog. I finally caved though when school went from five days per week of in-person instruction to two in September. The twins are tiring of the pandemic life. They needed an emotional boost. So we did it. We adopted Lola May.

It has been only a few days, but we have no regrets. Lola is just over a year old and she is a joy.  She and Marco were buddies from the moment they met. She pushes him to play. He pushes her to rest. At the end of the day, they both climb up on the sofa to cuddle, often with each other. I am glad we had that time alone with Marco, but the timing was right to grow our family. Welcome Lola May!

Book recommendations from readers to readers

(Email me at with your recommendations for next month's newsletter or message me on Facebook.)

An Unorthodox Match (Literary Fiction) Naomi Ragen

- Karoline B.

Before We Were Yours (Historical Fiction) by Lisa Wingate

- Katie C

The Second Mother (Thriller) by Jenny Milchman

- Jill P.

Small Great Things (Legal Drama) by Jodie Picoult

- Beth W.

Circe (Mythical Fantasy) by Madeline Miller

- Todd M.

A Man Called Ove (Literary Fiction) by Fredrik Backman

- Linda D.

Predictably Irrational (Nonfiction/Legal Opinion) by Dan Ariely

- Ed D.

The Guest List (Mystery) by Lucy Foley

- Lynette T.

It Ends with Us (Contemporary Romance) by Colleen Hoover

- Lynette T.

Over the High Side: A Road Raptors MC Novel No. 2 (Urban Fiction) by Larry Lovan

- Laura S.

The Power (Science Fiction) by Naomi Alderman

- McKayla M.

A Beginning at the End (Science Fiction) by Mike Chen

- Amanda B.

The Ruth Galloway Series (Mystery) by Elly Griffiths

- Kimberly K.

Charlotte (Romance/ Historical Fiction) by Helen Moffett.

- Rachel N.

Enjoy this quote from my nonfiction book, Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years:

"Scientists have good news for identical twins. A 2016 study published in the journal Plos One shows identical twins live longer, in general, than people who do not have identical twins. The key, they say, is the intensity of the social and emotional bond between them.

Identical twins tend to protect each other and predict each other’s needs better than their singleton counterparts, better even than fraternal twins. That kind of support leads to better health overall and longer lives.

The study is good news for singletons as well. It shows the importance of creating and maintaining strong emotional and social bonds for the sake of our health.."

Happy writing and reading!
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Lori Duffy Foster Author

2399 Austinburg Road, Westfield
PA 16950 United States

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